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:
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.
Each year, approximately 300 public auctions are conducted throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico to sell property forfeited as a result of violations of federal law enforced by the Department of the Treasury or nonpayment of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) taxes.
A wide variety of new and used merchandise is available, including automobiles, aircraft, boats, real estate, jewelry, electronics, clothes, and industrial equipment.
Lands identified as excess to the public's or government's needs sometimes become available for sale. The land is first offered to other federal agencies and states, and then becomes open for sale to the general public.
How to Buy Federal Land
The federal government has two major categories of property that it makes available for sale:
Real property - Primarily, this consists of developed land with buildings, usually acquired by the federal government for a specific purpose, such as a military base or office building. This also includes some U.S. Forest Service properties, which usually consist of administrative sites and facilities. The General Services Administration (GSA) is the federal agency responsible for selling developed surplus property.
Public land - This is undeveloped land with no improvements, usually part of the original public domain established during the western expansion of the United States. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has responsibility over this land.
To purchase public land, contact the BLM state office with jurisdiction over the area you're interested in.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-owned temporary housing units (THUs) include travel trailers, manufactured housing (mobile homes), and park models. This surplus personal property is sometimes offered for competitive sales to the general public.
In the past, the General Services Administration's (GSA's) Office of Personal Property Management has conducted the sales for FEMA through GSA Auctions.
Register on GSA Auctions to bid on individual items or items in "lots" within specified time frames.