Painting the exterior of your house is a totally doable home improvement project, even for a first-timer, and we're happy to provide you with an overview for painting exterior surfaces.
Since the home's last paint job has lasted just six years, we think a bit more preparation will be needed this time around. To start, you need to make sure the exterior surfaces are thoroughly cleaned. This can be accomplished with a solution of bleach and water, TSP (trisodium phosphate) or a commercial housecleaning product like Jomax.
A pressure washer is also a very handy tool for cleaning the exterior surfaces of the house. It's important that you remove all loose, flaking paint by sanding, wire-brushing or pressure-washing the surfaces. Adhesion is the key to making sure the paint job lasts, and good paint stuck to bad paint makes worse paint!
As for the cracks, they can be filled with a latex patching compound or latex caulk; just make sure the product you use is able to be painted.
For the next step in painting exterior surfaces, I suggest you apply an alkali-resistant primer. Primers have different qualities from house paint, and are designed to adhere to the surface of whatever you are painting and make the top coat stick. They also make sure the top coat flows nicely so that the finished paint job looks great!
For more tips on painting exterior surfaces see our article, Painting Tips and Tricks. Benjamin Moore also has some great exterior painting advice on their website.