What does it really take to sell a house? For many homeowners, the process may seem like a long, confusing road. It is understandable that some people are worried about the housing market, with a number of uncertain factors getting in the way of a smooth transaction.

However, there are plenty of things to be excited about. Home prices are on the rise, which means that many current owners may be able to sell soon. Mortgage rates remain near historic lows, and buyer demand is strong. These are all good reasons to sell now, but those planning a move will have to prepare in advance.

A home inspection is one way to do just that. With a detailed report in hand, sellers won't encounter any serious surprises during the negotiating process. Better yet, they could even learn of a few areas that need maintenance in order to sell for more money.

Start the process early

Selling a home can take a while. Due to all the steps along the way, sellers should start their preparations as early as possible. This is true all the time, but a head start may be extremely valuable in 2014.

According to Bankrate.com, selling a house often takes longer than expected. The first step to a successful transaction is a home inspection. Any repairs or serious hazards will get in the way of a smooth sale, and they should be addressed before any buyer takes a look around. After that is completed, homeowners must clean up their houses. Clutter, trash, dirt and grime are all major buyer turn-offs. In order to get ready for a showing, the property has to look great, neat and tidy. The goal should always be to create a space where the potential buyers can envision their own belongings.

In addition, remodeling may not be worth it if the goal is to sell quickly, Bankrate.com explained. For example, if a home inspection turns up a problem with the roof, it may be easier to drop the asking price or make other concessions at the negotiating table. Many larger improvement projects don't have a great return on investment, and they take time to complete. However, small tasks like a fresh coat of paint and new doors or windows may be worth the time and effort. 

Planning months in advance will help

It is never too early to get ready to sell. The process takes time, and spring is right around the corner - even if it may not feel like it. This season is often one of the busiest for buyers, so the heart of winter can be the perfect time to get ready for that added attention.

According to Realtor.com, packing months ahead of time may actually be the smart thing to do. While nobody should have to live out of boxes for an extended period of time, locations like the attic or basement can be tidied up and everything can get organized. All of the extra clothes, clutter and knick-knacks can be boxed up so only the essentials are left out when it comes time to move. As an added bonus, a clean house can be more attractive to buyers during showings.

In addition, now could be ideal for minor home improvements, the news source noted. Items on the list could include new caulk and grout in the bathroom, replacing features like ceiling fans, and cleaning up hardware around the house. A fresh coat of paint is another great idea, and it doesn't cost a whole lot of money.

Prior to selling, homeowners should always consult a property inspection professional. With this step completed, buyers won't be turned away by any unexpected surprises and the house can sell for the most money.