What Are Government Auctions?

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 What Are Government Auctions?

Government auctions are auctions in which the government sells various types of property through an auction process. Some property may have been seized from criminal defendants during criminal prosecutions. Some property may be used stock from government offices.

Government auctions can involve a wide variety of types of property. They can take place in many different locations, although nowadays, they are likely to be online as well. Many people enjoy participating in government auctions because they can sometimes obtain the items at prices much lower than they would pay for the retail purchase of a comparable item.

What Kinds of Property Are Sold at Government Auctions?

The different agencies of government may sell property for various reasons, such as the following:

  • Law enforcement agencies auction off assets they have seized from criminal defendants or property that has been forfeited;
  • The U.S. Treasury Department sells items it has acquired as a result of violations of Treasury laws, including property it obtains because a person fails to pay income taxes;
  • Agencies sell various used assets that they do not need.

Government auctions feature many different kinds of property. These can include the following:

  • Real property such as houses and other residential units;
  • Vehicles, especially cars, boats, and other types that the government may have confiscated;
  • Personal property items that have been confiscated, including jewelry, electronics, household goods, and interior and exterior home furnishings;
  • Intangible items such as stocks, bonds, and other securities.

For example, the Federal General Services Administration (GSA) has Fleet Vehicle Sales. When a vehicle the FSA owns meets its replacement criteria, it is sold to the general public at auction. The GSA reports that it sells over 30,000 vehicles every year.

It can be advantageous to buy a vehicle at the GSA’s auction because the vehicles are in good condition having been well-maintained. They have low mileage and are detailed before the auction. They are also ready for the road. And lastly, although possibly most importantly, they can be bought at significant savings. Their prices are likely below fair market value for comparable vehicles if bought from a dealer.

The kinds of vehicles that are offered for sale include the following:

  • Cars;
  • Trucks;
  • Buses;
  • Vans;
  • Alternative fuel vehicles, e.g., electric vehicles, hybrids, and diesel-powered.

Auction sales are live. A person can go to the GSA fleet vehicle sales website, enter their zip code and find auction sites in nearby locations. A person can also check the sales calendar to identify upcoming auction dates and locations.

Or a person can search the website for the specific vehicle they are interested in. People can search by make, model, mileage, fuel type, and other characteristics. Then a person can bid online. A person can also visit the physical auction site before the online auction to inspect the vehicles.

A wider variety of goods, including jewelry and electronics, can be bought at the 300-plus public auctions the U.S. Treasury Department holds annually throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. At these auctions, property that its owners forfeited because they committed tax law violations or other violations of Treasury regulations is sold. Among the kinds of property sold at Treasury auctions are the following:

  • New or used cars, aircraft, and boats;
  • Real estate;
  • Jewelry and clothes;
  • Electronics;
  • Industrial equipment.

The methods used for conducting the auctions vary as follows:

  • Property that has been seized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) because the owner committed tax violations may be auctioned off through mail-in bids or at live auctions;
  • Auctions of real estate are conducted online. People interested in purchasing properties may make appointments to view them;
  • Most other property is sold by online auction.

Is Federal Land Sold at Auctions?

A person can buy federal land from the government, but it is not sold through actions. There are two kinds of federal land that are sold by the federal government, real property, and public land.

Real property is land that has been developed with buildings. The General Services Administration (GSA) is in charge of this type of property if it is surplus to the government’s needs. An interested person would contact GSA’s Office of Real Property Utilization and Disposal.

Federal public land that has never been developed or improved is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). To buy public land, a person would contact the BLM state office for the state where the property you are interested in is located.

Do State Governments Have Auctions Also?

Many states also have auctions and some local governments auction off the surplus property. A person can contact the surplus property division of their state government to find out if it has auctions, how they can be accessed, and what kind of property might be for sale.

For example, a person can buy surplus property from the State of Arizona. This property is auctioned off online. A person can bid on items for sale through the state’s Surplus Property Management Office (SPMO). The auction is conducted online through the website http://www. publicsurplus.com. A person interested in bidding on items simply creates an online account, bids, and makes payments through the online service platform.

In Pennsylvania, when a state agency no longer has use for an item, it first offers it to other state agencies. If no other agency is interested, the state declares it surplus and then offers it for sale. ​All items are sold at various locations throughout the state or through an online auction.

Why Might the Government Confiscate Property?

The government can confiscate property through a judicial lien. A government agency may confiscate property for various reasons, but it would usually be done because the owner owes the government money that it has not paid, e.g., for back taxes. Other reasons would be as follows:

  • A person’s failure to keep up with payments, as in a foreclosure proceeding for real property;
  • Failure to pay taxes which can result in a tax deed sale;
  • The property was used in some way in a criminal action or is the proceeds of a crime. This is common for criminal cases involving drug-related charges or white-collar crimes.

A person may have the right to contest a confiscation of property by the government. This would require a showing of evidence that the person’s property should not be turned over to the government but should be returned to the person. For example, if a person’s property is the subject of a foreclosure proceeding, a person may be able to negotiate new terms for the mortgage instead of losing the property completely.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Government Auction Issue?

If the government has seized your property as part of a criminal proceeding and you believe it was done unfairly, you want to consult a criminal defense lawyer for advice. If the government attempts to seize your property because you owe substantial unpaid taxes, you want to consult a tax lawyer.

If your real property is subject to foreclosure by a government agency, you should consult a foreclosure lawyer. Your lawyer should be able to advise you as to whether you have grounds for contesting the foreclosure and how you would go about that. An experienced lawyer can represent you in court if necessary. Your lawyer can also provide you with legal advice to ensure that your rights are protected.

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