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For Sale: Bank Owned at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave

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Posted 07-10-2010 at 12:26 PM by Roy Sanborn

The residential home inventory stood at 1277 homes available as of July 1, 2010 in the communities in this Lakes Region Real Estate Market Report. The average asking price came in at $551,228 and the median asking price was $285,000. This inventory level represents 19 ¾ months worth of homes on the market. That is down slightly from the 22 months worth of homes available last July 1 but we still have a long, long way to go to get back to a reasonable level somewhere in the 6 month range.

There are still a lot of foreclosures and bank owned properties coming on the market. We all know that these foreclosures are due to a bad economy in general resulting in job losses and home values plummeting. Many homeowners just got over extended and couldn’t pay the bills. So it worried me over this past 4th of July that the home most symbolic of our independence and freedom, The White House, might end up being auctioned off. We all may own a piece of that place, but no one is more over extended than our own government right now. If you or I were a trillion or two behind in payments we’d be out on the street fairly quickly. But then again, we don’t have the armed forces to keep the sheriff from serving papers do we? Here are some things to consider if we had to sell “our house” down in D.C.:

First of all, this 55,000 square foot, six level home has 132 rooms, 16 bedrooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, 3 elevators, 8 staircases and sits on 18 acres in the middle of the city. When construction of this home started in 1792 it was located just north of a swamp. Today, Congress is actually located to the Southeast. The most obvious thing that comes to real estate agent’s mind is that “they over built for the area”. This may not be an easy sale.

This “Presidential Mansion”, as it was once called, was designed by an Irishman named James Hoban. When George Washington looked at the plans he thought the house was too small and wasn’t fancy enough for a President. So one of the first federal construction projects got increased in size by 30% and was all gussied-up so it could also be called the “Presidential Palace”. Obviously, this was an omen of things to come. The construction took eight years at a cost of $232,371 or $2.8 million in 2007 dollars.

Many historical homes boast that “George Washington Slept Here” thereby increasing the value of the property. Provenance is everything to some buyers but unfortunately, George and Martha never slept in the White House. That could hurt our asking price some. John Adams, our second President, and his wife Abigail were actually the first to live in the home even though it was not completed. John apparently got an earful more than once from Abigail about the unfinished state of the home and ongoing construction. Sounds familiar. When Thomas Jefferson moved in he complained that the place was too big but then proceeded to lay out designs for new additions. The place is really a bit of an “expansion mansion” as it was added onto many times over the years. You have to wonder if things are up to code. By 1948 the White House was in pretty tough shape due to years of poor maintenance and President Truman ordered a complete reconstruction. This place sounds like it could be a home inspector’s nightmare…or maybe his ticket to retirement.

We also have to disclose that the property has had several fires. It was completely burned down by the British during the War of 1812. There was another fire which completely gutted the West Wing on Christmas Eve 1929 while President Hoover was at a holiday party in the main part of the home. In fact, one article I read says there are several minor fires there every decade. I’m not sure what the lender’s underwriter will think about that but I’m sure they will make it an issue.

Decorating a home like this can be a nightmare, but just about every President (his wife, to be more accurate) has redecorated the place to their own tastes. Can you imagine how many layers of wallpaper there must be in some of these room. Maintenance on a home like this can be never ending. Unfortunately, vinyl was not yet invented in 1792. It takes 570 gallons of paint to keep the White House looking white. Painting trim can be a big chore with 147 windows and 412 doors. This won’t be sold to a retiree.

But there are a lot of great amenities to help the sale. Truman made sure the place got central air in 1948. It also has a bowling alley, swimming pool, exercise room, jogging track, movie theater, billiard room and a dubious security system. The dining room can seat 140 of your closest friends and the gourmet kitchen is fit for a chef---five of them to be exact. Sounds like a Governors Island waterfront! It is clear that this home won’t appeal to everyone.

While it is a historical home, buyers today don’t want money pits. They want new, modern, and easy to maintain homes. It could be a difficult home to sell except at a steeply discounted price. After all, no one has any money except for the Chinese. With that kitchen and dining room it could be the “White Dragon Palace” featuring General Ike Egg Rolls, Washington Won Ton Soup, and Clinton Chow Mein. They could even have specials: Pelosi Pork and Rangel Rangoon.

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