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It pays to take care of your equipment.

Last year was full of examples of new record-high prices clocking in from every corner of the country on all different types of equipment. And the key factor was condition.

If an item was really nice, if the years of painstaking care were evident for all to see, then it didn't matter whether it was a tractor, a grain cart, an auger, an old farm truck, a disk, or a planter. It sold high.

That was true even on older combines. There was considerable chatter back in 2010 leading into 2011 about the growing issue of a buildup of inventory on late-model used combines on dealer lots all around the country. Given those circumstances, you'd figure older used combines with more age on them would have to fall in value, right?

Not if they were really nice. The nice ones went the other way: Up.

Check out the table for evidence. Listed are makes and models of harvesters. The one constant they all share is that each combine was in good to excellent condition. Those prices certainly aren't consistent. Notice some pretty eye-popping figures.

Payoff for being picky

Start with the first combine listed, the 1985 Gleaner L3 with 2,510 hours that sold for $28,000. That is the highest auction price on an L3 I've seen in 15 years. One week earlier, the same auctioneer who sold the L3, Aaron Siefker of Ottawa, Ohio, sold the 1990 Case IH 1640 combine with 2,727 hours listed in the table for $40,000. That's the highest price I've seen on a 1640 in 10 years.

On February 20, 2011, in east-central Nebraska, a 1997 Gleaner R62 with 1,758 engine hours sold for $95,500. That was a new record for an R62. Stock Auction Company did the honors. One look at this combine, and you knew the owners were particular about their equipment.

A week before that auction, owners Harry and Sharon Schmit sat at their kitchen table and talked about their equipment. No fancy or boastful talk, just Harry's lifetime commitment to caring for his equipment. Everything at his sale sold high.

Things really ratcheted up late last year as buyers scrambled to acquire good used equipment prior to the changes coming in 2012 to the IRS Tax Code Section 179 affecting immediate write-off limits.

On a December 3 sale in north-central Indiana, a 1998 John Deere 9510 combine with 1,885 engine hours sold for $91,000. That final bid is the highest auction price I've seen in 10 years on a 9510.

Combine stole the show

At a December estate auction by Sullivan Auctioneers, four record-high auction prices were set on Deere 9500 tractors in excellent condition.

The funny thing was, folks weren't talking about those tractors at the auction. They were talking about a 1992 Deere 9500 combine that sold for $71,000. That is the highest price I've seen on a 9500 in over 11 years.

It really does pay to take care of your equipment!

How to Dress up Premium Iron to Get a Premium Price

Top auctioneers across the country were asked to give pointers on how to present iron prior to auction or before going toe-to-toe with a dealer at trade-in time. Here are their top suggestions that always add value to equipment.

● Present all repair records, work orders, and invoices. “Having the paperwork on any repair or maintenance you did on machinery gives potential buyers a great deal of peace of mind,” says Mark Stock of Stock Realty and Auction of Columbus, Nebraska. “Nothing speaks more loudly that you took good care of a machine than all those repair records.”

● Clean it up. Immaculate iron tells potential buyers that someone cared for it. “Clean equipment always sells higher, regardless of age,” says Ron Gehling of Gehling Auction Company, Preston, Minnesota. “And by clean, I mean washing off all grease and grime down to the paint.” An added touch that pays off dividends includes waxing and buffing vehicles to improve paint luster. Complete the job by detailing vehicle cabs. “A clean cab leaves a great first impression,” Gehling says. “This job includes washing windows and deodorizing the cabs of tractors used in a livestock operation.”

● Do not repaint. Rarely does a completely new paint job pay off, particularly if it is a bad effort. “Repainting can actually reduce a machine's value,” warns Randy Olson of Lee Valley Inc., Tekamah, Nebraska. Repainting raises suspicion that a seller is trying to cover something up. “If you do repaint, keep it light,” says Mark Stock. “Touching up dings or dents or even repainting wheels is fine. Anymore than that rarely pays.”

● Be sure the battery works. “This is a must,” says Doug Walton of Walton Realty & Auction, Sycamore, Ohio. “A vehicle must be able to start and must be able to turn over with strength.”

● Check all fluids. “You would be amazed at how potential buyers pull dipsticks to check the condition of the fluid,” says Stock. To anticipate this scrutiny, change engine and transmission fluids or top off crankcases.

● Inflate tires. An underinflated tire sends up a warning flag that it may have a slow leak. “With the cost of some tires, potential buyers will immediately deduct from what they're willing to pay,” says Gene Ryerson of Ryerson Auction and Realty, Eagle Grove, Iowa. “And be sure to repair any tires that are leaking.”

● Be honest to a fault. “I really can't stress this enough,” says Ron Gehling. “I've seen tractors with major problems still sell well simply because the owner explained how the machine had been used and what was wrong with it.”

– By Dave Mowitz, Machinery Director

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