President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that their $1.7 million bid for a century-old house on an acre in suburban New York City has been accepted, a purchase they will finance with major assistance from the Democratic Party's top fund-raiser.
The Clintons plan to close on the Westchester County property, a five-bedroom house built in 1899, on Nov. 1, making them private homeowners for the first time since Clinton's second election as Arkansas governor in 1982. The $1.35 million mortgage from Bankers Trust is being guaranteed by Terence McAuliffe, a friend of both Clintons who was in charge of fund-raising for the president's 1996 reelection.
There had been plans, according to sources, for former White House chief of staff Erskine B. Bowles, who is independently wealthy, to guarantee or co-sign the loan for the debt-ridden First Family. But this plan fell through when Bowles backed out at the last minute, to the consternation of the Clintons, sources said. Bowles, reached at his home in North Carolina last night, declined to comment.
The sale was put back on track when McAuliffe agreed to secure the loan with $1.35 million cash as collateral.
Assuming the purchase goes through without any of the last-minute hitches that often plague expectant home-buyers, Hillary Clinton will have an address in the state where she plans to run for the Senate in 2000 with a full year to spare in order to meet the Empire State's lenient residency requirement, which demands only that she live there on Election Day.
Although Hillary Clinton previously had toured the house, in Westchester's Chappaqua community, the president saw the place only once, on Saturday. Aides said they quickly decided it was the right place.
But this was about the only part of the house search that was easy. There were extensive discussions among some advisers about the political implications of the house purchase, considering everything from its location to the price. Though the house is in a desirable neighborhood at the end of a cul-de-sac called Old House Lane, it is far from the most opulent section of Westchester.
Security was among the most complicated factors, some Clinton advisers said. The Clintons did not bid on one property they liked after the Secret Service, which will provide protection for them after he leaves the presidency, raised logistical concerns.
Although President Clinton's earning power after leaving office is substantial--as is Hillary Clinton's if she did not go to the Senate--their present financial situation complicated their ability to get a loan. Because of unpaid legal bills from the congressional and independent counsel investigations that have targeted them, the Clintons are millions of dollars in debt.
They plan to put $350,000 down on the purchase, using money taken out of the blind trust in which they keep their savings. The $1.35 million loan has a floating interest rate, with a so-called balloon payment at the end of five years when they must pay the balance. In contrast to the typical 30-year mortgage, these types of loans, which typically can be had at lower interest, are attractive to people who have expectations of greater wealth within a few years.
The 5,200-square-foot house, screened from the road by evergreens, has five bedrooms and four bathrooms, an exercise room on the top floor and an outdoor pool. Annual property taxes last year were $26,000. The sellers, Jeffery and Cheryl Weisberg, chose the Clintons' from several bids, White House officials said.
Some Clinton advisers expressed concern that all the attention to the house hunt might be contributing to a lame-duck image for a president in his seventh year. But Clinton, who has said he plans to stay fully engaged with work until his last day in office, seemed happy yesterday. On vacation in Upstate New York, he flashed a thumbs-up sign to reporters and said: "We're very pleased about the house. It's beautiful."
Staff writer Jennifer Frey in Skaneateles, N.Y., contributed to this report.
CAPTION: President and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will take out a $1.35 million mortgage from Bankers Trust for this five-bedroom house, built in 1899.