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Write an essay, win a house

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By Kelly LeVan

The 1,200-square-foot home has three bedrooms, one newly remodeled bathroom, one-car garage, Jacuzzi, outdoor fireplace, dog run and a woodshop. It’s located on a cul-de-sac walking distance from an elementary school and only a short drive to Los Alamos National Laboratory.It could be yours for $100.The current housing market in Los Alamos County heavily favors buyers, and many sellers have given up hope of getting back what they paid for their homes. But not Tiffany and Todd Lovell, who chose to think outside the real estate ads and hold an essay contest.“We’re trying something a little different in order to sell our house,” Tiffany said. “It needed to pop or have a ‘wow’ factor.”This should do it: They will give away their White Rock home – valued at about $250,000 including updates, closing costs and a carpet allowance – to the person who writes the best essay, on any topic, in 500 words or less. A panel of 10 unrelated judges will make the final decision.“People can write on why they should get our house, what they did in college, whatever,” Tiffany said. “We’re not looking at grammar and punctuation. We want to see what people have to say.”The entry fee of $100 will be held in an escrow account at Los Alamos National Bank and will be returned if the Lovells collect fewer than 2,500 entries.In addition to the entry fee, the contest winner will pay for the property taxes and insurance going forward, which averaged $1,026 for property taxes and $428 for homeowners’ insurance in 2007, according to the Lovells’ webpage at winahome.blogspot.com.While they have never listed the house, the Lovells did speak with a realtor a few months ago. The realtor discouraged them from entering the market, Tiffany said.Concerned about her family’s and the county’s future, Tiffany and Todd, who have a 9-month-old daughter, spoke with a real estate lawyer about other options, including the idea of the essay contest. The lawyer told them to go for it, as did their accountant.Tiffany said a similar giveaway in Colorado, though with a smaller payoff, inspired the couple as well.“We thought, if we could take it to a larger scale, we could have some success” receiving market value for the house, she said.And as of Tuesday evening, the public has responded: The site describing the contest had received more than 800 hits since it went online Thursday, and the Lovells had received six e-mails asking where to send the essays. The PO Box has since been added to the page, and the Lovells promise more pictures soon as well, especially once their spring gardens begin to bloom.Interest is already so high, Tiffany said, “my mom is saying that if this works, she wants us to do her house next.”To enter the contest, send money orders made payable to Win a Home, a self-addressed stamped envelope and essays to Win a Home, PO Box 4778, Los Alamos, NM 87544.All entries must be received by June 20. The winner will be notified by July 1.See winahome.blogspot .com for more information, including answers to frequently asked questions about judging and other issues.