By Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 12, 2011…..Looking to buy an old police cruiser, outdated fire engine, or perhaps a traffic signal? A Massachusetts community nearby may have it listed for sale online.
Several communities around the state are turning to an online auction website, Municibid.com, to sell their wares, hocking everything from heavy equipment to computers, furniture, bicycles and office supplies. Haverhill this month has 32 parcels of land for sale on the website.
Town officials say the site gives them the chance to receive more for items that in the past sold for very little. The online auction site markets the goods and creates competition, compared to the closed auctions they used to participate in that attracted fewer potential buyers, several town officials said. The site broadens their audience so they can sell items all over the country.
Municibid.com is free to communities, with the buyer paying a 5 percent fee on the purchase price.
The site handles sales for more than 40 Massachusetts cities and towns, including Boston, Salem, Springfield, Haverhill and Mansfield, according to the company’s chief executive.
Michael Ahern, public buildings and special projects manager in Mansfield, has sold many town items on the site. He plans to list 40 to 50 more items soon. The prices of auction items spiked once they turned to the web, Ahern said.
Recently, Mansfield had two fire trucks to sell because the town was buying new ones. A dealer offered $1,500 but the town received $44,000 for the pair by selling them online.
“I was shocked it went that high,” Ahern said, adding that the state of Colorado bought one, while the other was sold to a fire engine dealer in Tennessee.
Before using the online auction, an old police cruiser would sell for anywhere from $200 to $1,000, Ahern said. Online, the town has received between $1,000 and $4,000 per car.
“I think it gives communities a better way to sell surplus that is open to a broader audience so they get the best bang for their buck. Anytime you get more competition you get better prices,” Ahern said.
Greg Berry, founder and CEO of Muncibid.com, said he started the company after he was a borough councilman in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He often saw town items sell for practically nothing.
“I saw the traditional process of no longer needed items, police cars, trucks, tools, cars that were worth $4,000 selling for $400. The problem was no one knew the items were for sale. The process was not truly competitive,” Berry said in a phone interview with the News Service.
So he launched Muncibid.com in 2007. Since then, the privately-held company has taken off, he said. The site serves more than 600 government agencies across the United States, and adds more all the time. Berry said his business is built by word of mouth.
“I guess I am really surprised by the success. It is happening faster than we thought,” said Berry.
Geoff Beckwith, the executive director the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said selling and buying online is something more communities are turning toward. A 2010 municipal relief law – aimed at making it easier for cities and towns to manage certain areas of business – allows communities to request bids for products and services online in what is known as “reverse auctions.”
Haverhill was one of the first communities to take advantage of online bids to get competitive prices for products and services for the city, according to Robert DeFusco, the purchasing director for Haverhill. City officials have posted “reverse auctions” for the water department, buying pipe fittings and hydrants. Haverhill has posted bid requests on the state’s purchasing website, Compass.com. The city saved approximately $100,000 by getting bids online, DeFusco said.
“Basically, in a reverse auction people bidding get to see what the lowest price is. The bidder decides if they want to win,” DeFusco said.
Haverhill also sells online, and currently has 32 parcels of city land for sale on Municibid.com.
Tom Watkins, the purchasing agent in Salem, said he used Municibid.com for the first time last spring. Salem sold more than a dozen city cars. In the past, the city sold cars for around $100 to $200.
“We gave it a shot and we have been very successful with it,” Watkins said. “We put seven or eight cars out there and got $6,000.”
Along with posting on its own website, Muncibid.com markets a community’s goods, posting them on Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube
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