Tactics for winning deals, avoiding pitfalls

Government auctions offer deals, but not everything's a bargain. And the government has gotten savvier about selling its goods.

So be realistic about the prices you'll pay, veteran auction-goers say.

"You're not going to get a Porsche 911 for $100," warns Hans Anderson, founder of Government Auction Listings.

To sharpen your bidding skills, experienced auction-goers list these tips:

*Research the goods you're interested in, preferably before auction day. Most government auctions offer previews of the goods for sale. Find out what a comparable item would sell for in stores and, after the auction, get the list of winning bids so you'll have a better handle on prices next time.

*Don't get caught up in the bidding. Write down beforehand the upper limit of what you're willing to pay for an item and stick to it.

*Find out when and how to pay for items. Some but not all auctions accept credit cards. Some items require payment in full; others, deposits.

*Watch out for restrictions on particular items. For example, US Customs tags some goods such as Oriental carpets from Iran, Asian clothing that doesn't meet the import quotas, and cars that don't meet US specifications - as "export only." That means you can't bring them into the US but have to ship them overseas. Contact US Customs or a customs broker to find out how to do this before you buy.

*Read the fine print on real estate sales. Sometimes the government retains certain rights on the property (such as an easement for a pipeline) that limit where you can build.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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