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Government Sales of Public Land

Administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)


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Updated June 20, 2014
Contrary to bogus advertising, the U.S. government does not offer "free or cheap" land to the public. However, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, does occasionally sells parcels of publicly-owned land under certain conditions.

The parcels sold by the BLM are undeveloped land with no improvements (water, sewer, etc.) and are usually located in the western states. The lands are generally rural woodland, grassland, or desert.

How the Land is Sold

The BLM has three options for selling land:
  1. modified competitive bidding where some preferences to adjoining landowners are recognized;
  2. direct sale to one party where circumstances warrant; and
  3. competitive bidding at a public auction.
The method of sale is determined by the BLM on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances of each particular parcel or sale. By law, the lands are offered for sale at fair market value.

Public lands are sold at not less than fair market value as determined by a federal appraisal. Considerations such as legal and physical access, the highest and best use of the property, comparable sales in the area, and the availability of water all affect the land value. There are no "free" lands.

By law, BLM must have the property to be sold appraised by a qualified appraiser to determine the current market value of the property. The appraisal must then be reviewed and approved by the Department of Interior's Appraisal Services Directorate. The minimum acceptable bid amount for a parcel of land will be established by the Federal appraisal.

How BLM Land Sales are Advertised

Land sales are listed in local newspapers and in the Federal Register. In addition, notices of land sales, along with instructions to prospective buyers, are often listed on the various state BLM Web sites.

The BLM also offers an extensive Land Sale Question and Answer page on its Web site.

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