BLOG VIEW: Write An Essay, Win A Home (Or Maybe Lose $20)

Although the real estate market is down, creative sellers haven't stopped brewing up new methods for moving property. Enter the latest house-selling concoction that's sweeping Florida: essay-writing contests.

Last week, Terri Lynne Runnels – a former wrestler and ‘Diva’ with World Wrestling Entertainment – began accepting entries for her ‘Make The World Write’ contest (www.maketheworldwrite.com), the winner of which will receive Runnels' 2,500 square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bath residence in Ocala, Fla., plus a $100,000 prize donated by a third party. How does it work?

‘Send me an essay telling our judges 'How You Will Change The World For The Better!'’ reads a post from Runnels on the contest Web site. ‘For an entry fee of $200, your dream of finally owning your own home could come true. Plus you'll have extra money to share that blessing with another deserving person or your favorite charity.’

There are, of course, a few details worth noting. Annual property taxes, pegged at $3,000, are transferred unsurprisingly to the winner, and all normal income taxes apply. If there are fewer than 5,000 entrants, the event sponsor, IWL Enterprises LLC, can either decide to ‘close the contest’ and judge the essays received or scrap the contest altogether and return the entry fees – save a $20 administrative fee per essay, naturally.

Assuming the contest meets its minimum-entrant benchmark, ‘Make The World Write’ could generate $1 million before subtracting the $100,000 prize amount and the value of the home (which appears to be missing from the description of the house, although its oversized Jacuzzi bathtub and waterfall-adorned pool are both mentioned).

Runnels, however, isn't the only Ocala-area ‘celebrity’ to go this route.

She may have taken inspiration from Clementina Marie Giovannetti, author of four books including ‘Clementina's Love Story: Diary of a Healer,’ who launched a similar contest this past spring. Again for a $200 entry fee, a contestant could enter an essay (the topic: a nonfiction story about a pet) and possibly win a new home.

Alas, Giovannetti's ‘Ocala Mansion Essay Contest’ was officially canceled late last month, and a note on her Web site cites a lack of response (it also says that, unlike Runnels' contest, all contestants who can confirm that their check or money order cleared Giovannetti's bank will receive a full refund). The cancellation, nonetheless, didn't occur until after the contest had received its share of criticism.

‘Although this isn't a scam in the traditional sense, something is just not right about this,’ wrote Sheri Mruz in her letter to the editor of the Ocala Star-Banner. ‘Another odd thing is how subjective the whole thing is. Participants are required to write a 100-300 word essay, 'The Best Pet Lover Story Wins.' Before anyone spends $200, they had better be pretty confident they have the 'best' essay. It's not like the entries are going into a drawing bin, and you have the same chance as everyone else.’

Giovannetti responded the next week in the Star-Banner with a letter in which she defended the contest and its precisely worded categorization.

‘[T]he essay contest is not a lottery nor a raffle, but a 'contest of skill' with no odds. And the judges will select a winning entry based upon an honest and sincere expression of thought and emotions about a pet that is heartfelt and truly touches the hearts of the judges,’ Giovannetti wrote. ‘My law firm contacted both the Attorney General's and State Attorney's offices prior to establishing the contest's rules and regulations. A sole proprietor, such as myself, can only conduct a 'contest of skill.'’

Runnels' contest is similarly and prominently classified on its Web site as a contest of skill, not a raffle or lottery. Although that clarification helps avoid some confusion, it doesn't entirely make up for other essentials (aside from the home's value) that aren't readily available.

Noticeably absent from the ‘Make The World Write’ site is required acknowledgment and acceptance of the rules prior to registration – a process that could be made simple by those commonly seen disclaimers that appear on countless software upgrade prompts and online registration forms. Apparently comprehension of the rules isn't necessary for registration, just a PayPal account, $200 and a desire to change the world. Could "Ways to Improve Real Estate Fraud Detection" make for a home-winning essay?

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