Do you love auctions as much as I do?
People gather from miles, or even countries, around in search of the inventory, the deal, the tchotchke, that is exactly what they’re looking for. With the real beauty being that even with a catalog description, you never really know what you’re going to get until you’ve arrived and started digging into the reality behind the catalog description.
Well, this April, Enwealthen went on a road trip, and here’s what happened.
California Government Surplus Auction
One of the biggest auctions in northern California is the California government personal property surplus auction in Sacramento. Run by the Office of Fleet and Asset Management (OFAM), a part of the California Department of General Services, you’ll also hear these auctions referred to as “DGS auctions.” OFAM holds 3 types of auctions – monthly online vehicle auctions, monthly public (in person) vehicle auctions, and quarterly personal property auctions. Background information such as rules, registration, etc. can be found on the DGS OFAM website. While you’re there, sign up for email notifications of auction dates, catalogs, etc.
The quarterly personal property auctions happen in Sacramento, at the SP&R Warehouse at 1700 National Drive. It’s an industrial zone, many big rigs, warehouses and cross-shipping hubs, with very wide streets. Plenty of street parking, decent sized crowd of a hundred or so people, some police officers to keep people polite, and a food truck or two. You walk in the warehouse, and registration and the cashier are there on your left, with all the lots spread out in front of you in a warehouse about half a football field in size, some on tables, some on pallets.
Have you ever wondered what happens to all the things confiscated by the TSA? As I wandered the floor, checking out the lots, the most surprising thing were the boxes upon boxes of snow globes. Did I mention this is the TSA auction, where all the goods confiscated by the Transportation Security Agency checkpoints at all the nearby airports such as San Francisco, San Jose, etc. end up? Knives? Check. Gerber, Leatherman, and Swiss Army multi-tools? Check and check. Snowglobes? More than you can imagine. Plus boxes and boxes of mobile phones, scissors, and other random large, hard, pointy or liquid-filled objects. In addition, many computer monitors, flat screen TVs, CPUs, laptops, etc. – typically 2-6 years old, but usable. Plus all the random things you can think of – car tires, furniture, equipment, and even a few pallets of lost luggage.
The auction itself starts around 9 am, although they started a bit late this time around. The auctioneer stands on a rolling platform above the crowd and moves from aisle to aisle, calling the lots. They move fairly quickly, perhaps 50-60 lots per hour, but well short of the 100+ lots per hour I’ve seen at some auctions, so you need to be paying attention, and they go until the last lot is called, however long it takes.
On the pricing side, I didn’t see any obvious bargains. The easy pickings such as mobile phones, knives, and multi-tools all had very fierce bidding, often going for several hundred US dollars per box. Honestly, not seeing much opportunity for profit there. Electronics went for about what you would expect, but again, not a drastic discount. Given the 100 or people attending, almost every lot had competition, although I did not stay for the entire day, so perhaps there were more bargains towards the end of the day as the crowd dwindles.
Baggage Battles In The House
And how do you make an interesting auction even better? Throw in some Hollywood glitter, in this case the cast and crew of the Travel Channel’s fast-paced auction show, Baggage Battles.
This is one of the few reality TV shows I enjoy. The stars of the show – Billy, Mark, Sally & Laurence – visit auctions around the country, and occasionally other countries, bidding in auctions, hoping to sell what they buy for a profit. Frequently, they’ll go to lost luggage auctions where you can’t tell what’s inside the bag, just the type, weight, condition, effectively bidding blind. Then later in the show you get to see what’s inside and as they get it appraised. Just remember, this is entertainment, who knows what happens when the camera is off. My point? Don’t go thinking you’re going to find things in a suitcase or storage locker like they find on any reality TV show.
So, it turns out, they were filming an episode of Season 3 of Baggage Battles at the DGS auction that day! In walk Mark & Billy, and a dozen or so camera and audio techs. It was quite an experience watching the cast and crew in action both before and during the filming. A camera / audio crew with each cast member, they find an interesting piece and get a reaction, then another group comes over to do the same. I have to say there were some unusual lots, most notably the giant game board for some sort of eco / enviro education game. Wacky stuff. Moreover, the cast were all incredibly friendly and approachable.
I’m looking forward to seeing the episode in its shiny and polished form when Season 3 starts in October 2013.
If you have the time, you should check one of these auctions out. It’s an experience, both seeing what the California government and its employees are getting rid of, and watching the auctioneer work the crowd. If you’re interested, the remaining auctions for this year are scheduled for September 14, 2103 and December 7, 2013. Be sure to sign up for the email notifications as those dates do change.
Perhaps I’ll see you there!
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Have some great auction stories? Run into the stars of Baggage Battles at another auction? Know of another interesting surplus auction? Share your thoughts in the comments below.