How to win a Catskills lakefront house with $149 and 200 words

Share this Article

Even in the weakest of real estate markets, you couldn't find a two-bedroom house for $149. But for that amount, plus 200 inspiring words, this home in Bethel, New York could be yours.

The winner will be the one to best answer the essay question: “How would owning the lakefront dream home change your life?” But because nothing in life is free, remember that whoever wins the home will have to pay property taxes (around $11,000 a year), as well as income taxes, since the house will be considered income, and is, according to current owners Andrew Bares and Kelly Lavorgna, likely worth around $750,000.

Plus, if the contest does not attract 5,500 applicants (bringing in $819,500) by its April 30 deadline, it will be canceled, and participants will receive a $100 refund. The remaining $49 is a nonrefundable administrative fee. (Bares explains that there have been a lot of expenses involved in marketing the property.)

Bares and Lavorgna have put their vacation home on the market twice before (first for $925,000 and then $825,000). For the third time, they decided to try the literary route. The couple, who live in New Jersey and own two bed-and-breakfasts in Cape May, are using their own house as a jumping off point for a new web platform that will make it easy for others to sell their homes this way and follow in the couple's footsteps.

The cabin, which has two bedrooms, one bathroom, a three-car garage and sits on five acres of wooded land, has offered many a lovely weekend for them and their three chidlren (albeit in close quarters, at about 1,500 square feet of living space). "We can get back to the simple life up there," says Lavorgna. "The close quarters have allowed our kids to really bond," adds Bares.

It's also just steps from a lake, with 250 feet of lake frontage, and about two hours north of NYC. We caught up with them to find out more:

When did you buy this house and what made you love it?

Andrew: We bought it back in 2008. We actually bought the land for $750,000 and we built the house on it, spending close to $350,000.

What were your favorite parts of the area?

Andrew: I’m from New Zealand originally, and we’re very much outdoors people. It’s relatively untouched, and there's just amazing wildlife all around you.

Kelly: Yes, we love boating and hiking. We have kayaks and jet skis there. And there's just an awful lot to do. 

What do you like most about the house itself?

Kelly: The stone fireplace, and the deck.

What's your answer for the question your posing to others: How did owning the lakefront dream home change your life?

Kelly: We spent an awful lot of time there. All three of our kids got to spend time doing stuff we did as kids—playing card games, scrabble, and not using electronics. You get back to what’s important in life. As you get down the driveway, you feel the stress go away.

Andrew: You get a chance to leave city lifestyle behind and really unwind. There’s the excitement on my kids' faces when they pick a strawberry that they grew. It's just amazing. But unfortunately, we don't get to spend much time there anymore.

This seems like a much more difficult way to sell a house than going the conventional route. What made you want to do that?

Andrew: For us it’s part of a much bigger picture. This is the beginning of a platform we’re looking to do for others, offering another tool for people to sell their homes. Someone gets to own a home for $149. That means were giving people who normally wouldn’t be able to buy something a chance.

Kelly: People have tried to do this kind of thing before and none were succesful, but that has a lot to do with a lack of clear rules, I think. I keep comparing this to Uber, in that this may be the new wave of selling homes. It’s just a matter of people getting used it.

What plans do you have for the business?

Andrew: We’ve already begun talking to a bunch of people about setting up this kind of thing. Honestly, it could work anywhere except maybe in a co-op in New York, but anywhere that there's no right of first refusal.

Also, other sellers' costs would be much lower than ours because we've spent months creating the platform and ironing out the kinks.

Kelly: Also, I think it's important to mention that there will be a charity element of each. People will be required to give charity on the platform, whether or not the contest is successful (Editor's note: They're donating to Girls Inc. and the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.)


How will you judge the answers and pick a winner for your contest?

Kelly: We’ve hired 10 judges from all over the country, who for the most part are or were teachers. They will narrow the pool down to 100 finalists and then down to 10, then three and then one.

Andrew: What sets us apart from others is owners are usually doing the judging themselves, but we’re trying to remove ourselves with the process. That’s what we’re offering with the platform.

What will judges be looking for?

Kelly: There's several criteria — grammar, punctuation, essay structure, creativity and originality, organization and clarity, a unique voice, sincerity and imagery.

Could the person who wins the contest be in your house by summer?

Andrew: Absolutely.

Some people might be worried they can’t afford to keep the house up even if they can afford the $149. What do you have to say to them?

Andrew: There are a number of options for people who win. This could be your primary home, or it could be a secondary home, but it can also be sold. Either way, you’re winning a property, which we put a value of around $750,000. You could always rent it out, too, but there are HOA and town and local regulations that limit you to a 90-day minimum, twice a year.