In a non-traditional run around the local real estate market, one enterprising couple is attempting to sell their Bethel, N.Y. vacation house by inviting buyers to submit a 200-word essay on, ““How would owning the lakefront dream home change your life?” along with $149. Andrew Bares and Kelly Lavorgna had attempted to sell the two-bedroom cabin on five-and-a-half acres at 391 Woodstone Trail twice in the last four years without success, which prompted them to undertake this slightly different angle on the prospective buyer’s “sweetheart letter.” If the contest attracts 5,500 applicants, it will bring the sellers $819,500 for the house (h/t New York Times).
The rustic vacation home is steps from a lake and has vaulted ceilings and a stone fireplace. The (married) couple rarely get a chance to visit the house, which is about two hours north of New York City, in part because they’re too busy with the two bed-and-breakfasts they own in Cape May, New Jersey. They aren’t the first to try this unconventional method to unload property, though it’s fraught with potential pitfalls; if the contest succeeds, the couple hopes to start an online platform to help other sellers do the same.
As mentioned, the idea isn’t without caveats: The winner will have to pay property taxes of about $11,000, plus income taxes on the prize itself, which could be substantial. And if the house doesn’t bring in the hoped-for sum of $819,500, it will be cancelled. Entrants will get $100 back, with $49 kept as a non-refundable administration fee. On the seller’s side, the headaches are even greater. In addition to “serious legwork” with no guarantee of success–the pair have spent $40,000 on marketing efforts alone–contestants who don’t win might take issue with the results in addition to the many complicated legal issues that come with holding a national contest.
The home itself is within the gated community of Chapin Estate. The cabin has an Adirondack lodge feel with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams.
Bedrooms overlook five-and-a-half acres of wooded property. The deck faces Swinging Bridge Reservoir, on which the property has 250 feet of lake frontage. The house also sits above a three-car garage.
Bares and Lavorgna, who run an interior design company in addition to their bed-and-breakfasts, and have been featured on HGTV, see the concept as an opportunity for them to start a new business: Based on the Catskills house, they’re creating an internet platform for sellers to run similar contests. The thinking is that the low entry fee is just the thing to spur entrants to throw their proverbial hats in the ring for the chance at a deal.
[Listing: 391 Woodstone Trail by 391 Woodstone Trail, LLC]
Tags : 391 woodstone trail, Catskills
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
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.