Buying a home can be one of the most exciting and stressful experiences all at the same time. Today’s market conditions can add additional stress to the process. Tighter inventories have increased competition among buyers making it a seller’s market.

One way to protect yourself is to conduct a home inspection. This is your chance to have an expert go through the property from top to bottom. The goal is to identify health and safety issues. It gives buyers a more complete picture of what they are buying and what if anything is reasonable to ask the sellers to repair.

Some buyers may resist a home inspection due to cost concerns, which will cost between $400 and $500 in our area. The National Association of Realtors says, “Failure to obtain a home inspection could potentially cost you a great deal of money and hassles in the long run.”

Buyers spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour looking at a house they decide to buy. Some will go back for a second showing if time allows. It is difficult to thoroughly investigate a house in that time. And, buying a home is highly influenced by emotional factors. A neutral, trained third party like a home inspector eliminates the emotion and takes the time to conduct a thorough investigation. A typical home inspection takes between three and four hours. In the end, a buyer is provided a comprehensive report about the house from roof to foundation.

It is important to have realistic expectations regarding the home inspection process.

“In any market, and especially in a seller’s market, remember there is no such thing as a perfect house, even in new construction. Something always comes up,” according to Deb Whitcomb, Broker with Clearwater Montana Properties.

The goal is to ensure you are buying a safe home. “It’s best to focus on health and safety items and things a reasonable person would expect to be working in a home,” Whitcomb added. “This is not the time to nitpick things you can put on a to do list later.”

It can be a bit overwhelming when the report arrives. Keep telling yourself this is about health and safety items. A good home inspector will also identify maintenance issues as a courtesy for buyers. Not everything requires immediate attention or is realistic to expect a seller to address.

Smart sellers prep for an inspection before the house is even listed. A good Realtor will walk through your house and identify items that could come up in an inspection report. Fix those items that you can before you ever list your property and you are likely to command a higher price. “For significant items you can’t or elect not to address, always disclose them,” Whitcomb said.

Sellers love their homes and may not have the most objective viewpoint. So, first take a deep breath when the inspection notice (requested repairs) arrives. Try to keep an open mind and realize you have several options including -- meeting the buyer halfway; agreeing to their request list if it’s reasonable; or you can simply do nothing. Of course, a buyer may walk away if you say no to everything. Remember that sellers also have the option of reducing the price of the house in lieu of completing the repairs.

How to find a good home inspector

Montana doesn’t license home inspectors. Anyone can open a business and say they are home inspector. There are, however, national organizations which offer certifications for home inspectors.

“Wise buyers will look for an inspector who has taken and passed the National Home Inspectors Exam in order to become certified,” according to Dan McCormick with Eagle View Home Inspections and ASHI Certified.

Certified inspectors are held to a higher professional standard and are required to complete continuing education courses to stay current.

10 questions to ask

• What does your inspection cover?

• How long have you been a home inspector and how many inspections have you completed?

• Are you specifically experienced in residential inspection?

• Do you offer to do repairs based on the inspection? (could be a conflict of interest)

• How long will the inspection take?

• How much will it cost?

• What type of report do you provide and when should I receive it?

• Will I be able to attend the inspection? (always a good idea to attend)

• Are you a current member of a professional home inspector association?

• Do you participate in continuing education programs to keep your expertise up to date?

Home inspections are an important part of the real estate buying process. Being reasonable and working with a certified inspector make the process go more smoothly. At the end of the day, buyers and sellers both want the same thing -- to get the deal done.

Ann Snortland, Realtor, Clearwater Montana Properties in Helena, Specializing in Recreational and Residential Real Estate