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Essay Contest To Win A House

It may be the best deal in real estate: $100 for a three-bedroom home in the Historic District of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. With 9-foot ceilings, window seats, a white picket fence and "beautiful natural woodwork throughout," it sounds like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

The only catch: You have to win an essay contest that will cost you $100 to enter.

When Matthew Brownfield's job as a software programmer was outsourced to the Philippines early in 2009, he had to look for work elsewhere and wound up moving to Virginia. Though he and his family had only lived in the house for half a year, he had no choice but to put it on the market just as real estate prices were taking a nosedive. After five months and few showings, Brownfield rented the home.

When the renters moved early this year, Brownfield put the home back on the market but the result has been the same. So he and his wife Rachele realized they would have to get "creative and look up unconventional ways" to sell the house. Brownfield tells ABC News that "we wanted to do something that would hopefully help our family that was affected by the economy and help another family as well."

They came up with the idea of the essay contest and Brownfield's own experience inspired the questions for it:

• How has the Economic Downturn affected you and your family? • Why would receiving this house help your situation more than others?

Submitting an essay costs $100. If Brownfield gets 1,000 entries, the lucky winner, to be decided by him and his wife, will get the nearly 100-year-old home as a prize on June 15. Brownfield describes it as "beautiful, updated, in great shape and ready to be lived in."

If the contest does not attract that number of hopeful essayists, then the winner will get half of the money that is raised and the Brownfields would put the other half toward their mortgage.

Brownfield owes $88,000 on the Cedar Rapids house and he wants to pay his realtor's commission and some taxes in addition. So while more than 1,000 entries would of course be helpful, that number is designed to meet his "main goal" which "was to help our family get out from under the mortgage and then help another family. I saw how [the economy] affected us and I thought 'how can I turn this into a positive?'"

He has a long way to go. He has yet to get a single entry. But he is hopeful, telling ABC News: "I think there is a thousand people in America that have been so affected by the economy that they would take a shot at paying $100 entry fee where the potential is there that they could win a home."

For those who might consider Cedar Rapids a little too remote, Brownfield paints an appealing portrait. The house "has this gentleness to it, with flowing fields of grain not far away."

(In addition to the website hosting the contest, Brownfield also has a Facebook page devoted to it.)

  • A family is getting creative to help sell their Iowa home through an essay contest.

Photo: Peaches&Cream

What if a few hundred well-chosen words and a nominal entry fee could land you a lakefront cabin, a Maine bed and breakfast, or a Vermont weekly newspaper?

This premise is not as farfetched as it sounds; the essay-contest-as-sales-technique is alive and well and capturing the fancy of thousands who submit heartfelt essays in the hopes of winning one of these enticing properties.

I’ve been intrigued by these novel sales pitches for several years, ever since a close friend confided her desire to enter an essay contest to win a Maine bed-and-breakfast. Is the pen mightier than, say, a realtor’s open house, I wondered, and what seduces individuals to enter? Do entrants consider the pitfalls to these competitions?

Ultimately, the lure of these solicitations became the backbone of my second novel. (Read more about how Hurricane Sandy and other elements inspired AT WAVE’S END.)

In AT WAVE’S END, coming in August 2017, a middle-aged woman wins a Jersey shore bed-and-breakfast in an essay contest. When Connie Sterling arrives to claim her prize, however, she discovers everything isn’t as it seems. Connie’s problems only multiply after a major hurricane threatens the coastal community.

(Read more about how Hurricane Sandy and other elements inspired AT WAVE’S END.)

Though this character’s dilemma is entirely fictional, real-life Win-a-House contests occasionally fizzle. For example, last year, Vermont’s Hardwick Gazette abandoned its essay contest to find a new owner for the newspaper after failing to generate enough entries to add up to a profitable sale (the key to these contests).

A lack of entries also forced owners of a 35-acre Virginia farm to call off its essay contest in 2015 and begin the arduous process of refunding contest entrants.

Even the New England inn contest, which awarded the property to entrants from the U.S. Virgin Islands, wasn’t without derision from some contest non-winners.

Given these hiccups, potential participants might be wise to scan this New York Times article on the headaches of “Win-a-House” contests before diving in. If after doing so, you’re still game, take heart: a New Jersey couple just announced an essay contest to sell their lakeside cabin in the Catskills. They’re so confident in the premise they plan to launch a contest platform to help other sellers do the same.

And by the way, in case you’re wondering about my friend, she never submitted her essay. After mulling it over, she decided she’d be happier running a bar.

So if you hear of any “Win a Bar” essay contests, be sure to let me know so I can pass the word along.

What about you? Would you risk a few hundred dollars to win a home or business? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

(Read more about how Hurricane Sandy and other elements inspired AT WAVE’S END.)

Order your copy of AT WAVE’S END.

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