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Prez N the Hood

The Clintons move next door, breaking rules, raising a ruckus and (I hope) boosting prices

By Daniel Kadlec

September 6, 1999
Web posted at: 10:17 a.m. EDT (1417 GMT)

TIME magazine

I'm guilty. When word got out last week that Bill and Hillary Clinton had settled on a house just up the street from me in Chappaqua, N.Y., the first thing I did was hop in my car and do a drive-by. How can I deny it? Half the village was there. With the stroke of a pen (and imminent transfer of $1.7 million), the First Couple have managed to turn a quiet suburban cul-de-sac into the surest spot in town to be seen.

We locals have a lot of questions. How long will they stay if Hillary fails to win a Senate seat from New York next year? Will the daily parade of cars ever stop? Has the Secret Service bugged our phones? Would we know an international spy if we saw one? Does that omnipresent helicopter mean the end of nude sunbathing? Most important: What will happen to property values?

This last question applies broadly to the presence of celebrities, and many people are asking it. CEOs and athletes have long sought the privacy and comforts of affluent suburbs. But these days ceos are famous enough to attract attention and athletes are wealthy enough to move wherever they want. Movie stars have begun leaving Hollywood for rural spaces, furthering the infiltration of fame. When it arrives, so does the circus.

Celebrity enclaves such as those in Sun Valley, Idaho; Nantucket, Mass.; and the Hamptons on Long Island boast some of the priciest digs in the world. The celebs made that happen, no doubt. But their impact on less glitzy neighborhoods is unclear. Chappaqua is a rural bedroom community that prizes solitude. Glitz is bad. Yet a sitting President's decision to buy in our town is a ringing endorsement. Real estate agents will trumpet it and attract more potential buyers and prop up values.

In the 1980s, Richard Nixon bought a similar home in a similar community, Saddle River, N.J. After the initial hoopla, values throughout town edged higher, says veteran Realtor Tommi Josse, at an area Weichert Realtors office. "It added pizazz, and people wanted to move in," she declares. So maybe the Clintons have done Chappaqua a favor.

Still, if you're house hunting you'd do better to pay attention to these simple rules of residential real estate (see where the Clintons messed up) than to search out a spot with high-profile homeowners:

--Location. This is rule No. 1, and it's so important that if you get it right, it will offset almost any home-buyer mistake. The Clintons did fine. They bought in a top-rated school district near reliable mass transit into Manhattan. They can be reasonably sure of getting their money out, reasonably quickly, anytime they sell.

--Budget. Don't overreach, especially if a big raise isn't in the cards. This leads to stress and seriously erodes quality of life. The Clintons may have erred. With debts of $5.5 million and assets of just $1.5 million, they and their bankers are clearly counting on lucrative book contracts and other ventures after the President's term expires.

--Size. There's not much you can do to increase the value of the biggest house on the block. The Clintons have it. The house next door goes for about $550,000.

--Privacy/noise. No one really wants to live on a highway or in full view of his neighbors. The Clintons did as well as they could on this score. They're off the main road and on a full acre with a lot of mature trees. If that doesn't keep out oglers, the Secret Service will. As for noise, well, Chappaqua is a serene little hamlet--or at least it was before the Clintons decided to move in.

See time.com/personal for more on home buying. Dan is a regular on CNNfn TV and BNN radio when he's not at his neighbors'


MORE TIME STORIES:

Cover Date: September 13, 1999

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