When it comes time to sell a house, the condition really matters. This is where a home inspection is so useful - a licensed professional can provide vital insights into every little detail, and offer advice about which features need attention.

Before the property ever gets listed, homeowners should make a few needed upgrades in order to sell for the highest possible price. However, this may sound easier said than done.

There are a number of projects one could undertake, but a select few might be worth both the time and money before selling. In that case, an emphasis should be placed on the home improvements that actually pay off.

The upgrades that really matter

Before putting a home on the market, owners should have a property inspection completed. With this step done, they'll have a full understanding about which problems require immediate action, and which ones don't. 

Most valuable upgrades aren't the flashy ones, Kathy McCleary wrote in an article for HGTV.com. When she set aside funds for a year's worth of major projects, at the end of it all she ended up with a new furnace, gutters, paint, drainage system and landscaping. McCleary kept most decorative features, and instead put effort into more crucial systems. 

For most homeowners, this is the smart choice. Big problems - like a leaky roof - will ruin a sale much faster than an outdated countertop. In order to decide which projects are the best, McCleary explained that the home's value should be factored into any choice. For example, it's more important to make necessary changes rather than install luxurious amenities, especially if the latter doesn't match the rest of the appliances in a home. The upgrades should be in line with what the buyer demographic will be like. The old standbys, like a kitchen or bathroom remodel, never fail to recoup a large portion of the investment.

Either way, it always pays to prioritize maintenance and keep the house in good shape, before adding finishing touches. A home inspection can point out where regular upkeep is sorely needed.

"I've been in a lot of houses where people are spending thirty or forty thousand dollars to remodel the kitchen, but then you walk into the basement and there's a musty smell because water is leaking through the foundation," Don Sever, president of Virginia-based Sever Construction, told McCleary. "To me, it's more important to resolve those items first, and get the luxuries later."

Safety should come first

Few buyers are willing to commit big money to a property that is full of problems. Therefore, sellers should consult a property inspection professional prior to listing their house on the market. Then, all necessary repairs could be addressed.

Before making any upgrades, home maintenance and safety concerns should be at the top of the list, according to Bankrate.com. When there is too much to do, some people might get overwhelmed. Instead, they should focus on anything that involves water or safety. 

These problems could arise in a number of places, but some areas to look include broken hand railings, walkway cracks, electrical outlets and smoke detectors, the news source noted. In addition to these safety issues, water is also a major hazard for most properties. Moisture can build up from damaged rain gutters, window leaks, overgrown vegetation or improperly caulked showers and toilets.

Moreover, it is also worth homeowners' time and effort to have a property inspection professional take a look at the roof, Bankrate.com explained. Less obvious leaks can do serious damage over time, and end up costing a lot in repairs. Older roofs should be checked after severe weather, and problems could be building up even though signs aren't apparent inside the house just yet.