Government Auctions Offer Bargains for the Wary

Michael Sheehan

Government auctions can be a boon for bargain hunters. Up for sale is everything from real estate and cars to yachts and jewelry -- even medical instruments and office equipment. Our experts offer tips on how to name your price and seal the deal.

You've no doubt seen the ads: "Repossessed cars at auction! Tremendous bargains!" Perhaps you weren’t in the market to buy at the time, or fear of fraud made you steer clear, but the reality is that government agency auctions can be a boon for bargain hunters -- if you know how to play the game.

Federal and state government agencies periodically auction off surplus, seized, and forfeited goods. Up for sale is everything from residential and commercial real estate, trucks, cars, yachts, office equipment, household furniture, carpets, jewelry, electronics -- even medical instruments and equipment. To those in the know, these auctions can be a bargain maven’s El Dorado.

It’s also gotten easier to find a good deal. Where once you had to visit several government agency websites to see what was available, now you can find the information all in one place at GovSales.gov. There’s also a helpful guide to government sales available online.

Here are a few auction tips from the pros:

Do Your Homework. If you’re planning to bid on a car or truck, do your due diligence ahead of time so you don’t overpay by researching prices and options at websites such as Edmunds.com and Kelly Blue Book. If you're looking at used recreational vehicles, yachts, motorcycles and classic cars, NadaGuides.com can help you determine the value.

Determine the Retail Value. Do some comparison shopping for the items you might want to bid on at retailers. Knowing how much the item costs new will help you zero in on your maximum bid.

Comb Over the Merchandise. Nearly everything that's auctioned off is used, and generally there are no warranties. Most agencies will allow you to look over the goods being auctioned a couple of days before they go on sale. If there’s a public preview, be sure to go.

Nail Down Payment. Find out when and how you'll be expected to pay for what you buy. Some auctions want payment upfront, so you'll need cash or a cashier's check. You could be shut out if you don't have payment in the required form and amount on the day of the auction.