How to Participate in a Government Auction

Auctions are one of those things that everyone can get excited about. Some have a wide variety of things to purchase, and the prices can be out of this world. For example, if you want to get a great deal on something the government owns, you can participate in a government auction.

Anyone can participate in a government auction by viewing an auction site in person, such as for real estate, or by browsing an online auction site of your local or federal government. In most cases, the process is simple: view the item you want, place your bid, and either wait to see if someone outbids you or wins the auction.

If you want to participate in your government’s next or current auction, read below to find out how in more detail. We will also discuss tips and best practices when participating in a government auction – or any auction – to help you more easily win the items you want. Let us get started!

How to Participate in a Government Auction

There are two ways to participate in an auction hosted by the government. First, you can go to an auction in person. Or you can visit an online auction website to browse the available items and place your bids virtually. Also, be aware that various parts of the government-run different auctions. For example, the IRS holds auctions as well. 

You can contact your state’s surplus property division to determine if your local government has an auction program. This is the easiest way to learn how to get involved with your local auction.

In-Person Auctions

Governments only have auctions sometimes, so the first thing you will need to do is do a little bit of research. Local newspapers will often have advertisements of the upcoming auction in your area, or you can search the web for future auction dates. 

Many people prefer in-person auctions since they can see the items for what they are rather than what carefully photographed images make them appear to be. Plus, it is easier to get your items home since shipping from an online auction can be time-consuming and pricey, particularly for more oversized items like bookshelves, desks, and office chairs.

Unfortunately, in-person government auctions are becoming rarer each year, especially for everyday items. The only real in-person auctions being held today are for real estate holdings that the government no longer needs. For this auction, you will need to contact the listing agent to schedule a walk-through and learn about your buying options.

Virtual Auctions

Virtual auctions are much more manageable for the seller and buyer. Usually, your state’s government website will have an auction section, or they will direct you to a third-party auction site hosting their auction on their behalf. You must create an online profile to log in and connect your bids to your account.

There are two types of virtual auctions. Some are conducted life, so you can view items and bid with everyone else. This type of auction is usually run over a few hours. In the end, there will not be anything left to buy.

The other option is more standard, using an auction site like eBay. These items could be posted for days or weeks, and there is usually no time limit on how long you must buy the items. These auctions are much less stressful for buyers since they can take their time viewing items and bid at a slower pace. 

Virtual auctions are incredibly convenient since you can have things shipped directly to your home. Plus, items are always available, so you will not have to wait until a specific date to find great deals on items you are looking for. 

How to Buy a Vehicle from a Government Auction

Government vehicles are sold daily and are some of the best-used vehicles to purchase. They are affordable, have low mileage, and are well-maintained during their tenure as a government vehicle.

You will start your search online to buy a vehicle from a government auction. Type in your specifics, such as make and model, mileage, year, and more. You will see a list of all the available vehicles that match your criteria. You can also sort down your choices by setting a location filter to find those nearest you.

Most of the time, you will be able to visit the auction site in person before the auction date to inspect the vehicles you are interested in beforehand. Doing so is an essential step in the buying process since you will want to be sure of your bid price on the auction date. 

How to Buy Property from a Government Auction

Like vehicles, property and land are more challenging to buy in an auction than office furniture or equipment. However, whether it is property owned by the government, such as an office building, or property seized by the government, such as a residence, it will be auctioned.

The overall process is the same, but there are a few key differences in how you will purchase the property. 

Again, you will want to start your search online. Select your location, then set parameters like size and type of land. You can view the property before the auction date to ensure it is a worthy investment. Once bidding is open, you will place your bid just like any other auction item.

However, this is where the similarities end. Buying a property from an auction is equally as complicated as purchasing a home from a developer or private seller. You will need to have the proper financial arrangements in place to finalize the purchase.

You will also need to work with a real estate agent or lawyer to finalize the paperwork and claim property ownership. This step is essential since you will be purchasing the property as is. This means there has yet to be an inspection or internal viewing before you agree to buy. 

What to Know Before Participating in a Government Auction

  • Items are sold in as-is condition. Therefore, expect to avoid perfectly maintained, undamaged items from an auction.
  • Most items posted in online auctions can be viewed in person. Contact the seller or auction house to book a time to view something you are interested in.
  • When you win an auction, you must pay and take ownership of the item immediately. Therefore, ensure you are prepared with the correct payment method and transportation to bring your item home immediately.
  • You will need to register when going to an auction. First, you need to bring a photo ID. Then, you will receive a bidder number tied to your personal information that they use to record the winner of each bid. 
  • It would help if you were prepared to pay a buyer’s premium, a percentage of the item’s final sale price. This premium should be included in your budget to ensure you can afford it.

Tips for Participating in a Government Auction

Here are the top tips for doing well at the following government auction you attend:

  • First, check which payment methods are accepted on your online auction site.
  • If purchasing real estate, check in advance whether financing options are available or if you will have to pay the total cash value at once.
  • Most auction sites do not allow cancellations. Therefore, before making your first bid, you should read the auction site’s cancellation policy.
  • Set a strict budget beforehand and stick to it.
  • Do your homework. Most people assume that items at auction will automatically be a great deal, but it is wise to verify that you are paying a reasonable price.
  • Narrow your focus. Sometimes hundreds of great items are for sale, so you must determine what you need/want most and prioritize those items first. Auctions move very quickly, primarily if held live, and a few seconds of distraction are enough to cost you the item you want. 
  • Set up electronic notifications whenever possible. For example, you can select a category or specific item type and be alerted when new items are added.

Final Thoughts

Whether you choose a live in-person auction or a more laidback online auction, you can easily take advantage of great deals on a wide assortment of items.

Though some auction items will be more difficult to purchase than others, such as vehicles and property, the auction process is simple. If you keep these tips in mind and do your research beforehand, participating in an auction will be a fun experience.

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