Talk of a potential presidential purchase began when Barack and Michelle Obama spent a long weekend in June at the Thunderbird Heights home of their friend, White House interior designer Michael Smith. A contemporary home for sale nearby went into escrow a month later.
The Nebraska buyers required the listing agents to sign confidentiality agreements and made the purchase through a trust, fueling speculation that the Obamas might be the new owners.
Based on Obama’s tax returns, which are public information, he would certainly have qualified for a loan on the house, said Ira L. Meltzer of Luxury Mortgage Corp., which made the loan on the 8,232-square-foot contemporary. With mortgage interest rates still near historic lows, he added, “we would have encouraged him to take a loan and stimulate the economy.”
Conjecture about an Obama purchase in the gated desert community has included Smith’s own house, but area real estate agents dismissed that idea. The 11,000-square-foot-plus compound, with a main house, a guesthouse, a tennis court, a swimming pool and a nine-car garage on two lots totaling more than eight acres, is close to the road and likely would not provide the needed security.
About the time of the Obama visit, however, real estate agent Wayne Butterfield of Thunderbird Realty received an offer on a four-acre site adjacent to Smith’s house from an agent he believed to be the interior designer's broker. Butterfield could not confirm whether the offer was from Smith or another individual. A spokesman for Smith declined to comment.
The flat lot, listed at $2.5 million, could create room for security offices and perhaps allow the street to be closed off.
But the Smith property was also considered an unlikely Obama purchase due to its price. Although not listed in the Multiple Listing Services, the house has been shopped off market in the $9-million range.
Meltzer said he thought that Obama would keep any purchase under $5 million, if only for appearance's sake, and buy through a third party.
“Normally these things are bought through a donor in an LLC [limited liability corporation] or a trust,” he said.
That’s what President Reagan and wife Nancy did when they settled in Bel-Air after leaving the White House in the late 1980s. “Kitchen cabinet” members bought a house for the Reagans for $2.5 million and leased it to the couple with the option to buy.