Write an Essay, Win This House
By RONDA KAYSEN FEB. Three, two thousand seventeen
Slide Demonstrate | ten Photos
200 Words for a Catskills Cabin
200 Words for a Catskills Cabin
Credit John McBay
Andrew Bares and Kelly Lavorgna had put their Catskills vacation home on the market twice in the last four years, and no one had bought it. This time around, they are taking a more novel treatment: They are holding an essay contest.
For two hundred words and $149, someone could walk away wielding three hundred ninety one Woodstone Trail, a two-bedroom cabin on five and a half acres in Bethel, N.Y., about two hours north of Fresh York City. The winner will be the person who best answers the question: “How would possessing the lakefront wish home switch your life?”
“The reality is, somebody is going to win this house for $149,” said Mr. Bares, 42, and married to Ms. Lavorgna, 57. Since few good things in life are this close to free, whoever wins the home will have to pay property taxes — about $11,000 a year — as well as income taxes, because the prize would be treated as income. The tax could be substantial, depending on the appraised value of the home and the winner’s private income.
Also, if the contest does not attract Five,500 applicants, bringing in a sum of $819,500 for the house, it will be canceled, and participants will receive a $100 refund. The remaining $49 becomes a nonrefundable administrative fee.
If the contest is a success, the duo plan to begin an online platform so that other sellers can go after their lead.
Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna are among a puny group to attempt this unconventional sales method. In 2015, for example, an innkeeper in Maine dispensed with her bed-and-breakfast through an essay contest; she had acquired it in the same style in 1993. Such contests are uncommon largely because they involve serious legwork, with no assure of success. Rather than hammer a “for sale” sign into the lawn and wait for the open house, these sellers have to set up and run a contest, generating enough hum around a single property to persuade thousands of people to gamble on it. Already, Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna have had to extend their deadline, originally set for Jan. 31.
So far, Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna, who live in Fresh Jersey, have spent about $40,000. They hired a lawyer to establish rules and guidelines, judges to read the entries and a publicist to spark interest. They built a website with a promotional movie showcasing the property and its surroundings, located in a gated community called the Chapin Estate. They declined to say how many people have submitted essays, as the contest is continuing.
The contest strategy has the potential to appeal to far more potential buyers than might otherwise purchase homes in the area. “I’m absolutely amazed by who comes in these contests,” said Sara F. Hawkins, a lawyer in Phoenix, who has treated about five similar competitions, including the one in Bethel. “They’re from all over, all walks of life.”
In the promotional movie, set to inspirational music, Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna walk hand-in-hand through the wooded property, roast marshmallows at a campfire and play horseshoes with friends. They have been attempting to sell the property because they uncommonly visit it, which is due in part to the fact that they own two bed-and-breakfasts in Cape May, N.J. The house, just steps from a lake, has a log cabin-y feel, with vaulted ceilings and a stone fireplace.
The movie makes it all seem so dreamy. But it also poses the question: If no one was willing to buy the property when it was listed for $825,000 in 2015, why would Five,500 people want to bid on it now?
It all comes down to money, Mr. Bares said.
“I do believe that there are at least Five,500 people who would be willing to pay $149 for a vacation house that’s within two hours of one of the good cities of the world,” he said. “I think that the pool is enormous.”
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But Christine Vande Vrede, a saleswomen at Chapin Sotheby’s International Realty, with offices in the Chapin Estate, doubts that the pool is so vast. “I don’t see this happening in this neck of the forest,” she said. Unlike internationally famous vacation catches sight of like the Hamptons, people who buy homes in this part of the Catskills “have a regional skill,” she said. (Unless, of course, you consider Bethel’s claim to fame, as the actual location of the Woodstock festival in 1969.)
The Chapin Estate has sprawling Adirondack lodge-style homes spread across 20,000 acres of forested land with lakes and mountain views. One listing asks $6.75 million for a 14,400-square-foot compound with two homes, a pony stable and railing arena. A more modest one asks $775,000 for a three-bedroom lodge.
By contrast, Ms. Vande Vrede described three hundred ninety one Woodstone Trail as “basically a three-car garage with a finished apartment above it.” She added that “what that home has to suggest might not be what our clients are looking for.”
Mr. Bares paid around $750,000 for the land in 2007, before he met Ms. Lavorgna. He spent another $350,000 building the home. If the essay contest is successful, it will have raised almost as much as the two thousand fifteen list price of $825,000. “They are attempting to brief circuit the market,” said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants, who described the contest as “more of a gimmick than a real contest.”
These types of contests are not without problems. A winner might not comprehend the tax implications, and ultimately be incapable to afford the cost of wielding and maintaining the property. Contestants who don’t win might challenge the results. There are complicated legal issues associated with holding a national contest, as laws vary from state to state. Without enough contestants, sellers would have to come back hundreds, if not thousands, of checks, itself a daunting task.
Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna see the contest as not only a way to sell a difficult property, but also as the embark of a business venture. In addition to their two bed-and-breakfasts, they also own an interior design company. They have been featured on HGTV, on Caribbean Life and Flea Market Spin, where they won $Five,000.
Using the essay contest as a model, they are designing an internet platform where sellers could list homes for sale by contest. Initial setup plans would cost inbetween $Five,000 and $Ten,000 for access to contest rules, legal plans, promotional materials, social media and a judging platform. Mr. Bares anticipates that the seller would ultimately pay about half the price of a broker’s fee, which is usually about six percent of the selling price.
Their hope rests on the notion that if people can turn their homes into ad hoc bed-and-breakfasts using platforms like Airbnb, what’s stopping them from selling their home in a game of skill? If the entry fee costs about the same as a night on the town, buyers just might take a chance. “Everyone seems to be looking for a deal these days,” Ms. Hawkins, the lawyer, said. “Why not this?”
An article last Sunday about an essay contest to win a house in the Catskills misspelled the given name of the lawyer treating the competition. She is Sara F. Hawkins, not Sarah.
A version of this article shows up in print on February Five, 2017, on Page RE1 of the Fresh York edition with the headline: Write an Essay, Win This House. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
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