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Surplus and seized equipment, furniture, military surplus, tools, furniture, vehicles….the list goes on and on. And anyone can bid on these items and often win them at a bargain-basement rate. Several websites offer to tell you about these auctions for a price; for example, governmentauctions.org charges $18.95 per month, and their affiliate program of resellers makes sure you don't miss their advertising. For this price, you get listings and details about sales across the country. Which may seem like a good deal until you visit the resources this page: usa.gov/shopping. Following the links on this page will lead you to every government auction in the country, how to get information, and even, in some cases, email alerts, all for free. Some auctions are even conducted online.
Local government auctions usually take place infrequently whenever they are deemed necessary, often decided by the simple equation of when the storage space begins to fill up. To find information about state auctions, check this list.
Nuts and Bolts
You will need to pay by cash, cashier's check or credit card – no checks, either personal or business – at the time of the auction for items that cost less than $5,000. Check with the auction rules for other purchases; usually there is a required cash payment up front, and financing for the purchase of big-ticket items should be arranged in advance.
Be aware that there are scams out there. Private companies have tried to capitalize on the popularity of government auctions by falsely advertizing auctions of seized property. A real government auction will be listed on the website and will feature the the Treasury Seal on all advertising and informational materials.
The Bottom Line
If you're rubbing your hands in anticipation of the million-dollar beach house you'll be able to pick up for a hundred bucks, dream on. The government has the right to reject inappropriate bids, even if few people show interest. Your bid has to be realistic, but you can still save money if you do a little research. To establish a proper bid, check the Treasury Department's list of past auction results that you'll find on the site. It can give you a pretty good idea of what works.
Live seized government property auctions can be pretty exciting, so before you jump in, research the value of the item you want to bid on and decide what your maximum bid will be. Go early so you can get the lay of the land and a feel for how it's done in order to bid with confidence.