What is a Surplus Auction?

Malcolm Tatum

Surplus auctions are auctions where items that have been declared obsolete or are otherwise no longer actively used are offered for sale to the highest bidder. In many cases, a surplus auction is operated by a branch of the military or some other government agency, and is used to get rid of everything from vehicles to computer equipment that has been replaced, but is still perfectly usable. In some cases, a surplus auction can only be attended by invitation. However, many auctions of this type are open to the general public.

Car auctions are one of the most common type of surplus auction.
Car auctions are one of the most common type of surplus auction.

One of the more common forms of the surplus auction is the car auction. These auto auctions are sometimes used to sell off government owned vehicles that have been retired from active use. In general, auto auctions of this type will feature vehicles that may have extra miles on them, but are otherwise in good working condition. Generally, the bidding will start at a minimum price and continue until a clear winning bidder emerges. Winners at these surplus car auctions are normally expected to offer payment in full before taking possession of the auctioned vehicles.

A surplus auction may also offer a wide range of office equipment and furnishings. As with the auto auctions, these office surplus auctions will feature any type of office furniture that has been declared obsolete and replaced by newer items. It is possible to purchase desks, chairs, computer workstations, heavy-duty copy machines, servers, and fax machines at this type of surplus auction.

It is not unusual for a surplus auction to be combined with the auction of goods that were seized for some reason, such as in a tax lien or the seizure of assets in the possession of a criminal. As with any type of auction, the sponsoring agency will contract the services of a qualified auctioneer to set up and run the actual auction. In fact, there are auctioneers who specialize in conducting surplus auctions rather than estate or other forms of auctions.

There are several ways to hold a surplus auction. The most traditional method is to select a physical auction site, announce the dates, and establish who will be allowed to participate in the auction. In some cases, the auction may be by invitation only, perhaps open only to vendors who will resell the acquired goods at retail prices. At other times, the auction may be open to the general public, allowing anyone to bid on the goods offered for sale.

Today, the concept of the Internet auction is often a preferable way to manage a surplus auction. Using auction software to set up the web site and establish the bidding process, it is possible to conduct online auto auctions, virtual auctions for computers or furniture, or the auction of any other type of surplus products. The online car auction may be structured along the same lines of public auto auctions, with a specific time that a bid must be entered and specific terms of payment required.

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