Janet and Fred Chapin’s dream house in West Bath, Maine, backs up against woods where bullfrogs croak and wildflowers grow. When they moved there in 2007, they planned to live out the rest of their lives here.
Yet after six years, family responsibilities and a new job meant that the Chapins ended up in Pennsylvania. Now, they’ve put the five-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot home on the market — but not through conventional means. Instead, they’re selling the property through what’s become a new method: the win-a-New England-house essay contest.
“We saw it as a win-win solution,” said Janet Chapin, 65. “We deed our home over to one lucky winner and they get to love the home as much as we do.”
Essay contests have been used to sell B&Bs, houses, and even a movie theater.The idea is to bring in enough entry fees to add up to a reasonable purchase price for the home or business, while making sure the prize goes to someone who will truly appreciate it.
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For an entry fee of $140 and 300 persuasive words — details are at www.winamainehouse.com — the Chapins’ property, including a 1,200-foot guest house, a greenhouse, a sauna, a game room, and a pool table, could be yours, mortgage and lien-free. The Chapins say they could break even with the entry fees of 4,200 contestants — a total of $588,000. (The township appraised the property at about $588,000, Fred Chapin toldthe Times Record in Midcoast Maine.) If they don’t reach that target number of entries, the Chapins will refund the money, keeping only $25 per entrant to pay for the contest expenses, which were paid upfront.
For all the appeal of the essay contest as sales technique, the method can open the door to legal and ethical challenges, as an October article in the New York Times noted. Property owners have faced allegations of unfairness as well as lawsuits. But Matt Stein, an intellectual property and technology attorney with the firm Pierce Atwood in Portland, Maine, said the Chapins’ contest passes muster. “If this is a bona fide contest of skill, it’s permissible under Maine law,” Stein said.
The Chapins say a separate real estate lawyer told them the contest was fair game, as long as the couple was not involved in the judging process. The couple hired a web designer to manage the site and a marketing team to promote the contest, and selected paid college students and local volunteers to read and rate the essays. They’ve also had a lawyer review the rules and scoring rubric. Entries are being accepted only online, with a number assigned to each essay to maintain anonymity.
“Our goal has been to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” Janet Chapin said. “We wanted to make sure our contest was totally impartial.”
The Chapins plan to accept entries until June 20, with the option of extending the contest another month. Janet Chapin’s advice is to simply share your story, without including any personal information, as clearly, concisely, and creatively as possible.
As for the Chapins, they plan to keep following life’s lead.
“After 46 years of marriage, I’ve given up on trying to predict what’s around the bend,” Janet Chapin said. “Our dream is to own an RV and tour the US until we can no longer do it.”Cristela Guerra can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.
Back in 1993, Janice Sage won a historic bed-and-breakfast in Maine through an essay-writing contest. Now she is giving away her charming seven-room property, the Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant, to the person who sends in the best 200-word essay about why they want to own and operate it. The inn, which dates to 1805, is worth an estimated $900K, an amount that Sage hopes to recoup through the $125 application fee to take part in the unusual contest (she expects 7,500 entrants). There are a few strings attached: the next owner will have to keep the inn painted white with green or black shutters, and it must remain open to guests for at least a year. A winner will be decided by May 30, 2015, and the property transfer will happen within 30 days.
Here's our entry to the contest:
"Why I would like to own and operate a country inn"
We, the employees of a national architecture, design and real estate and interiors site, spend hours each day writing about beautiful properties from our perch near Manhattan's Times Square. We are bloggers, chained to our fluorescent-lit desks, and almost every time we hit the sidewalk, dirty water from window-mounted air conditioners drips onto our beleaguered heads. Being able to blog from cleaner, more scenic surroundings, such as the historic dining room of a 210-year-old inn across from Lake Kezar in western Maine, would deepen our appreciation of the built environment in countless ways.
We realize you are probably looking for people with prior experience in the hospitality industry, who can warmly greet overnight guests and daytime ramblers with milk and cookies, and know how to make an antique wooden bed with perfect hotel corners. We have no familiarity with any of these tasks, but are willing and eager to take on the challenges of operating a country inn, as long as visitors only arrive between posts, don't interrupt our 15-minute lunch breaks, and come bearing high-resolution photos of creative renovations and celebrity real estate purchases. What we can offer in return is great promotion for the inn, and very polished website copy.
Ps. Does your charming inn have a good WiFi connection?
Thanks very much for your consideration.
· Want a Maine inn? You're just an essay contest away [Boston Globe]
· All Hotels posts [Curbed National]