Earn this home, say owners

Last Updated 27 August 2015, 18:34 IST

Incredible as it may sound, homeowners in the US are now conducting essay contests to find the right buyers. Radha Prathi finds out more about this popular practice.

When it comes to buying, selling or inheriting homes, bungalows, ranches or palaces, there are only two ways in which the process goes. One, the owner of the property sells or bequeaths it to his/her children or near and dear ones. Two, if the owner does not have any inheritor and does not want any single individual or family to get his legacy, s/he sells or donates the property for a public cause.

While this is the general trend of property owners, the stand of the inheritors within or outside of the family has been not very different over the ages. The inheritor usually repairs or renovates the property and enjoys it or s/he simply razes down the old building and constructs a home, in case s/he does not sell it right away.

If you have been wondering why such a well-known norm is being parroted, well there is a reason. We are living in strange times. The winds of change have set in, at least in the United States of America. These days, property owners are coming up with innovative methods to ensure that their property is passed on or sold to the right person.

Of late, there have been a couple of instances where the proprietor has called in for essays on a given subject. The hopeful entrants are invited to showcase their creativity and writing skills and submit their essays to the owner along with an entry fee of $100 or $200. The owners will peruse and evaluate the entries and then give away or sell their property to the winner. However, conditions apply.

Statement of purpose

For instance, Matthew Brownfield, a software programmer who was in financial dire straits, announced an essay contest for which the prize would be a three-bedroom home in the historic district of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. With nine-foot ceilings, window seats, a white picket fence and beautiful natural woodwork throughout. The topic of the essay happened to be, “How has the economic downturn affected you and your family? Why would receiving this house help your situation more than others?”

Matthew’s family actually tried to achieve two birds with one stone. They hoped to sell their home to someone who may give a practical and economic solution to their problem. Besides, the Brownfields expected at least 1,000 entries with an entry fee of $100 each.

They anticipated the entry fee to take care of their immediate financial needs. They also had a sub-clause which made it clear that if the contest did not attract the expected number of essays, then the winner will get half of the money that is raised and the Brownfields would use the other half toward their mortgage.

It is another story that he did not get a single entry for a while. All the same, Matthew was optimistic when he said, “There are at least a thousand people in America who have been so affected by the economy that they would not mind taking a shot at paying $100 entry fee where the potential is there that they could win a home.”

In another case, Randy Silvers and Carolyn Berry are giving away their 18th century horse farm in Virginia to the winner of an essay contest on similar lines. The Rock Spring Farm is “three-storey high with four-bedroom home, besides a two-bedroom cottage, a five-stall barn and an air-conditioned woodworking shop. That is in addition to more than two miles of horse trails, acres upon acres of loamy soil and an endless patchwork of mature hardwood trees bordered by natural streams.”

Unlike Brownfields, a health issue made Randy, 64, realise that he would no longer be able to take care of his farm the way he did in the past. Randy and Carolyn wanted to find someone who would cherish the farm the way they did. They announced an essay contest with an entry fee of $200 where each entrant had to come up with practical and innovative suggestions to take care of the farm efficiently.

Carolyn said she was inspired by an essay contest for the Center Lovell Inn in Maine, a bed and breakfast facility that was won for $100 in 1993 by a woman named Janice Sage. Janice wrote a 250-word essay that demonstrated her culinary and hospitality skills, and her ability to care for the inn. She recently decided to retire and give the inn away by holding another essay contest rather successfully.

People have raised questions about the legality of giving away homes through an unrelated contest — especially when the owners get a significant amount of money by way of entrance fees. Yet the law of the land has done nothing to deter them as they can see the owner’s ploy to find a solution to their problems.

If the general public is ready to take the risk and spend the amount then they really see no point in throwing a wet towel at the novel endeavour.

Apparently, these landowners are people who care deeply for their possession and love it dearly  for the fond memories that is associated with the premises. They want someone who appreciates the sentiments, the finer points of the facility instead of merely evaluating the property on the basis of its real estate value.

The owners are particular that the heir or buyer should understand the history of the property and the associated difficulties and anecdotes related to their former nest. In other words, the proprietor wants the successor to cherish the possession as s/he himself did. In the process of doing so, s/he charges a nominal entrance fee to encourage earnest contestants and also to make the effort to screen them all worthwhile.

One has to yet wait and watch whether this trend will take wings in the US and elsewhere. But the fact of the matter is that it’s a novel way of dealing with an old problem.

(Published 27 August 2015, 16:17 IST)

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