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Donald Trump faithful asked to donate $3 million to buy his boyhood home

The home’s latest owner is launching a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of giving the five-bedroom Tudor in Jamaica Estates to the president as a gift — once the $3 million price tag is met.

By: New York Times | New York | Updated: December 9, 2020 1:29:15 pm
Donald Trump, trump's childhood home, Trump supporters, Trump fundraise for boyhood house, US news, world newsA cardboard cutout of President Donald Trump in his childhood home in Queens. (Sam Hodgson/The New York Times/File)

Written by Sarah Maslin Nir

When Donald Trump’s childhood home in Queens was on the market four years ago, Trump, then a candidate for president, publicly mused about buying it himself.

Now, he might not have to: The home’s latest owner is launching a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of giving the five-bedroom Tudor in Jamaica Estates to the president as a gift — once the $3 million price tag is met.

The unusual real estate maneuver seeks to capitalize on the devotion of some of Trump’s supporters, in the hopes that the same commitment that has driven them to attend his large rallies in the middle of a pandemic will also induce them to open their wallets. The sellers hope donations might also be fueled by an impulse to mollify Trump with a personalized parting gift as his presidential term nears its end.

The fundraiser could also solve another problem that has plagued the home’s owner in recent years: an inability to find a buyer.

The house was put up for auction last fall, but failed to meet the reserve price, said Misha Haghani, principal of Paramount Realty USA, which has represented the property in three past auctions. This most recent attempt asks contributors to purchase the house as a gift to the president via GoFundMe, the charitable fundraising platform, “as a token of appreciation,” Haghani said.

“Love Trump?” the fundraiser, which kicked off Tuesday, reads. “Thank President Trump by contributing to this campaign to buy his childhood home in his honor!”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Even before the latest attempt to unload the property, the brick-and-stucco home was swept up by a series of speculative buyers cashing in on Trump’s political ascendancy.

Just before his 2017 inauguration it was sold for about $1.4 million — about 78% higher than when it sold in 2008 for only $782,500. That buyer swiftly flipped it to the most recent owner for $2.14 million at auction, more than double its value based on comparable homes in the area.

Trump already owns scores of properties, of course, and after years of toxic exchanges with political leaders from his hometown, he recently changed his official residency to Florida. The seller’s hope is not necessarily for Trump to end up once again in 85-15 Wareham Place, where he lived until he was 4 years old, but to donate it to a charity of his choosing, or perhaps install a presidential library. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, a real estate developer, built the home in 1940.

“Technically, he could accept the home and say, ‘Great, I just got another property to add to my empire,’ but he’s not going to do that,” Haghani said. “I believe if the president were to accept the property, he would do something with it in honor of his presidency. It’s either that or he’ll just donate it to some charity.”

Trump’s childhood house is not the only presidential home base for sale in the city: The three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on West 114th St. in Manhattan where former President Barack Obama lived while he studied at Columbia University was listed for sale last month. The asking price is $1,450,000. (It is not intended as a gift, though presumably a future buyer can do what they like with the apartment.)

Just who currently owns the home, Haghani refused to say; the owner’s identity remains obscured behind a limited liability corporation called Trump Birth House.

But the 2017 transaction in which Trump Birth House purchased the property was overseen by a lawyer who specializes in representing overseas Chinese buyers in real estate transactions. When the pale yellow house was listed for sale that year, it had been thronged by visitors who spoke Chinese and pulled up in droves to take pictures, neighbors said at the time; Trump’s image as a successful businessman has drawn him strong admiration in China.

Shortly after that 2017 sale, a person with knowledge of the deal but who was not authorized to speak about its details confirmed that the person who purchased the president’s childhood home was a woman from China, but would not disclose her name.

For a time, while Trump Birth House has owned it, the home was offered as an $815-a-night Airbnb rental. A cardboard cutout of Trump greeted visitors, and guests could sleep in a bedroom with a plaque that noted it was where “President Donald J. Trump was likely conceived.”

But in the past several years the home has stood largely empty. Some of the only visitors appeared to be utility workers turning off the power for unpaid bills. In November 2019, it was offered again at auction by Paramount, with another stunt — the chance for observers to win money by guessing the correct sale price — but it did not sell.

This time around there are other sweeteners: The seller has agreed to donate half of anything raised over the $3 million asking price to charity. And if the goal is not met, information on the GoFundMe page says all money raised will be donated to charity. But the seller has not revealed which nonprofit might benefit, or how long the fundraiser would stay active.

Trump is deeply unpopular in New York City, where 72% of the city voted for his opponent, Joe Biden, in the presidential election, and where protests have been held outside Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan throughout his presidency. Haghani said he was not worried how that might affect the sale.

“There are plenty of people who love him, including 70-plus million who voted for him,” he said.

Haghani has his own motivations, he added, which are not political: “I don’t want to have to sell this again.”

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