United Way of America, the national charity organization, has sold its four-story Alexandria office complex for $6.5 million to a Kuwaiti businessman and his wife to help finance a new headquarters on adjacent property.

The deal, completed last week, is considered one of the first commercial sales to foreign investors in the city, according to Engin Artemel, Alexandria's director of planning and community development.

"To my knowledge it is the first time a foreign investor has come in on a one-to-one basis," Artemel said. He said city officials may be unaware of other deals involving foreign buyers if the transactions were handled by intermediaries.

The purchasers of the property at 801 N. Fairfax St., in the city's Old Town section were identified only as Khaled T. al Ghanem and his wife, both residents of Kuwait. The couple came to Alexandria to seal the transaction in person.

Donley Hunt of Investment Properties Inc. in Alexandria, the group that handled the deal, said the new owners have given United Way a two-year lease until its headquarters is completed, but declined to reveal other details.

Kuwaiti embassy officials in Washington said yesterday they had no knowledge of Ghanem or his business dealings.

United Way's fund-raising activities are extensive. The nonprofit organization solicited $1.4 billion in charitable contributions last year, $11 million of which went toward maintaining the national headquarters operation in Alexandria, organization officials said.

United Way conducts training sessions for paid staff members from around the country at the Alexandria location, including a $425, one-week course on marketing concepts and a $550, two-day media training seminar. The fees are paid by the individuals who attend, officials said.

The new facility, expected to cost less than $12 million, will provide expanded classroom space and equipment to produce videotapes on local projects for national distribution, according to the charity.

United Way officials decided to build the new offices on the recommendation of a volunteer committee, which projected a need for 60,000 square feet of additional space over the next 10 years.

A two-acre vacant lot next to the existing headquarters was purchased from Texaco for $2 million, paid for in part by dues from 2,300 local chapters. Funds last week's sale, plus $4 million raised in a capital fund-raising drive and the possibile sale of one acre of the vacant lot will be used to finance the new building, United Way officials said.

Stephen Paulachak, a senior vice president at the charity, said yesterday that of the real estate companies that tried to sell the property, at least four searched overseas for a buyer before the Kuwaitis signed up.

"There must be a fertile market out there," Paulachak said.