Janet and Fred Chapin’s dream house in West Bath, Maine, backs up against woods where bullfrogs croak and wildflowers grow. When they moved there in 2007, they planned to live out the rest of their lives here.
Yet after six years, family responsibilities and a new job meant that the Chapins ended up in Pennsylvania. Now, they’ve put the five-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot home on the market — but not through conventional means. Instead, they’re selling the property through what’s become a new method: the win-a-New England-house essay contest.
“We saw it as a win-win solution,” said Janet Chapin, 65. “We deed our home over to one lucky winner and they get to love the home as much as we do.”
Essay contests have been used to sell B&Bs, houses, and even a movie theater.The idea is to bring in enough entry fees to add up to a reasonable purchase price for the home or business, while making sure the prize goes to someone who will truly appreciate it.
For an entry fee of $140 and 300 persuasive words — details are at www.winamainehouse.com — the Chapins’ property, including a 1,200-foot guest house, a greenhouse, a sauna, a game room, and a pool table, could be yours, mortgage and lien-free. The Chapins say they could break even with the entry fees of 4,200 contestants — a total of $588,000. (The township appraised the property at about $588,000, Fred Chapin told the Times Record in Midcoast Maine.) If they don’t reach that target number of entries, the Chapins will refund the money, keeping only $25 per entrant to pay for the contest expenses, which were paid upfront.
For all the appeal of the essay contest as sales technique, the method can open the door to legal and ethical challenges, as an October article in the New York Times noted. Property owners have faced allegations of unfairness as well as lawsuits. But Matt Stein, an intellectual property and technology attorney with the firm Pierce Atwood in Portland, Maine, said the Chapins’ contest passes muster. “If this is a bona fide contest of skill, it’s permissible under Maine law,” Stein said.
The Chapins say a separate real estate lawyer told them the contest was fair game, as long as the couple was not involved in the judging process. The couple hired a web designer to manage the site and a marketing team to promote the contest, and selected paid college students and local volunteers to read and rate the essays. They’ve also had a lawyer review the rules and scoring rubric. Entries are being accepted only online, with a number assigned to each essay to maintain anonymity.
“Our goal has been to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” Janet Chapin said. “We wanted to make sure our contest was totally impartial.”
The Chapins plan to accept entries until June 20, with the option of extending the contest another month. Janet Chapin’s advice is to simply share your story, without including any personal information, as clearly, concisely, and creatively as possible.
As for the Chapins, they plan to keep following life’s lead.
“After 46 years of marriage, I’ve given up on trying to predict what’s around the bend,” Janet Chapin said. “Our dream is to own an RV and tour the US until we can no longer do it.”