1. Hire a good realtor - first thing. Then listen to them. They will be able to guide you every step of the way on what to do, what not to do, what's worth spending some money on, what isn't, the marketing strategy, listing price and a myriad of other issues. The benefit is that when these things are all done right, the house sells quickly and for top dollar, often with multiple buyers competing for it. If you don't hire a good realtor, that won't happen. Your home will sell for less and take much longer to do it if the the right preparations have not been made and the list price is too high. If you go FSBO it's even worse. It's like sprinkling buyer and agent repellent all over your house. They will mostly avoid you.
2. Gather all the important papers - warranties, any papers related to appliances, the HVAC system, recent work you've done, utility bills for the last year, a plat if you have it, the deed, and loan documents if there is a mortgage. You'll need all of this so you may as well be prepared from the beginning. The down side to not doing it first is that you will be scrambling to do it later.
3. Landscaping - you want your home to have as much curb appeal as possible. The buyer is going to pull to your house and form impression number two (number one was the online presentation that got them to drive to your home). They will sit there for a minute just looking at your house from the street and trying to imagine living their life on your street, in your house. Make sure the grass is cut, mulch where appropriate, maybe some fresh flowers, possibly paint the exterior. What to do depends on the house. Your realtor will be able to guide you on these issues. The benefit if you do it right is the buyer likes what they see and wants to get inside for a look. The downside of not prepping the exterior is the buyer will immediately gain a negative impression of your home and sometimes just leave without even going inside. I've seen that happen more than once.
4. De-Clutter - Get rid of everything personal. Family pictures, trophies, artwork, etc....all of it. Take everything off the fridge, get the posters off the walls in the kids bedrooms...everything must go. Box it up, store it, dump it. Do whatever you were going to do as part of the move but do it well before your house hits the market. If you don't your home will look much less attractive to a buyer. Simple as that.
5. Paint it - Once you've taken everything off the walls have the interior painted. Trust me, it needs it. Use very neutral colors with white semi gloss around the windows and doors. The scars from what was once hanging on the walls will be clearly visible once those items are removed. If you have wallpaper of any kind, anywhere in the house, get rid of it. It's all ugly. Nobody wants your wallpaper. Do not just paint over wallpaper, as that will look even worse. If you have hardwood floors consider having them re-finished if they look rough. If you have carpet over hardwood get rid of the carpet and re-finish the hardwood. If you have carpet with plywood under it, you need to make a determination about cleaning vs replacement of the carpet. Clean everything. If you ignore this piece of advice your home will take longer to sell and sell for less.
6. Book cases - do you have lots of books?? If you do, get rid of all the ones that are of a political or religious nature. Your buyer may think differently on those subjects and that could harm their interest in your home. Leave a few neutral books that don't make a political or religious statement. The penalty for not doing that is potentially a lost sale. Why risk it?? You've got to do something with all those books anyway.
7. Stage the House - Very few homeowners are able to obtain the optimum staging benefit from their own furniture. Some can but most can't. There is a reason new home builders always stage a model home with all the extras. They do it because it works not because they've run out of things to spend money on. Staging a house will help sell it for more money and faster because it looks just that much more desirable to buyers. I've seen it work every single time a seller stages a new home. The downside to not doing it is your home does not look as good or inviting as it could and will therefore take longer to sell and sell for less.
8. Virtual Tour - When all the prep work is done the house should be professionally photographed by a virtual tour company. Your agent should arrange and pay for this. The virtual tour is the online presentation. The pictures need to be perfect. No junk, no dirty clothes, beds made. Virtually all home buyers are searching online so your house better look good enough online to get them to come for a visit otherwise they won't and they for sure won't buy it. Cell phone pics are not nearly good enough. If you have a nice house in a nice neighborhood and your agent tells you they're going to take the pictures themselves, find another agent.
9. Pets & Kids - if you have any pets it's best if they go visit with somebody while you're house is on the market. If there are any pets smells (or cigarettes, cigars or anything else for that matter) you need to get rid of the smell. There are a variety of ways to do that, depending on what the smell is, but they usually involve fresh paint and carpet, among other things. If you have kids, it's best if they are not home when buyers visit. I've had buyers turn around at the front door because they smell animals, especially cats or cigarettes. Buyer's and their agents don't want to meet you, your kids or your pets if at all possible.
10. Listing Price - this goes with hiring the realtor but it's your most important decision. The list price is a conversation starter. With the right number it's a critical part of the marketing and with the wrong, too high, number it's total deal killer. Nothing else you do will matter if the price is too high. You won't even get offers. Even if you do everything else right, asking too much money is death. It won't get the money you want but it will completely undermine all your other efforts and severely limit the number of showings. And it will help your neighbor sell their house. The way to generate intense buyer interest is for your house to seem like a great deal for the money. Your best chance for the most money is the first 29 days on the market. It doesn't get better after that. If the comps and your realtor suggest your home should sell for about $750K but nothing in your neighborhood sells for less than $700K, even if it's total junk, then price your house at $695K. Put it on the market on a Thursday, have an open on Sunday and every single potential buyer will show up. They will all know it is obviously is going to sell for more than the list price and the competition begins. It works every single time. If you've followed my guidelines and properly prepped your house, you will get multiple offers from competing buyers that will push the price up as high as it can go. The huge benefit to you is your house sells quickly and for top dollar. If you don't to this and instead make the classic seller mistake and list it too high, like $775K for that same house, maybe one or two people will show up at the Sunday open. There will be no offers. Your home will languish on the market, get stale as the days on market go up one day at a time and, in the end, you'll cut the price until you sell it for a low ball offer. But if you list it at $695K you might actually get $775K but that's the only way you're going to get it.
In residential real estate the way to get more is ask for less and the way to get less is to ask for more.