(Photo of North Portico of White House courtesy Kathleen Andersen)

Singularly, spectacularly, the White House is like no other residence in America. It can even be considered the world’s most famous home since it houses the U.S. president — leader of the free world and arguably, the most powerful nation in the world. And, come Jan. 20, 2009, the White House will become home to the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama and his family. With Obama’s induction, the first African-American family will reside in the White House – ironically, 216 years after slaves helped build it between 1792 and 1800.

With this historic turn, we got to brainstorming how we at Zillow can help usher in a new chapter in American history. What better way than to give the White House a Zestimate value? Obviously, the White House will never be for sale, there are no true comparables for this historic structure, and to ascertain its value is an enormous undertaking. But we decided to try, anyway.

After gathering the White House facts and figures — 132 rooms, 55,000 sq ft, 18 acres, 16 family-guest rooms, an underground bunker, 3 kitchens, 3 elevators, and 28 fireplaces — just to name just a few, we worked with our data team that produces Zestimates to figure out its value. And this is what we determined:

Today’s White House Zestimate is $308,058,000

(Value range of $144,787,280 to $409,717,128)

Holy George Washington! How did we come up with this figure?

  1. We considered the most expensive home sales in Washington, D.C. in 2008 and built models relating the sales prices of these homes to their tax assessments and a variety of physical home facts about the homes.
  2. We then applied these models to several large homes in DC with historical value that have been on the market in the past year and did some additional computations that I’ve sworn to secrecy – basically calculating the premium a historical home has over a comparable home with similar attributes.
  3. We then took the White House attributes (# of bedrooms, baths, etc.) and the land it’s on and predicted its value today based on these physical characteristics (using the models developed from Step 1 above).
  4. Finally, we did a lot of multiplying, in order to apply the highest premiums seen in the historical homes to the basic valuation provided by the models in Step 3 above – assuming this is the most historic home in America.

We also calculated how the White House Zestimate would have changed over time.  Not surprisingly, the home’s value has dropped over the past year — down 7.2%, or more than $23 million dollars since January 2008.  However, had George W. Bush bought the home around his inauguration in January 2001, he would have made a pretty penny, as the home’s value has nearly doubled since its value then of $167,861,500.

(Photo of steel-frame renovation courtesy Truman Library)

Obviously, the White House Zestimate is debatable. The home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC, 20006, is truly one-of-a-kind and to place a value on its historic significance is next to impossible. How can you value an underground bunker that is said to withstand a nuclear blast?  How can you value the one-lane bowling alley (photo left) that President Nixon installed in 1969? How can you value the extensive redecoration undertaken by Jackie Kennedy, or massive steel-frame restoration commissioned by President Truman? Or the tennis court, basketball court, horseshoe pit, putting green, doctor’s office, multiple gardens, offices, and specialty rooms that make the White House a mini-city that hums and moans with the twists and turns of the day? Speaking of moans, the White House’s reputation for being haunted is legendary, and Abraham Lincoln is said to be a frequent visitor.

According to J.B. West, who wrote “Upstairs at the White House,” “the Executive Mansion of the United States is far more than a temporary home for the family who lives there for four or eight years. It is now a museum containing priceless works of art and furnishings, a national monument open to 2 million tourists a year, a guest hotel for entertaining visitors of state and, in recent years, an impregnable fortress for protecting the life of the commander-in-chief.”

President Gerald Ford called it “the best public housing I’ve ever seen.” President Harry S. Truman called it a “glamorous prison,” the “great white sepulcher of ambitions,” or the “taxpayers’ house.” It will be interesting to see what the Obama’s call it, as they will be the youngest family to live in it since the Kennedys.

Just think: the White House was completed in 1800 at a total cost of $232,372. Now, who was it that said real estate doesn’t hold its value?

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