‘Free’ real estate?

Homeowner gambling on entries to win property

By Chrysta Carroll - ccarroll@civitasmedia.com

Since 2005, when editors at Wired first coined the portmanteau “crowdsourcing,” strangers have rallied behind and enabled causes ranging from life-saving medical procedures, mission endeavors, and college education to campaigns like “I need a private jet” and “I’m just tired of being broke.”

Perhaps the next market to fall victim to the “Why pay for it when someone else will?” syndrome will be real estate.

Last week, North Carolina resident Norma Burns made national headlines when she offered her $450,000 farm in Bennett — near the Asheboro/Greensboro area — to the winner of an essay contest. Saying she wanted to return to Raleigh and turn her established farm over to “a committed couple,” Burns will sign over the deed to a 12.88-acre agribusiness, complete with a furnished farmhouse, barn, SUV, riding lawn mower, tractor, ponds, and organic vegetable and herb gardens, to the winner of a 200-word essay. A measly 200 words — the length of what you’ve read thus far.

Oh, and a $300 entry fee.

What that means financially is that if a mere 1,500 people apply, the entry fee will have brought in $450,000. If, on the other hand, 10,000 people wouldn’t mind almost $500,000 of free property, $3 million will be forked over, presumably to the homeowner, in entry fees. Even in the costly Raleigh market, that’s a considerable housing upgrade.

Lest 10,000 entries seem a far-fetched number, earlier this year, a Utah couple was in the national spotlight when they received 19,000 applications in response to a request for a nanny to accompany them on an all-expense-paid, year-long trip around the world — in all likelihood nowhere near a $450,000 value. While it’s not known if they charged any type of processing fee for applications, if they had charged only $10 or $20, they could have brought in enough money to completely finance their world tour.

Some people may balk at the idea of reading 10,000 essays with 200 words, but would it be worth it for a six-fold increase on the value of a home? Or for a trip around the world on someone else’s dime? Two million words is the equivalent of reading War and Peace 3.4 times, or reading through the AMP Bible twice.

While there’s no evidence that Burns’ motive is financially driven, and certainly the $300 fee could be intended to cover attorneys fees, publicity, or some other unknown factor, the situation does beg the question: is it profitable, or even possible in N.C., to get rid of real estate by offering to sell tickets to win the home free and clear?

“There are several factors to consider,” said Elizabethtown attorney Leslie Johnson, of Johnson’s Law Firm. “First, you don’t necessarily know the value of the home in this situation. The value of a home is what the buyer and the seller agree the house is worth. Second, you don’t know if there are any liens or deeds of trust on the property. The third is, in North Carolina, you can’t transfer land verbally. There has to be a contract. Just because someone says they’ll turn the property over, doesn’t mean they will.

“Add to that, that gaming, or gambling, is illegal in North Carolina,” he added.

Elizabethtown realtor Robin Summerlin sees other problems as well.

“I don’t see it as a viable way to sell a house, and don’t think it will change the market,” he said. “Not many people have $300, and if they do, they’ll use it to play the lottery, in all likelihood. Trying to find 1,500 people willing to pay that kind of money is not going to be easy.

“I’ve had friends who tried to sell cars this way, and they had trouble,” he added. “I’ve never seen a home sold successfully like this.”

For now, anyway, the real estate industry is safe from illegal crowdsourcing and gambling. Who wants to wager on how long it will stay so?

More information on the farm giveaway is available at http://www.bluebirdhillfarmessaycontest.com/

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.


Homeowner gambling on entries to win property

By Chrysta Carroll


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