Monday, March 10, 2008

Shopping at Surplus Property

If you live close of a state funded college or university then chances are you have a great bargain shopping source at your fingertips -- Surplus Property!

Colleges and universities across the country possess a wealth of classic modern and traditional furniture. Because these items are purchased with taxpayers' dollars there are often detailed specifications in place for how old furniture and outdated equipment are to be managed. Enter Surplus Property, a department that can be found on most college campuses. These are the folks who are responsible for managing, tracking, and disposing of extra university-owned furniture and equipment.

How does it work? Every institution is different so it's best to check your local campus to find out how their surplus property department operates. When we lived in Ohio, Surplus Property at the university near our home opened it's doors to the public every Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. It was a first come, first served policy; prices were marked on items ranging from furniture to computer equipment to outdated machinery. In South Carolina, the local university held frequent closed bid auctions that were open to the public. To be notified of auction dates and to receive a list of the merchandise we simply asked to be added to an email list. In our current location, Surplus Property is a bit more tight-handed. University faculty and staff are able to make purchases at any time, but only with departmental funds on items to be used on campus. Surplus Property is also available to the state's public education system. Once a semester they host a silent auction that is open to the public.

Over the years, in various states, we have scored some fantastic furniture deals by seeking out and shopping at the surplus property departments affiliated with the state universities close to where we are living. It is amazing, really, what you can find -- often for very little money.

Using funds from his department, the professor has managed to outfit his office on campus entirely with classic modern furniture -- an Eames table that he uses as a desk for $20, a Paul McCob Danish modern credenza for $10, several miscellaneous modern chairs. We have also found some great items for our home at various campus surplus sales -- an antique oak desk, dining room chairs, parsons end tables. It is surprising what colleges are eager to part with! Of course many items are being cast off for a reason, but a little cleaning and refinishing can yield a great piece at a cheap price.

A few weeks ago I visited our Department of Surplus Property during their week-long silent auction. What did I find? A nice collection of vintage teapots -- some chipped, none that I couldn't live without. A huge assortment of old camera equipment. Beautiful white ironstone dishes (on which I would have submitted a bid if the lot hadn't included enough place settings to outfit a restaurant). Old shop equipment, office furniture, light fixtures... the list goes one. This time around didn't produce an amazing bargain but history has proven that if you're faithful and patient something great will come along eventually. You just never know what you might find and that is what keeps us going back again and again!