MILLARVILLE, Alberta — What do you do if your home isn’t selling like you thought it would?
Alla Wagner of Alberta, Canada, isn’t waiting for an offer. Instead she’s offering her $1.7 million home as a prize in an essay contest.
For a $25 entry fee ($18.73 in US money), and a well-penned letter, one lucky winner will get the home. The contest started on January 5 after Wagner’s house spent several months on the market.
“Nothing was moving and I was getting really, really depressed about it. … I needed to move on,” Wagner, who is in her 50’s, tells CNN.
Wagner has lived in the almost 5,000-square-foot home in rural Alberta, 45 minutes from Calgary, since it was built in 2011 and describes the Georgian-style mansion as her “dream home.” The custom-built residence has three bedrooms, three full baths and two half baths, in addition to a wine cellar, panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and a pond.
“I was planning to grow old here,” Wagner says. “A house on a hill was my dream… it’s my dream home and every detail is built with my roots.”
Where she got the idea
But Wagner ran into health problems last year. She bought a new chair for a desk and it flipped when she sat on it. Wagner says she hurt her back so badly she can’t go down the stairs. Her son moved in to help take care of her. Wagner didn’t want to compromise the character of the home with renovations to help with her disability, so she decided to move.
Wagner says her daughter “nudged her to do it,” but she got the inspiration for the contest from two places.
First, the 1996 film “The Spitfire Grill,” in which the characters use a contest to sell a restaurant for the owner.
Second, a historic inn in Maine was sold using a similar concept in 2015. CNN reported that Center Lovell Inn offered the winner of a 200-word essay the keys to the property for a $125 entry fee. The contest worked, and the winner acquired the property and building valued at $905,000.
Wagner says the contest is not a lottery. Each contestant must write why they deserve the home in any format — a poem, an essay or some other prose form. There needs to be a minimum of 68,000 entries, which should generate $1.7 million ($1.27 million US money) in entry fees.
Wagner will read all of the entries and choose 500 to send to a panel of her neighbors and real estate agents. The panel will select three finalists, who will be interviewed to determine a winner.
Picking the winner
Wagner is confident she will reach the 68,000-entry threshold, but if entries are slightly below the minimum before the April 5 deadline, the contest could be extended.
She says if the contest hits the mark before April 5, she will allow entries until the deadline, which would cause the contest to exceed her asking price. If Wagner doesn’t receive the minimum amount of entry fees or the house sells, she will refund the entry money, according to the terms and conditions of the contest.
Some of the entry fees are donations from people who want to see the contest succeed, she said. Wagner was already planning on donating 5% of the money to Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, but if the contest fails, all the entry fees marked as donations will go to the shelter.
Wagner says she has around 5,000 entries so far, and has been receiving 1,000 to 2,000 emails of entries and questions a day since the contest went viral on January 20. She admits the task of reading thousands of entries is daunting and says, “Sometimes the letters are so touching I have to walk away from them.”
Wagner says she’s not picky when it comes to the winner. She says it could be an athlete who would enjoy skiing in the surrounding area or someone who needs a second chance at life. She wants someone she can picture living their life in the home.
“How will moving here change someone’s life? Why would they enjoy cutting the grass? Why would they love being here? I don’t want to have tunnel vision. I want someone to tug on my heart strings,” Wagner said.
Wagner took the home off the market after her real estate agent was bombarded with questions. She says if someone does approach her with an offer, she would ask for the offer to be delayed until the April 5 contest deadline.
But if the potential buyer rejects that condition, and the offer is comparable to the asking price of the home, she would be forced to accept the offer and cancel the contest, due to her health, she said.