Several government agencies sell items to the public through both live and online auctions. These auctions, especially online ones, let you purchase government-owned assets across the country and U.S.-owned territories. Agencies sell many types of items such as vehicles, computers and real estate.
Government agencies have these items for sale for several reasons. Some law enforcement agencies sell the seized or forfeited property of criminals. Other agencies sell items that were forfeited because of nonpayment of federal income taxes. Finally, some of the items are available because an agency no longer needs them.
Which Agencies Host Auctions?
You can bid on items that are for sale through several websites:
Real Estate Only
- Fannie Mae
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Variety of Property Types
- GSA Auctions
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- U.S. Department of the Treasury Auctions
- U.S. Marshals Service
Many states and even some local governments also sell surplus property. Contact your state's surplus property division to find out if it operates an auction program.
Tips for Participating in Government Auctions
The general rule for auctions is that the highest bidder wins, and cancelation is not possible. Find out if you can cancel a bid or not.
Each auction website operates differently. In some cases, the auctions are operated completely by the government agency, while in other cases the agency only operates the shopping site, but a third-party company handles the auction itself.
Find out what forms of payment are accepted. There is no uniform payment policy across all the different auctions. Some auctions accept credit card payments or personal checks. Others, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), don't accept these forms of payment. Cashier's checks are a widely accepted payment option.
For real estate auctions, you may need to still work with a broker or real estate agent in order to bid or make the purchase. Also, for real estate auctions, find out if financing is permitted. Many times it is not and the full purchase price is due when you win the bid.