Start with the exterior.
The exterior is the first thing potential buyers will see, and first impressions set the tone for their entire visit... so make sure the outside of your home is clean and inviting. Touch up painting, landscaping, clean windows, inviting entry are all important and not major investments. In fact, replacing your front door can often give you the biggest return on your investment because it sets expectations for the whole showing.
If you live in a city that requires a Time of Sale/Truth in Housing inspection when you sell your home, that inspection you will get a to-do list to fulfill their requirements. Depending on city requirements, you may consider getting a 'pre-inspection' first, so you have time to make repairs and then get a 'clean' final inspection.
Fix defects... buyers will over-compensate in price.
The real inspectors you must satisfy when you sell are your potential buyers. Even minor flaws can become big deals. It is often said that buyers will ask for a price reduction or compensation of $3,000-$5,000 for every $1,000 of perceived defect. This means making repairs before listing your home for sale could save you money in the long run.
Don't overlook the little things.
Little things like worn woodwork, caulking in bathtubs and showers, old wallpaper, marred walls and stained ceilings, loose knobs, sticky windows, doors and cabinets that don't close properly, broken light switches, dirty or worn flooring can all add up to a bigger impact than you might think. Kitchens and bathrooms are the two most important rooms in the house... evaluate them with a critical eye. Again, keep in mind that buyers will over-estimate the cost of these repairs and their reduction in the price they are willing to pay. But perhaps most important, don't overlook the importance of having your home sparkling clean... buyers notice!!!
Don't go too big.
If you decide to more significant updates, be careful of investing too much. Many buyers will make their own updates when they move in so this isn't the time to invest in a major kitchen remodel, although moderate updates will likely reap benefits... paint and resurfacing can go a long way. Upgrades that are almost always worth it are refreshing paint and flooring. Windows can also be a good investment, depending on the condition of your current windows in relation to the rest of your home.
Don't overlook the condition of your mechanicals.
Buyers are nearly always concerned about the age and condition of the furnace, air conditioner and water heater. If they are at or near the end of their life, expect it to come up in negotiations. Again, buyers are likely to over-compensate in price reductions or may require that you have it replaced prior to closing before moving forward. If the furnace/AC are really limping along, replacing before listing could give you a double benefit... instead of being a negative it becomes a positive in your favor.
Well. Septic system.
If you have a well that is in use, expect that you will need a water quality test as part of your sale. If you have a well that is not in use, expect that it will be required to be sealed. If you have a private septic system, expect that it will need to be certified to be in compliance with applicable regulations. When these testing requirements are part of a purchase agreement you usually have a 5-10 day window to provide the results. You can reduce stress by having them done ahead of time.
Sharlene Hensrud, RE/MAX Results - Twin Cities Seller's Realtor