Small, emerging nations are in luck in today's Washington real estate market, agents say, because there are two Embassy Row properties for sale on Massachusetts Avenue that they say are perfect for small, but oh so prestigious, embassies.
"It's the first time I recall in 15 years that there have been multiple listings on Embassy Row," said Bette June Ingham, sales manager for Coldwell Banker Real Estate Services and agent for one of the properties, at 3421 Massachusetts Ave.
Both of the properties, former mansions, are in a diplomatic overlay zone that would allow them to be used as foreign embassies or chanceries, and the real estate agents for each say they are perfect for small, emerging nations.
Unfortunately, no small, emerging nations have stepped forward as yet, and both properties have been on the market for many months.
The more celebrated, perhaps, of the two is the larger Vanderbilt mansion at 2929 Massachusetts Ave. near Rock Creek Parkway in the heart of Embassy Row. Gladys Moore Vanderbilt lived in the massive mansion from the 1920s until her death in 1965, after which it changed hands several times. It was owned until recently by the government of Saudi Arabia and is now in the hands of several New York real estate investors who are looking to sell.
In December, the mansion was under contract to be sold for a $3.1 million price tag, but the buyer pulled out, leaving the investors with a consoling $311,000 deposit, said real estate broker Marvin Hill, who is in charge of selling the property.
Since then, Hill has made tentative attempts to set up an auction to sell the mansion. But those plans are now on hold because an unidentified prospective buyer has made an offer and is now negotiating with the owners, he said.
Hill, who said the deal is not final, has said for more than a year that the Vanderbilt mansion would make an ideal embassy for a slew of reasons -- it has a ballroom for receptions, an Embassy Row address, and is near enough to Rock Creek Parkway to facilitate motorcades. It has 26,150 square feet of floor space, an acre of land with a garden and is down the street from the Vice President's House.
Hill said that in the past year he has shown the mansion to the representatives of some countries as well as to individuals looking for a private home. He declined to identify any of them.
The two properties have been on the market for some time, say the agents, because of the limitations of the diplomatic overlay zone. The houses can be used as private residences or as embassies or chanceries, but nothing else.
"I can't show it to a nonprofit group or a club, for example," Ingham said of the 3421 Massachusetts Ave. house, which used to be a chancery for Bangladesh before that country moved its diplomatic offices to Wisconsin Avenue almost a year ago.
In addition, there are at least three other houses on Embassy Row on the market as private residences. One of them is another former Bangladesh chancery at 2501 Massachusetts Ave., said broker Jean Williams, who said the mansion, still owned by the country of Bangladesh, is for sale for $1 million.
The other proposed embassy, at 3421 Massachusetts Ave., is smaller than the Vanderbilt mansion with 6,000 square feet of space and eight bedrooms-turned-offices. But Ingham said it does have seven parking spaces and a more modest price tag -- $795,000.
The mansion is owned by a woman who lives outside of Washington, said Ingham, who would not name her.
But she said the tudor provincial brick mansion is also perfect for a small, emerging nation looking for an elegant embassy or chancery at a prestigious address.
The small, emerging nation also has a third choice. The State Department has decided to rent the former Iranian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, a three-story mansion that currently is being used as a decorator showcase. But that property, with clouded ownership and an uncertain future, is not for sale.