Eta $150 House Essay

A Houston homeowner is selling his bungalow for just $150 and 200 choice words.

Michael Wachs is hosting an essay contest to sell his 1920s Houston Heights pad, valued at $400,000. Hopefuls must pay $150 to enter and submit 200 words or less on why they want the house.

Wachs, who is a realtor, said he loves the home, but he and his wife want to move closer to his daughter's school. The couple decided on the untraditional selling method as a way to give more people a shot at the two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, he told KTRK.

"This is the only method that we can think of that we could get our money back and also give a chance to someone to start a new life or build a home right in the city," he said.

Wachs will accept entries until June 13. The best-written essay wins the 1,056-square-foot house and its appliances, but the winner must pay the closing costs.

The Texas real estate agent said he needs to collect 3,000 entries to walk away from the deal with the house's market value. If he doesn't get enough, he'll refund applicants' fees and list the house the old-fashioned way.

But there's already a lot of interest in the contest, he said: Hours after the contest website went live, it crashed because of too much traffic.

Earlier this month, an Alabama couple announced an essay contest to win their goat cheese farm.

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If you've always wanted to be a homeowner but were financially unsavvy enough to become a writer, here's great news: Your lovingly crafted words, plus $150, could win you a sweet little Texas bungalow.

Just write an essay. Actually, just write the best 200-wordessay explaining why the owners should sell it to you. Bet you wish you'd paid attention in that high school persuasive writing class now, right?

The owner of the two-bedroom, one-bath, 1,056-square-foot bungalow in the Houston Heights neighborhood, Michael Wachs, a real estate agent himself, devised the plan. Each applicant pays a $150 entry free; if at least 3,000 people enter, he'll have raked in $450,000—close to what the market price would have been anyway. Many homes of similar size and with similar features in the same ZIP code go for over $400,000.

"This is the only method that we can think of that we could get our money back and also give a chance to someone to start a new life or build a home right in the city," he told Houston's KTRK-TV. He didn't exactly break the Internet on Thursday, but his website did crash soon after launching.

Yes, it's a clever marketing ploy, but Wachs isn't the first to come up with it. People tried it (unsuccessfully) 20 years ago. Some other people tried it two years ago. It's been done in Alaska (although that one didn't get enough entries to sell it), Iowa, and Ohio. And the most recent attempt to reignite the idea of a personal essay contest with a house as a prize came in March. The owner of the Center Lovell Inn in Lovell, ME, offered up the seven-bedroom inn for $125 to the winner of a 200-word essay contest. In fact, that's how owner Janice Sage acquired the inn herself, in 1993.

With the real estate market strong in so many cities—51 metro areas saw double-digit increases in home prices last quarter—why resort to literature to unload a home? Perhaps because we live in the age of the personal essay, when outlets from BuzzFeed to the The New York Times publish true tales of ordinary people.

The reason is pretty simple: Readers gobble them up; they are clickworthy. Stories such as “Why I’m Jealous of My Dog’s [Health] Insurance” get published because of the reaction, a Times editor told the Washington Post (anonymously).

This could be good news in these challenging days of American education, now that many people rely on emoticons rather than words to express emotion. Or we use abbreviations to replace entire phrases, at least IMHO. So perhaps these promoters of homeownership through literature are performing a societal service, a nationwide English lesson. Infusing 200 words with enough passion and persuasion to beat out (potentially) thousands of other eager writers is no easy feat.

But in the end, words can do only so much. If you're the lucky winner of the Texas bungalow, you still have to cough up some cash. While Sage pledged to give the winner $20,000 to get started in the innkeeping business, Wachs wants buyers to pay the closing costs. And if he doesn't get the entries he needs, he'll have to list the house the traditional way.

Lisa Davis has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time, among others.

Follow @lisaselindavis

Related topics:ContestHouston TXMaine real estatepersonal essay

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