The United States Embassy in London is having a yard sale, so to speak. And they aren't alone.
Online auctions for surplus property are either ongoing or pending at nine embassies and one consulate in eight countries. The U.S. State Department runs an online auction site to handle all the sales.
But why not use ebay or Craigslist? Or just take the items to the local version of Goodwill?
Technically, all property of the United States government belongs to the purchaser; namely, U.S. taxpayers. This is why you can't pull up to your local military base and buy surplus items. Disposal of surplus property is tightly regulated in each area of the government.
US Embassy Online Auction website introduction (US State Dept. website)
The US Foreign Affairs Manual covers the regulations for embassies and consulates. It states that if U.S. property based abroad is not returned to the U.S., it “may be sold if in the best interest of the US government” with proceeds going to the U.S. Treasury.
The Guardian, a British based paper, reported on the London auction in their Monday edition, highlighting items such as toilet paper —which the London Embassy has many rolls to sell. And toilet paper is just the tip of the iceberg.
Toilet paper and paper towels from the London, England, Embassy auction and the list of all auction categories-upper right (US State Dept. website)
But before you decide to bid, there's a few facts you should know.
US Embassy Online Auction website how-to (US State Dept. website)
Items must be bid upon and paid for in the local currency...
US Embassy Online Auction website payment instructions (US State Dept. website)
...and picked up on site.
US Embassy Online Auction website pick-up instructions (US State Dept. website)
Unless you fancy a trip to Yerevan, Armenia, or Tirana, Albania, or Lisbon, Portugal and exchanging your U.S. dollars for Serbian Dinar or Turkish Lira or Ukrainian гривня, best not bid. Any property not picked up in a timely manner will be disposed of and no refunds granted.
US Embassy and Consulate online auctions, active and pending (US State Dept. website)
And the items? Many can only be generously described as junk, as the following examples show.
Like this slightly stained chair at the embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. The Stockholm auction is set to begin on August 30, 2018.
Slightly stained chair in Stockholm, Sweden, Embassy auction (US State Dept. website)
Also in Stockholm? A stairmaster in need of service that "makes a mechanical noise when used" and a used round three tier table "with crack in top shelf."
Both items have starting bids of 100 Swedish krona, or about $11.43 in U.S. funds.
Stairmaster and table in Stockholm, Sweden, embassy auction (US State Dept. website)
The embassy in Tirana, Albania, has a large surplus of functioning generators for sale in their auction which ends in 17 hours. All are marked "Usable."
Out of 16 items in the Tirana auction, 11 are generators.
Generators for sale at the Tirana, Albania, embassy (US State Dept. website)
Tirana also has repairable and usable vehicles for sale.
Vehicles for sale at the Tirana, Albania, embassy (US State Dept. website)
For a current high bid 990,000.00 Albanian Lek, you can buy a usable 2011 white Ford Escape. That comes to about $9,202.88 in U.S. funds.
In Turkey, the consulate in Adana is selling only five lots of repairable air conditioners, with five to six AC units per lot. In Ankara, at the embassy, you can get all the furniture you need to complete a room or half of your apartment in a single lot for a current high bid of 600.00 Turkish Lira or $122.90.
Large lot of assorted furniture in Ankara, Turkey, embassy auction (US State Dept. website)
And back in London, if you don't need 1,200 rolls of toilet paper, you can buy a 2007 Volvo. High bid is currently 3,600.00 UK Pounds or about $4,727.51. The London auction closes on August 8.
Toilet paper and paper towels from the London, England, embassy auction (US State Dept. website)
What property comes back to the United States versus what is sold by embassies and consulates depends upon the overall value, in both monetary terms and ability to repurpose the item once back in the States.
To see what else the State Department is selling, visit their auction website. You don't need to register to browse.