There are two ways to sell your home:
1) Sell "As-is". It basically means you do nothing to the property. A realtor just comes in and has to market the home the way it stands. Sometimes a homeowner takes such good care of their home that this option is just fine, because you will still get a premium sales price.
However, many times there is deferred maintenance on the home that will raise objections with a buyer. Also, if you have lived in the home for a long period of time chances are it is considered "outdated" compared to current trends in real estate. A realtor will tell you how much this will effect value, and where you currently stand compared to the competition.
2) "preparing a home for sale" is where I believe realtors make their commissions big time and the second option. If there is deferred maintenance what are cost-effective solutions to add value to the home? This is strictly a ROI question, because if you put $5,000 into a home you need to obviously increase the value correct?
Carpet/flooring, paint, and staging tend to be very common changes a seller may choose to make. Vanities, countertops, light fixtures....basically focusing on the kitchen and baths for giving the house an "updated" feel tend to be things you discuss with a realtor.
There is not many outside items besides landscaping that tend to be high ROI, so most of the discussion is cosmetics inside the home.
As I always tell sellers "Getting a good price for your home is all about removing objections from a buyer". Highlight the selling features of a home and remove major negative objections for a buyer so they will write an offer. There are ways to do this with any budget, but ultimately you will only get what you are willing to put into it. A experienced realtor knows what is common for your neighborhood and what buyers are looking for. Their knowledge can greatly help you.
I don't agree with worrying about the neighborhood. Paint someone else's porch? That is ludicrous. A buyer is not going to take the time to even go over there and notice it. How on earth is that going to raise the value of your home? It won't period. It will also emotionally put you on the wrong mindset that is counter-productive to selling the home successfully.
Focus on only what YOU CAN CONTROL. That means your own home. You can't control the neighborhood, and you can't control the market. You can only react to it. Do the best you can and let the market do the rest.
If you want to discuss more in depth just get in contact with me. I may be able to help you on the buy side since that is a zip code I work knowing it will still be awhile. However, I can still help you get started regardless of how long it may take before you end up buying. I could also maybe help give you a referral for selling too.
Realtor North/NE suburbs