About Our House Essays

Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna are among a small group to try 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 fashion in 1993. Such contests are uncommon largely because they involve serious legwork, with no guarantee 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 buzz around a single property to convince 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 New 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 video 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 enters these contests,” said Sara F. Hawkins, a lawyer in Phoenix, who has handled about five similar competitions, including the one in Bethel. “They’re from all over, all walks of life.”

In the promotional video, 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 trying to sell the property because they rarely 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 video 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 5,500 people want to bid on it now?

It all comes down to money, Mr. Bares said.

“I do believe that there are at least 5,500 people who would be willing to pay $149 for a vacation house that’s within two hours of one of the great cities of the world,” he said. “I think that the pool is huge.”

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 woods,” she said. Unlike internationally famous vacation spots like the Hamptons, people who buy homes in this part of the Catskills “have a regional knowledge,” 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 horse stable and riding arena. A more modest one asks $775,000 for a three-bedroom lodge.

By contrast, Ms. Vande Vrede described 391 Woodstone Trail as “basically a three-car garage with a finished apartment above it.” She added that “what that home has to offer 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 nearly as much as the 2015 list price of $825,000. “They are trying to short 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 unable to afford the cost of owning 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 return 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 start 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 Flip, where they won $5,000.

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 between $5,000 and $10,000 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?”

Continue reading the main story
Correction: February 12, 2017

An article last Sunday about an essay contest to win a house in the Catskills misspelled the given name of the lawyer handling the competition. She is Sara F. Hawkins, not Sarah.

So, if you are living in a single family home check out this example!

Ich lebe in einem Einfamilienhaus. Es besteht aus drei Schlafzimmern, einem Wohnzimmer, einer Küche, einem Esszimmer, einem Computerzimmer, zwei Badezimmern, einem Gästezimmer und einem Dachboden. Draußen befindet sich ein mittelgroßer Garten auf der Rückseite des Hauses, eine Garage an der Seite und ein kleiner Vorgarten mit Rosen und zwei Kastanienbäumen. Das Haus ist außerdem von einem Holzzaun umgeben. Im Garten haben wir ein paar Gartenstühle zum Entspannen, eine Schaukel und eine Rutsche für meine kleine Schwester und einen Schuppen für die Gartengeräte. Unsere Küche hat einen großen Tisch in der Mitte worauf wir die Mahlzeiten zubereiten oder Snacks essen. Die Küche hat große Fenster, so dass wir beim Kochen die Aussicht auf den Garten genießen können. Die Wohnzimmerwände sind voller Bücherregale und Bildern. Außerdem gibt es dort ein großes Sofa und einen Sessel neben dem Zeitungsständer. Mein Zimmer ist oben, und ich kann von meinem Fenster aus die Straße vor unserem Haus sehen. Mein Bett steht zwischen dem Fenster und dem Kleiderschrank. Mein Schreibtisch ist ziemlich groß, und ich habe meinen eigenen Computer darauf stehen. Meine Wände sind voll von Fotos und Postern. Das Zimmer meiner Schwester ist gleich nebenan und das Gästezimmer ist auf der gegenüber liegenden Seite vom Flur. Das Schlafzimmer meiner Eltern ist am anderen Ende des Flurs. Unser Dachboden ist nur ein Stauraum und ein bisschen staubig.

This is what it means in English (Remember: these aren't one-to-one translations):

I live in a single family house. It consists of three bedrooms, one living room, one kitchen, one dining room, a computer room, two bathrooms, one guest room, and an attic. Outside, there is a medium-sized garden in the back of the house, a garage at the side, and a small front garden with roses and two chestnut trees. The house is also surrounded by a wooden fence. In the back garden, there are some garden chairs to relax on, a swing, a slide for my little sister, and a shed for the garden tools. Our kitchen has a big table in the middle where we prepare the meals or where we have snacks. It has big windows so that we can enjoy the garden view while cooking. The living room walls are covered with book shelves and paintings. There is also a big sofa and an armchair next to the magazine rack. My room is upstairs, and from my window, I can see the street in front of the house. My bed is between the window and the wardrobe. My desk is quite large, and I have my own computer on it. My walls are full of photos and posters. My sister's room is next door, and the guest room is across the corridor. Our parent's bedroom is at the other end of the corridor. We also have an attic that is only for storage and is a bit dusty.

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