Timing is critical when it comes to farm machinery auctions. That’s why Jason Houser of Houser Auctioneers in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, recommends spring as the best time to hold an equipment sale.

But timing isn’t everything that’s needed for a successful auction.

Cleanliness and maintenance are just as important.

Whether it’s a baler or tractor, Houser said it’s a good idea to break out the pressure washer and grease gun to get farm machinery ready for an auction.

“The biggest thing that helps the value of equipment is condition,” he said. “Make it look good and well taken care of, and buyers will notice. If it shows a lot of wear and neglect, the prices will go down.”

Tractors are always a popular draw at farm machinery auctions and Houser said it’s important to make sure a tractor is running. If there is a loader, demonstrate that it’s operational. Buyers want to hear the engine run and see the machine work, he said, and then they’ll be less hesitant to bid.

But there are a few maintenance steps that may not be necessary prior to an auction.

Houser said he always informs the bidders if there is a mechanical issue, such as a bad wheel bearing on a tractor, and it may not be worth it for the seller to correct the issue before the sale.

“If you’re talking a repair that could cost $1,000 or more, sometimes it’s better to let the buyer take care of it because you might not get that expense back when it sells,” Houser said. “We always make the bidders aware, and sometimes it’s something they can fix for less money than it would cost you to do it.”

While major repairs may not be a necessity before an auction, routine maintenance is, said Adam Fraley of the Fraley Auction Co. in Lycoming County.

On tractors, make the sure the belts are good, the fluids are filled and, perhaps most importantly, the oil is clean.

“Guys always check the oil on a tractor at an auction, and it can tell you a lot,” Fraley said. “If it’s dirty, they could view that as a lack of maintenance, so it’s a good idea to change it as you normally would.”

Fraley also recommends an honest approach when it comes to selling at an auction. Don’t mislead buyers about the hours on a tractor, he said, and include as much maintenance information as possible.

“At our spring and fall machinery consignment auctions, you’ll see some sellers write down the history of a tractor and put it in a plastic sleeve for people to read,” Fraley said. “The more that bidders know about an item, the more comfortable they are when it comes time to bid.”

While the appearance of the machinery matters, Houser and Fraley both agree that a fresh coat of paint could actually be a detriment more than a benefit. New paint raises suspicion that an attempt is being made to hide a flaw, Houser said.

If you want to brighten up a tractor or piece of machinery, Fraley has seen sellers take a different step other than new paint.

Houser said sometimes a farmer will wash the equipment to make it brighter.

“I’d rather see that as opposed to paint,” he said.

What about machinery that is made to be dirty, such as manure spreaders? Is it necessary to clean them up for a sale?

To a degree, Houser said.

If there’s a little bit of old manure in the bed, it’s not a big deal.

What matter most when it comes to manure spreaders is maintenance.

“Everyone knows what they’re used for and they’re going to get dirty. What a buyer should check on a manure spreader is if everything is greased and intact. If a farmer took the time to keep everything greased, then a buyer knows it’s ready to go,” Houser said.

Perhaps the biggest mistake a seller makes, aside from a new paint job, is placing a reserve on his machinery.

According to Houser, a public auction is more about the average of the entire sale, and a reserve could scare bidders away.

“If you have one item that brought $1,000 more than you thought, and another went for $500 less, but you’re hitting the average, that’s good. Shoot for the middle ground,” he said.

Still, some pieces are just tough to sell no matter how good they look, simply because they’re no longer in demand. Fraley said moldboard plows are a hard item to sell, as no-till planters have made them virtually obsolete.

When it comes to hay equipment, Fraley recommended some simple maintenance such as replacing any broken teeth on a rake, tedder or the pickup head of a baler, to show buyers it was maintained.

“Most of the time at an auction, the equipment will speak for itself,” he said. “When my grandfather started our business, he said if a farmer buys a new piece of equipment and takes care of it, those pieces will never lose a lot of money at an auction.”

Tom Venesky is a freelance writer in northeast Pennsylvania.