The other day I spent a few hours at an auction for unclaimed property seized by my local police department. The auction itself was hosted by a professional auction company and over 300 items were up for grabs. Every six months they are selling all the items that they seized and the public can try to get a good deal on them. Here’s what I’ve learned.
What items are for sale
It really depends on what items the police seized, but at the auction that I went to there was a motorbike (damaged without key or title), multiple bikes, coins, jewelry, electronics, tools, watches, golf clubs, even shoes. Who wants a pair of size 7 ladies basketball shoes? Going 10, 10, 10, 15, 15, SOLD!!
Now, every item is going to be sold “as is”. That means both the police department nor the auctioneer tested anything for functionality or condition. You might end up paying 200 bucks for a TV that does not work. So it’s a good idea to only bid on things that you know the true value of or that you can repair yourself for cheap.
A lot of items were also bundled, that means that you’re not only bidding on one iPod, but 4. Same for bikes, car stereos and other items. Bundles of 2-5 items are very common. They want to get rid of everything that day, even if they have to give it away for pennies.
How to attend
I heard about the police auction in my city from a friend, but after doing a quick google research I found the site www.governmentbargains.com and the auction I went to showed up on it. Next time I’ll just look up any auctions on this site.
You can also go to the website of your local police or sheriff’s department and check for the next public auctions. This can either be unclaimed property, seized property/real estate or a surplus auction. Sometimes they also auction off some of their retired vehicles.
The auction I went to only required you to show up and register on site. Drivers license needed. No sign up fee.
What to expect
Before the official auction began I had the chance to check out all the items for 2 hours, even though I already saw pictures of everything online. It did make sense to see them in person though, because a lot of stuff appeared to be in very bad shape, e.g. rusty bikes, damaged motorcycle and dusty and worn out laptops. There were brand new items too, an iPod touch was even in the original sealed box. It later sold for 200 dollars. Would have been $175 in the store. Some bidders just get carried away in the heat of the action.
Once the action begins, it’s a very fast pace. Listen to this little audio preview of how fast the auctioneer is speaking:
I could tell that they wanted to move product, all of it. The auctioneer usually starts with the amount that they expect to get in the end. If nobody bids, the price drops until the first person raises their hand. Then the price goes up until the final bid. Sometimes nobody wants to bid, so they just combine the merchandise with the next item on the list, so you’re getting it as a free bonus on the next bid.
There are several staff members watching the crowd, so that they won’t miss a raised hand and the auctioneer knows when to up the price. From what I’ve heard these employees are getting a commission on what their section of the crowd bought, so they keep encouraging them to bid higher or bid at all.
I spent 1.5 hours at the auction and we burned through 150 items. After the items I was interested in were sold, I just got up and left. Nobody needs to sit through the whole auction, which lasts for hours. If you bought something, you can pay, get your merchandise and just leave.
The very casual crowd was about 150 people of multiple ethnic backgrounds plus a few cops, since it was their auction. It was kind of funny that they also sold radar detectors, which are prohibited in some states. The person who bought that item must have had a smirk on his face, because he just revealed that he likes to speed without getting caught, while the police watched him buy it.
Can you make bargains?
There are definitely deals that you can make at these auctions. However, you need to do your homework and either research the current market value of the item or know how to fix it in case it’s broken.
I was after a few of the coins that have been auctioned off, but unfortunately I was not the only one with that intention. One of the silver dollars that I bid on started with 25, dropped to 10 after nobody bid and then quickly went up to the final amount of 40 bucks. I stopped at 20, because you can buy that same silver dollar for currently $27. Two 52″ flat screen TVs sold for $220 and $285. Again, nobody knew if these are still in working condition. Motorcycle helmets in bundles of 3 sold for $40, bikes from $10 to $170, and 6 car stereos combined for $60, just to give you a few more examples.
Do you remember the motorcycle mentioned above without key and title? It sold for $475.
It’s definitely worth the experience and this won’t be the last time I will go to a police auction. Next time I’ll do more research on some items and check for how much they sell on ebay and craigslist. Maybe I’ll end up with the winning bid next time and can make a small profit by selling it for more.