- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

MARLIN, Texas (AP) - The owners of a charming 4,500-square-foot Victorian home in Marlin have launched an essay contest to sell the house, with the writer of the winning entry paying $1 to purchase the property.

But there is a catch - potential homebuyers must submit a nonrefundable $100 fee with their essay in order to be considered for the “Marlin Dollar House” contest.

Homeowners April and Gabriel McDermott aim to collect enough essay fees to cover their initial investment in the two-story 1902 Victorian Folk home, which features four bedrooms, five bathrooms, hardwood floors, three fireplaces, a two-car garage and a pool on 0.9 acres of land.

If the McDermotts do not receive the 1,000 essay submissions they are seeking by that time, they will cancel the contest, refund all the fees to the applicants and do a traditional listing to sell the house. The couple will accept submissions through Oct. 1, though they reserve the right to extend the deadline by 30 days to allow for more entries.

But they see the contest as a way to potentially help a family achieve homeownership without the burdens of a mortgage or the hassle of using real estate agents.



The couple purchased the home three years ago with cash from their savings and had planned to renovate the fixer-upper property.

“I love not having a mortgage. I don’t agree with debt,” April McDermott, a stay-at-home mom, told the Waco Tribune-Herald (https://bit.ly/1DLdaZ7). “I kind of figured that this was a way that maybe someone could have the same thing and give them a little bit of a leg up, and have them spend the money that maybe they would spend on a mortgage repairing it.”

The McDermotts are not planning to hold an open house or viewing of the property, but they have started an online blog featuring pictures of the home and the contest rules at www.marlindollarhouse.wordpress.com.

McDermott said she was inspired to start the contest after researching similar ones online. The Boston Globe reported that a Maine woman who had acquired the Center Lovell Inn in 1993 through an essay contest repeated the process when she decided to sell the property, netting more than 7,500 entries to cover the $900,000 value of the bed and breakfast.

A Houston real estate agent in March attempted to sell his two-bedroom home in the Heights neighborhood, but ultimately failed to garner enough submissions for the $400,000 value of the house and had to refund all of the entry fees, according to the Houston Chronicle.

McDermott said she is not discouraged by the failure of the Houston property, noting that contest was seeking 3,000 applicants while her family only aims to reach 1,000.

Waco Realtor Trammel Kelly said he hadn’t heard of essay contests being used to sell homes, adding that it’s a highly unconventional approach given that the current market is highly favorable to sellers.

For example, Kelly said he has sold four homes this year in which a contract had been offered within 12 to 48 hours of the house being listed.

Kelly said interested residents should make sure they understand the rules of the contest before entering.

“I hope it works for them. It’s just highly unusual,” Kelly said.

“Today’s market is really, right now, so good, with home sales being very fast-paced. I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years and I’ve never seen a market like this. I’m all for creativity in marketing, but I’m not seeing anything like this that they’re trying to do.”

Kelly said the rapid home sales transactions mostly have involved move-in-ready properties, and that it may take longer to sell an older home that would need some upgrades.

The McDermotts bought the home intending to remodel the space to better suit their family’s needs. For example, they began to renovate the three bedrooms and four full bathrooms on the first floor, removing wood paneling and installing new drywall.

The couple also planned to renovate the upstairs to make the whole level a master suite. The second floor was listed as having two bedrooms when the McDermotts purchased the house, but the couple found that only one was large enough for their bedroom, while the adjoining room is being used as a closet and playroom for their four children.

The original plan was to knock down the walls dividing the bedrooms and create an open-floor- concept living space. A master bathroom with a spa tub, separate shower and his-and-her wash closets already exists, but McDermott said she would have wanted to transform the upstairs laundry room into a kitchenette.

Still, McDermott said there are plenty of features she enjoys about the house, which is filled with natural lighting from windows lining the walls of each room. Much of the home features original floors and wood details, and the house has three porches - one in the front yard, another extending off the kitchen and one off the master bathroom overlooking the backyard.

“It could be a really fantastic house for people who want a good family home,” McDermott said. “But that notion of having that house that the kids grow up in, that’s not us.”

Prior to purchasing the house, the McDermott family lived in an RV for more than three years and traveled across the country as they pleased. April home-schools the children, who range in age from 10 to 15, while her husband works as a chief engineer on an oil supply vessel.

The family previously owned a 5,000-square-foot new construction home in The Woodlands but sold it after five years, deciding to embrace a more mobile lifestyle free of mortgages and home maintenance. Gabriel McDermott had suggested buying a home again to plant some roots for the family, and April found the Marlin property listed as a bank-owned foreclosure.

“I wanted something with a little bit more character,” McDermott said. “Of course, there’s the romantic notion of hardwood floors, which you don’t really think about how much you’re going to have to actually clean them, especially after spending three years in an RV, where it’s, like, 40 minutes a day and I’m done cleaning.”

Now, after starting some of the renovations, the family has decided that they prefer the freedom and flexibility of the RV lifestyle. McDermott said they already have started downsizing, selling off furnishings and other items from both the Marlin house and things they had in storage from their former home in The Woodlands.

“We do like the house, and if we weren’t going to be traveling, then we would stay here,” McDermott said. “We’ve actually talked about just keeping it, because we don’t owe a note on it. But it’s just one more thing for us to maintain. Why keep a house if we’re not going to really be in it?”

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Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, https://www.wacotrib.com

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