Published April 30, 2007
WASHINGTON – Looking for a stately home or opulent office overseas? One in a posh neighborhood or overlooking an exotic capital? Maybe with a glorious or infamous past? The U.S. government may have a deal for you.
From Kinshasa to Katmandu, Bangkok to Bogota, U.S. embassies, ambassadorial residences and other diplomatic digs are up for sale as the State Department moves its employees to more secure locations, upgrades facilities and combines operations in multipurpose compounds.
Some 29 properties worth more than $205 million are now on the market in 21 countries, including a huge and historic embassy annex in the heart of London, large chancery buildings in Panama, Nicaragua and Nepal and homes fit for envoys extraordinary in Belize and Venezuela.
The former house of the No. 2 at the U.S. Embassy in Canada, once featured in a Paul Newman film, is also for sale, as is a magnificent manse in the steamy Indonesian capital of Jakarta and a gem with multiple swimming pools and tennis courts in Ivory Coast.
With an asking price of $180 million, the immense former Navy Annex fronting Grosvenor Square in London's Mayfair district is probably beyond most budgets. Ditto for the old U.S. Embassy in Nepal, $6 million, described as a "grand colonial estate."
But more modest accommodations — apartments and single-family houses once occupied by junior embassy officers in Peru and Poland — are available, too, to say nothing of commercial and industrial space in Congo, Cameroon, Mali and Thailand.
All have been declared "excess property" and listed for sale with private real estate brokers by the State Department's bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, which manages more than 3,500 U.S. government properties in 193 countries.
Run by retired Army Gen. Charles E. Williams, the OBO is charged with ensuring that diplomatic facilities meet stringent safety requirements enacted after the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and tightened after 9/11.
Those that don't — many of which are too close to major thoroughfares — or can't be upgraded, with the exception of about 150 "culturally significant" properties and a handful of others given special waivers, must be abandoned by U.S. diplomats and most are put up for sale to the general public.
Bidding for the crown jewel, the massive 133,300 square-foot London property closed in mid-April after an intensive marketing campaign that focused on its suitability for conversion into a five-star hotel. A State Department team is now evaluating the offers.
Although the winning bidders won't own the property outright — there are 939 years left on the 999-year lease — they will be connected to military history dating back to the 1940s when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower worked there planning the invasion of North Africa in World War II.
In search of a fixer-upper? The former U.S. ambassador's residence in Libya can be yours for a cool $1.5 million, marked down from its multimillion dollar estimated market value because of damage it sustained in anti-American riots and demonstrations throughout the 1980s and 90s.
"Internal renovation is needed," the department's prospectus on the house says, omitting reference to the gangs of rock-throwing protesters that once gathered outside and the 26-year rupture in diplomatic ties between Washington and Tripoli from 1980 to 2006.
Still, the department plays up the 6,500-square-foot home's swimming pool, changing area, staff quarters, extensive garden space and broad verandas.
But buyer beware. There are "title issues" to be worked out between the State Department and Libyan government despite the recent thaw in relations, the prospectus says.
Clear title won't be a problem in Canada, where $2.25 million will get you the three-story house in the leafy upscale Ottawa suburb of Rockcliffe Park that has been the home to generations of deputy U.S. ambassadors since 1948.
"At once stately and imposing," the department's broker says of the 64-year-old house that enjoyed a period of Hollywood celebrity as the home of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in the 1990 movie "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge."
Further afield, the State Department is building a new embassy in Nepal, making obsolete the existing 22,700-square foot complex in Katmandu, a sprawling affair that includes an office building, annex and cafeteria, nestled in the foothills of the towering Himalayas.
Vistas at less-elevated altitudes are available from a stone ex-diplomatic home in Taipei, a steal at $2 million that is surrounded by "undeveloped mountain and forest settings" from Taiwan's adjacent Yang Ming Mountain National Park.
In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, the expansive former U.S. ambassador's home, spread over 2.2 acres, is up for sale. In addition to a master suite, four bedrooms with private baths, family room, kitchen, pantry and house manager's quarters, the residence features a pool, terraces and gardens perfect for black-tie soirees.
Basement rooms for servants are, of course, also part of the $2.1 million package.
Ambassadorial elegance abroad can, however, be found for less.
In Belize City, the five-bedroom, five-bath, 6,000-square-foot home is being sold for $700,000 because the U.S. Embassy and its diplomats have moved to the new capital of Belmopan.
The North King's Park neighborhood "commands some of the highest prices for residential property" in the main city of what was once British Honduras, the State Department assures prospective buyers.
A pair of four-bedroom townhouses in Warsaw's trendy Mokotow district are available for $400,000 each, as are nearly twin homes in Lima, Peru for $215,000 a pop.
In Nicaragua and Mali, former embassy compounds are also for sale, asking prices $2 million and $2.1 million respectively, with the Bamako property including two parcels with a cultural center and snack bar.
In Indonesia, $550,000 will get you a 107-year-old single family home dating back to the Dutch colonial era near a commercial corridor filled with new restaurants, cafes and offices.
If commercial space is what you need in the Thai capital, the State Department has a 78.5-acre vacant lot south of Bangkok near the new international airport amid several major roadways now under construction. Yours for only $2 million.