It’s not easy getting information out of the Postal Service about the properties it has sold or those it has earmarked for disposal, but thanks to investigative reporter Peter Byrne, a lot of news articles, and various other sources, there’s enough information out there to piece together a picture. Here’s what it looks like.
Overall, the Postal Service has sold at least 60 properties over the past three years, maybe as many as a hundred. It’s brought in over $200 million through these sales and paid out over $3.7 million in commissions to its real estate broker, CBRE. Of the post offices that have been sold, 18 were historic buildings on or eligible for the National Register. In addition, over 40 historic post offices are currently listed for sale or under review and headed for the market place.
Investigating the sales
In its 2012 Annual Report to Congress, the Postal Service says that it “reviewed over 4,000 facilities, resulting in the identification of over 600 buildings earmarked for disposal.” When the New York Times asked for details to help with its article on historic post offices being sold, the Postal Service said the 600 buildings included leased properties and there were no plans to sell that many. The word “disposal” isn’t typically used for terminating leases, but the Postal Service wouldn’t provide any details about how the 600 broke down into leased and owned properties.
When asked to provide a list of the properties identified for disposal, the Postal Service typically refers reporters to the CBRE Properties for Sale website. This website, however, does not list all the properties for sale, and it doesn’t include those that are known to be under review for potential sale.
Investigative reporter Peter Byrne spent the better part of a year gathering information about the postal facilities that had been sold over the past couple of years. He filed several FOIA requests and had to fight with the Postal Service to get information about assessed values and other details on the sales.
It’s no surprise that the Postal Service would be less than cooperative. As Byrne’s study reveals, many of the facilities were sold at less-than-market value, and it appears that the main beneficiary of most of the sales was the Postal Service’s real estate broker, CBRE. According to the records obtained by Byrne, “The total assessed value of the CBRE’s portfolio of 52 postal properties before it was sold was $232 million. CBRE sold the entire portfolio for $166 million.” Yet CBRE has made millions in commissions off these sales.
Byrne summarizes his findings in an extremely informative report entitled Going Postal: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s husband sells post offices to his friends, cheap. Byrne tells a damning story about conflicts of interest and other shenanigans involving postal officials and the real estate company run by Richard Blum, husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein. It’s well worth reading. There’s a Kindle Edition available on Amazon.com, but you don’t need a Kindle to read it; you can access it on any PC, Mac or tablet. There’s also a good excerpt from the report in the East Bay Express, here.
Through a FOIA request, Byrne obtained a list of 52 USPS properties sold by CBRE over the past three years, and he gathered CBRE invoices for commission payments on nearly all of these properties (many of which are here). Many of the sales have been reported in the press, another key source of information about the sales.
What’s been sold?
Based on Byrne’s list of 52 sold properties plus a few more that the Postal Service left out or that occurred after the timeframe of his research, we’ve put together a list of 60 properties sold over the past three years. There may be more, however.
In the 2012 Annual Report to Congress, the Postal Service says it disposed of 43 properties in fiscal year 2011 and 49 in fiscal year 2012. For whatever reason, then, the list of 60 seems to be missing about 30 sales.
These missing sales may explain the following discrepancy. The gross proceeds for the 60 properties totals $215 million. In its 2012 Annual Report, the Postal Service states: “Proceeds from building sales and the sale of property and equipment totaled $148 million in 2012, compared to $137 million and $70 million in 2011, and 2010, respectively.”
That adds up to $355 million, and it doesn’t include properties sold in FY 2013, so the list of 60 doesn’t account for about $140 million in revenues, which is probably associated with the 30 sales that we don’t have in our list.
The initial contract between CBRE and the USPS failed to specify a maximum amount for what the Postal Service would pay its real estate broker. In an audit report on the contract by the USPS OIG released in June 2013, this failure was the subject of some criticism. As the OIG states, “Without establishing a maximum contract value the Postal Service is at risk of escalating uncontrolled future contract costs.”
The OIG notes that as of February 2013, contract payments to CBRE exceeded $3 million, and postal officials increased contract funding from $2 million to $6 million. The OIG audit doesn’t provide details, but Byrne’s records show that the total commission for the 51 properties for which he found data was $3.76 million.
The list of 60 properties contains 18 historic post office buildings (i.e., more than 50 years old, the benchmark for the National Register). The gross proceeds for these properties was $114 million.
Here’s a short version of the list of 60 sold properties, followed by a map showing their locations. A larger map and a more detailed version of the list with data from the USPS facilities reports can be found on Google Docs, here.
MAP OF POSTAL FACILITIES SOLD 2010-2013
What’s for sale?
That’s the story for what’s been sold recently. There are many more properties currently on the market or at one stage or another in the process of being made ready for sale.
The only list of facilties for sale that the Postal Service has made public is the USPS-CBRE Properties for Sale website. It currently lists 42 buildings and 9 land parcels. It looks as though 15 of the buildings are historic properties.
But there are many more historic post offices known to be headed for the marketplace. Some have gone through a “relocation” procedure, meaning the Postal Service has decided to sell the building and relocate retail services elsewhere. Some of these aren’t officially listed for sale yet, but they are clearly headed for sale. Other post offices have been listed for sale previously but are not on the Properties for Sale website right now, probably because no interested buyers have emerged. A few properties without buyers have been turned over to the GSA for auction.
Save the Post Office has not been tracking all potential sales of postal facilities, but we have been keeping a record of historic post offices. At this point, the list contains 63 historic post offices recently sold, for sale, or under consideration for sale. Following are a summary report, list, and map. A list with more details and a larger map can be found on Google Docs, here.
STATUS REPORT ON POST OFFICES SOLD & FOR SALE
HISTORIC POST OFFICES SOLD, FOR SALE, UNDER REVIEW
MAP OF HISTORIC POST OFFICES SOLD & FOR SALE
For more articles and information about historic post offices for sale, check out this resource page.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article had a grossly incorrect value for the sale price of the Westport, CT, post office, which threw off the totals for all of the sales.
(Photo credit: Norwich CT post office; Westport CT post office)