What Are Government Surplus Auctions?


What are government surplus auctions? The phrase may sound mysterious, but really, they're auctions where surplus or old items from the government are sold at very low prices. While government agencies are mandated to recuperate a fair value for their unused assets, the final selling price in a no reserve auction will be determined by supply and demand. This is good for retailers and exporters whose customers can't afford brand new items right now but also great for those customers who need an item or two to fix up their home, save money, or resell. You can find out more about auctions by checking online or by contacting government agencies and inquiring about their upcoming auctions.

How do surplus auctions work? It's pretty simple. When a government agency needs to raise funds, or simply has excess assets that are no longer needed, the government agency can often auction off those assets. The government agency can then use the proceeds from the auctions to fund its operations.

What are surplus auctions? There are many government agencies that put on surplus auctions. Auctions can be run by, or on behalf of, the Treasury Department, the IRS, or your local city police department, as well as other agencies. Sometimes, surplus items can include anything from police equipment to construction equipment. There are even items that your local police department may no longer use such as vehicles, tents, and cots. If you plan on exporting any items, you need to find out if there are any export restrictions, or any restrictions for that matter, on the items that you are considering bidding on.

You might want to check out GovPlanet.com, the leading marketplace for used government surplus auctions. 

https://www.usa.gov/state-surplus-sales is a centralized online location for government auctions, which can be searched for by state.

You can also find surplus government auctions on eBay, such as New York State's eBay store:


Do I have to pay for access to an auction to bid on items at the auction? No, you don't. You might need to preregister, and meet qualifications to participate in certain auctions, but there should be no upfront fees to bid, other than a sometimes required good faith deposit into an escrow account. So, if you want to attend one you can usually just show up and see what items are for sale. If there is an auction being held and you want to bid on items, you should contact the agency that owns the items sold and ask if you can come in and bid on the items.

Do I have to buy in bulk, or in large quantities at government auctions? Usually, no, most items sold at these surplus sales are part of the "as is" inventory. So, you should have no problem finding small lots, or listings for lots that consist of a single item. Depending on what is being auctioned, even a lot or a single item, for example an army jeep or a used fire truck, can run pretty high.

Are the items for sale legal? Yes, they are. Even if items at surplus auctions are considered as excess to the needs of the community or state, the items are still legal to sell. Some of the items that being auctioned off at these surplus auctions can be used by any governmental agency or department. So if you are in law enforcement or the fire department and you are looking to purchase items such as radar detectors, cameras, lights, and binoculars, you can might be able to get them for a lower price than you would get from a store that sells them in their normal retail prices.

How do I know when the next surplus auctions are being held in my area? You can be asked to be added to the mailing list of agencies that run auctions. Another great way to find out when the next auction is being held is to keep an eye on your local newspapers. There should be a section in the classified section where this information is listed.

Are there any other advantages for retailers to buying items at surplus auctions over purchasing at retail stores? Yes, you will have the opportunity to buy unique items that might not be easily available elsewhere, and at prices that are below what a wholesaler would charge for that same item. Are there challenges for retailers to buying items at surplus auctions? Yes, definitely. Sometimes the inspection period can be limited, and the items can be in very poor condition. Also, there can be many restrictions on the items that you are purchasing. For example, if you purchase a used police car, you likely will have to remove the decals and paint the police car in different colors. Same with purchasing military vehicles. I would strongly recommend that you take your time to ask questions directly to the government agency before participating in the bidding process.

Remember, the auctioneers are likely being paid on commission, so it is in their interest to showcase the items in the best possible light, and to obtain the highest possible bids, therefore you need to do your full diligence before the auction starts.

In the United States, you can find both auctions run by States, and the federal government. For information on auctions run by the GSA, on behalf of the federal government, visit: