Sold American: An inventory of USPS disposed properties, 2009-2014

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The Postal Service has sold over 500 properties over the past five years, but it hasn’t released much information about the disposals.  A few weeks ago, however, the Postal Service finally updated its Owned Facilities report, so it’s now possible to learn more about which properties have been sold off.

The overall scope of the disposal program has not been a mystery.  The Postal Service’s annual 10-K reports provide some basic information about the number of facilities it owns and its proceeds from property disposals.

According to the 2013 10-K, the Postal Service owned 8,598 facilities; in 2009, it owned 8,419.  That represents a net decrease of 202 facilities.  This doesn't include other types of property, like parking lots and land, that have also been sold.

The 10-K reports also provide numbers for the proceeds from the sale of property and equipment (but not separated to show just property). The proceeds totaled $158 million in 2013, $148 million in 2012, $137 million in 2011, $70 million in 2010, and $33 million in 2009.  That adds up to about $546 million in revenue. 

That’s about all one can find about the disposals in the 10-K reports.  In order to learn more, we’ve compared two versions of the USPS Owned Facilities lists, one compiled back in 2009 (or thereabouts), and one published just a few weeks ago. These are state-by-state lists of all the properties owned by the Postal Service, which are provided to the public under the Freedom of Information Act.    (There’s also a set of reports for Leased Facilities.)

The current lists of Owned Facilities came out in September 2014.  They were probably updated sometime in August 2014, as indicated by the fact that they don’t reflect some recent sales, including the Bronx GPO and the Union Square post office in Somerville, Mass.

These new facilities lists can be found on the USPS website here.  For easier viewing, we’ve put them on Google Docs here.  A list that merges all the individual state lists into one big list can be seen as a Fusion Table here; a map is here; and an Excel version, with links to Google Maps for each property, is here.

The previous version of the Owned Facilities lists seems to have been updated sometime in 2009.  (The Illinois list shows that the Postal Service still owned the main post office in Chicago; the sale of this facility closed in October 2009.)  You can see these previous lists on Google Docs here.  The merged list of all owned properties back in 2009 is here.

By comparing the two big lists, we’ve developed a list of 516 properties that have been disposed of over the past five years or so.  You can see this list here.

Of the 516 properties sold over the past five years, about 100 were post office buildings.  In many cases, the Postal Service opened a replacement office somewhere in the community, so the closure was classified as a "relocation."  In a few cases, the Postal Service leased back space in the building from the new owner, so the post office's retail business was able to remain in place.

About 40 of the 100 post offices sold over the past five years were historic buildings on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.  (Eligibility means that the building is at least fifty years old.)  While this represents a relatively small portion of the Postal Service's real estate holdings, the sales have generated a huge amount of controversy, from Berkeley to the Bronx.

The sale of 40 historic post offices is somewhat more than previous studies have found.  For example, the USPS OIG found 22 historic properties were sold between October 2010 and June 2013; that report is here

The Postal Service also provided a list to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to help with its study of the sale of historic post offices.  It contained 13 historic post offices sold in calendar years 2012 and 2013, plus 15 up for sale.  This list appears on pages 24-25 of the ACHP report, here.

Based on the USPS facilities reports, the OIG report, the ACHP report, and many news reports, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of historic post offices that have been sold since 2009, that are currently for sale, or that are under consideration for disposal.  That list is here.  It contains nearly 100 historic post offices.

In addition to selling post offices, the Postal Service has sold about 200 parking lots and 125 parcels of land and building sites, plus a variety of other types of property, including warehouses, modular units, and processing facilities.

The 516 properties disposed of during 2009-2014 encompass 9.3 million square feet of interior space.  That’s a lot of space, but a relatively small percentage of the approximately 432 million square feet of space owned by the Postal Service.

The disposed sites add up to just over 42 million square feet — again, a relatively small percentage of the total of 1.67 billion square feet encompassed by USPS sites.

The average site of the 516 disposed properties was about 82,000 square feet.  The largest properties disposed of were the main post office on Van Buren in Chicago (over 3 million SF), the airmail center in Kennedy airport (about 600,000 SF), and the big post office on Kellogg Blvd. in St. Paul (578,000 SF).

While the disposal of properties has generated over a half billion dollars over the past five years, the proceeds represent a rather small amount compared to the total value of the Postal Service's real estate portfolio.  What that portfolio is actually worth, however, is something of a mystery.

The facilities lists do not indicate the market value or appraised values of the properties, and the Postal Service apparently does not have records indicating these values.  But the Postal Service’s 2014 Integrated Financial Plan says that the value of USPS property and equipment was $17 billion, based on cost.  

In order to determine what the properties might be worth on today’s market, the USPS OIG has taken a couple of approaches. In 2011, the OIG did a report (FF-MA-11-118) comparing purchase price and assessed value on a handful of postal properties, then extrapolated to the rest of the portfolio.  The OIG came up with an estimate of about $50 billion for the entire portfolio. In a subsequent report (FT-MA-12-002), the OIG focused on fair market value and came estimated that the USPS real estate portfolio was worth $85 billion.

As for the value of the properties that have been sold recently, investigative reporter Peter Byrne submitted a FOIA request to the Postal Service and obtained a list of about 50 properties sold between May 2010 and April 2013.  His study found that in many cases the Postal Service's real estate broker, CBRE, sold the properties at below market value, often to companies with which it had a close relationship.   A slightly modified version of Byrne's list is here.

The OIG is also at work on another audit report that focuses on the Postal Service’s internal controls over real estate disposal.  It will probably examine Byrne’s allegations that some properties have been sold too cheap.  It should be out soon.

In the meantime, the Owned Facilities reports contain a wealth of information about the Postal Service's real estate holdings.  If you're interested in learning more, go to the Fusion Table version of the merged list with data for all 50 states, and try filtering using different variables.  You can also try aggregating by variables using the "classic" version of the table by going to Help>Back to Classic Look.  

(Photo credits: Westport, CT, post office; former Chicago post office on Van Buren)

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