US Government Auction Guide

Government auctions can be an excellent place to source merchandise for eBay. It does take some capital to buy.  Large purchases can be in the thousands of dollars, but surprisingly there is often merchandise sold for literally pennies. Two years ago the Department of Defense was selling brand new, still in the box, Palm pilots in lots of ten each. I bought two lots (20 units) for just under $1300 and paid another $40 for shipping. That brought my total cost to $67 each. I sold all of them on eBay for between $200 and $300 each.

What type of merchandise is sold at government auctions?

Almost every product that is for sale in the United States will at one time or another be available at Auctions.

Here is a partial list of the most common items :

Automobiles, Trucks ,Vans, Buses, Jeeps, Forklifts, Motorcycles, Boats, Ships, Airplanes, Cameras, Office Equipment, Clothing, Jewelry, Computers, Building Materials, Kitchen Equipment and Cookware, Electronic Equipment, Farm Equipment, Homes, Commercial Real Estate, Bicycles, VCRs, Stereos, Power Tools, , Audio Visual Equipment, and much more.

How do I find government auctions?

The three largest agencies who sell government property are U.S. Customs (seized merchandise), the Department of Defense and the GSA. The US Postal service also holds auctions of goods that were never delivered.

General Services Administration

The U.S. General Services Administration conducts most of the public auctions of government property. The GSA also maintains retail stores (usually on or near military bases) where property to be disposed of is sold direct to the general public. GSA has recently started holding auctions on the web so you no longer have to go there in person.

To find out how to register and obtain information about retail outlets and auctions go to: GSA Auction page.

US Customs Service

When people commit crimes, the government seizes their property associated with the commission of the crimes. This means the government seized property becomes auction goods for the general public to bid on.

The Department of the Treasury through the United States Customs Service has designated EG&G Technical Services as the prime contractor responsible for the storage, maintenance, transportation, and sale of seized and abandoned property.

EG&G works daily with law enforcement officers and agents at local levels. The other agencies served by EG&G are the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the Food and Drug Administration.

You can find information about US Customs auctions at: US Customs Auction Web Site

Department of Defense

The Department of Defense (DOD) has appointed Liquidity Services as their sole auction representative. Liquidity Services (the company that runs runs a web-based auction for all DOD goods from the Army, Navy and AirForce at the Government Liquidation web site.

US Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) auctions a wide variety of items that have been lost in the mail, are unclaimed, or on which an insurance claim has been paid. Sales of this merchandise are referred to as mail recovery auctions, although letters are not among the items offered for sale. The merchandise may include clocks, televisions, radios, tape recorders, jewelry, VCRs, and clothing. The USPS also has sales programs that sell excess postal vehicles, computers, workroom and office furniture, and electronic and hardware items for mail handling equipment.

Look for these items at

Local Police Auctions

Large city police departments and county sheriffs all over the US hold auctions to sell off surplus police equipment and goods that have been seized from criminals. There are several web sites that sell information telling you when and where these auctions are held (just Google police auctions) but you don’t really need this. Simply call your local county sheriff’s office and ask to be put on the mailing list. If you live in a large city, the police department web site will often have information on auctions and a link to sign up where you can get mail or email notices when an auction is held.

Also, check out  They work with over 3,000 law enforcement agencies and municipalities nationwide to help auction their seized, stolen, abandoned and surplus goods. They’ve got everything from jewelry, watches, vehicles, coins, electronics, fashion, fine art and more.

Where Does All This Merchandise Come From?

Most merchandise that ends up in government auctions is surplus. Goods that are overstocked, no longer needed or updated. Real estate, commercial property, and homes are sold as surplus. The goods are sold when the government no longer has a use for them or the property was seized as a result of criminal activity.

How good are the Prices?

The prices are varied from auction to auction. To get the best deals on Vehicles, Airplanes, and Boats, the GSA Government Auctions, and U.S. Customs Auctions are the best to attend. To pick up TVs, VCRs, and Household goods, a local Police Auction is your best bet. One of the largest auctions is the DEA auction held in Los Angeles twice a year. I attended one of these via closed-circuit TV feed and saw a $200,000 Lamborgini sell for $44,000. At the other end of the spectrum, a collection of vintage movie posters sold for under $1,000. They were probably worth more than $20,000.

Who can attend these auctions?

Anyone can attend. These auctions are open to the Public.

What must I do to bid at a Government Auction?

Almost all Government Auctions have some type of registration. You will have to show some form of identification. When you are registered you will be given a bidding number. This Number must be shown to the auctioneer when you make a bid. The auctioneer will accept bids only from registered bidders.

Is Auction merchandise sold “as is”?

Yes, in almost every case Auctions sell “as is.” This is why you should always try and inspect the merchandise before you bid. All Auctions have an inspection period. It can range from a few hours before the Auction to a day or two.

If I buy something when can I take it home?

All items must be paid for in full. Before they can be removed from the Auction site. In the case of motor vehicles title will be transferred to you when you pay for them. However, if you plan to sell the car, you may have to wait a few weeks for all the required paperwork to arrive in the mail.

What forms of payment can I make?

Cash is always accepted. Cashier’s Checks, and Post Office money orders, are the preferred forms of payment. Some Auctions if run by a private company will take Visa, and Master Card. Always check with the Auction to be sure.