Want This House? You’ll Need to Win a Contest

September 18, 2019

Some homeowners are turning to sweepstakes-type competitions to find interested buyers for their properties. But they don’t always work, they're finding.

Still, that isn’t stopping a handful of owners from thinking up a contest idea to try to find a buyer of their commercial or residential properties. One of the latest real estate contests: In Stoneham, Maine, home buyers can vie for a 56-acre treehouse resort for just a $99 entry fee and an original nature-themed photo.

The treehouse resort, TimberStone Adventures, offers a private mountaintop hiking trail and three luxury rental units. The winner of the contest also could receive $25,000.

“Where are you going to get a better deal than getting an entire resort?” owner Josh Ring told The Wall Street Journal.

Ring says he and his family decided to try the contest route after the property languished on the market for a year at a $1 million list price.

“Such a contest crowdfunds a property’s sale,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “If enough people enter, the entrance fees amount to something close to the desired sale price. If too few people enter, the contest is usually canceled and contestants get refunds. That threshold can range from 100 contestants to thousands.”

Ring is seeking 9,900 applicants for the treehouse contest. That would then equal $980,100 in entrance fees. The competition launched Aug. 1. Ring has not disclosed how many applicants have entered so far.

He told The Wall Street Journal he was inspired by a similar contest in Lovell, Maine, for the Center Lovell Inn & Restaurant. New owners for the property were found through an essay contest twice in 1993 and then again in 2015. Interested purchasers were asked to write an essay about why they wanted the 19th century farmhouse and pay a $125 entrance fee. The Portland Press Herald reported the previous owner made more than $900,000 on the contest.

But property contests don’t always earn enough in entrant fees to be successful, as was the case with a recent letter-writing contest that flopped in Alberta, Canada, for a home. 

Likewise, Michael Hurley told The Wall Street Journal that his essay contest for a two-screen movie theater in Houlton, Maine, didn’t work either. Hurley had been trying to sell the property for 14 years and decided to use a contest in 2015 to drum up interest. “We didn’t come remotely close to where we needed to be,” Hurley says. He says he needed at least 3,500 contestants to generate $350,000 in fees.

However, he does say the contest indirectly led to the property’s sale. In an email canceling the contest, he invited participants to make offers and received an all-cash offer shortly after.

In Property Contests, $99 and a Photo Could Get You 56 Acres,” The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 16, 2019) [Log-in required.]