Bill and Hillary buy `White House' near New York

AS OF 1 November, America's first family will have a house of their own - another white house, about an hour's drive north of Manhattan. After a two-month search, the Clintons have settled on a 110-year-old clapboard home in Chappaqua, in central West-chester County, one of the plusher parts of the New York city commuter belt.

The house is built in what estate agents here call Dutch colonial style, with a barn-like roofline; it has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a gym on the top floor and a swimming pool in the 1.1-acre garden. Set on Old House Lane, a discreet cul-de- sac behind trees and hedges, it satisfies the security requirements for a past president of the United States. Its security squad is expected to use a converted barn in the grounds.

After signing the contract at their holiday home in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, the Clintons sounded delighted with their purchase. Mrs Clinton told a crowd of well-wishers: "As of today, Bill Clinton and I are the newest homeowners in the state of New York. I love it. We're so happy." The President, who had been dragged from his holiday golfing a week before to view the house, seemed just as enthusiastic: "We're very pleased about the house. It's beautiful, we like it a lot."

For Mrs Clinton, the successful house-hunt is an additional boon. It gives her an address in New York state a full year before the election in which she is expected to be a candidate for the US Senate. While New York residency requirements for would-be office-holders are some of the least demanding in the country, accusations that she was "carpet-bagging" were already being flung around.

The agreed price is a modest (by local standards) $1.7m (pounds 1m), just above the $1.695m asking price. The sum suggests a delicate diplomatic calculation: not only does it "lock in" the deal - a common tactic in American house- buying when the market is rising - but it makes it impossible for critics to claim the Clintons got a discount because of who they are. The general view is that house prices could rise because of the family moving to the neighbourhood.

Although Bill and Hillary are in debt to the tune of $5m, largely because of legal fees incurred in defending themselves in a succession of scandals, they experienced only one hitch in raising the $1.35m mortgage they sought. Mr Clinton's chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, an independently wealthy man, reportedly backtracked on a promise to guarantee the loan. But the President's chief political fund-raiser, Terry McAul- iffe, stepped in to save the day.

Anyway, Mr Clinton's potential earning power as an unusually young and versatile ex-President makes him an excellent risk. The real sting is the $26,000 a year they will have to pay in property taxes.

The Clintons are unusual for a first family in not having a home of their own. The Kennedy family had their estates, Lyndon Johnson had his Texas ranch, Ronald Reagan used to have a ranch at Bel Air in California, and the Bush family has the house at Kennebunkport in Maine. But the Clintons sold their house in Little Rock when Mr Clinton was re-elected governor of Arkansas in 1982, and they have been in "public" housing ever since.

The presidential house search drew huge interest from Americans, for whom home ownership is an integral part of the American dream. Crowds flocked to the areas of West-chester County that they visited en famille, to see both them and the houses they viewed.

Potential neighbours came out, too. Some approved, others were distinctly hostile - disapproving of the President's politics, his morals or the traffic congestion they expected from his presence.

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