Equip Your Small Business by Buying Government Surplus
by Caron_Beesley, Community Moderator
- Created: March 26, 2009, 8:07 am
- Updated: December 30, 2013, 11:41 am
As most entrepreneurs soon find out, the cost of starting or expanding
your small business can quickly escalate as you seek to equip your
workforce, office, or other place of business with the tools needed to
operate and grow.
While you may seek to roll these costs into a
business loan and/or recover them at tax time through depreciation,
neither of these actually reduces the upfront cost of procuring
business assets or equipment in the first place.
frequently used by non-profits but often overlooked by for-profit small
business owners, is to buy surplus goods directly from the government.
What is Government Surplus?
government surplus - which includes everything from computer equipment
to medical tools, vehicles and parts, land and property, international
real estate, and more - is an easy and affordable way to equip your new
and expanding business.
Here's how it works: When a federal or
state agency has extra equipment, seized goods, or forecloses on a
piece of property, it is either transferred to another government
agency or sold to the public. Each year the federal government then
sells billions of dollars of surplus, seized, forfeited and
exchange/sale assets at or below cost or fair market value.
These goods are sold 'as is' by auction or negotiated sale, either online, in-person or both.
government auctions work much the same way as other auction sites, such
as EBay. You visit an agency's auction site, register your name, and
place your bid.
Where can I buy Government Surplus?
While each state government has its own individual online auction Web site (find your state’s auction site here), there is no comprehensive single online auction web site in the federal government.
Despite this, the best place to start your search for government surplus is GovSales.gov.
Operated by USA.gov, GovSales.gov aims to provide a single listing of
all surplus items and real estate for sale by the federal government -
and combines online auction procurement tools with a more traditional
non-transactional catalog of assets that can be procured by other
Certain federal agencies do enable the private sector
to conduct business directly with them via their own auction sites,
including General Services Administration (GSA) at gsaauctions.gov
and the Department of Defense (DOD). Federal law enforcement agencies,
such as the U.S. Marshals Service, also run auction sites for seized
You can find a comprehensive list of all the federal government surplus goods and real estate auction sites on Business.gov here.
How do Government Auctions Work?
auctions tend to operate differently depending on what agency you are
dealing with - some take place in person while others are transacted on
the Internet. Sales can be proffered by sealed bid, spot bid,
first-come first served in a fixed-price sale, or through negotiation
(used frequently in real estate sales).
Be sure to do your
homework before participating in or attending a government auction.
Some companies often charge fees for information about government
auctions - much of which is available for free from the government.
Once you find that government sale or auction, make sure to read this tip sheet from the General Services Administration (GSA) so that you know what to expect and how to buy.
More Information and Advice
You can find more information about government surplus auctions and sales directly from the government at Business.gov’s How to Buy Government Surplus site.
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General small business tips and tricks.