Realtors skeptical about seller’s plan

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 6, 2008

BERLIN—Diana Lauver, a Windsor High School special education teacher and single mother, tried to sell her Ivor Road house through traditional methods, but when those failed her, she decided to try something different.

Lauver’s four-bedroom, 3.5-bath brick house located at 16205 Ivor Road will be given to the winner of an essay contest in July, she says. The contest requires both an entry fee of $200 and an original essay about &uot;how winning this house will change my life.&uot;

&uot;Since I’m a teacher, I thought, well, they should write an essay,&uot; Lauver said.

Local teachers will judge the contest, which continues through June 20, Lauver said. The judging will be done by July 4, and the house will be available by Aug. 1.

&uot;I think it’s admirable, but I’d be afraid and very cautious,&uot; Donna Poplin, real estate agent for William E. Wood, said about the contest and Lauver’s position.

Poplin thought the contest would draw attention to the house but might not work as well as traditional methods. She also thought the number of entries could present a problem.

Century 21 real estate agent Darren Stauffer said Lauver’s essay contest sounded &uot;like a whole lot of headache&uot; but also commented on its innovativeness.

The decision to sell the house, which has 2.7 acres, a two-car garage and a pool, came after Hurricane Isabelle’s damage to the property forced Lauver to refinance her house.

&uot;FEMA stopped counting at 150 trees,&uot; she said. &uot;I was left with holes the size of vehicles.&uot;

The trees damaged the pool and the roofing of the house. FEMA estimated that the damage was $77,000, but Nationwide Insurance gave her $22,000, which only paid for the roof to be replaced, she said.

Lauver also hired a contractor from Virginia Beach to fix the pool but claims the contractor took the money and did not complete the work. Lauver had to refinance her house to be able to pay to fix the damage, leaving her with a mortgage of $1,700 a month.

&uot;It’s just been a big struggle for me,&uot; she said.

For the past two years, Lauver has been working on the house, so that she would be able to put it on the market. The housing market slump has left her with a mortgage, no market for her house and a dream to go to California to write screen plays.

&uot;I just can’t put anything else into it,&uot; Lauver said.

So she is pouring all of her hopes into the essay contest. She needs at least 1,800 entries and will only accept up to 2,000. If she doesn’t reach 1,800, then she will return all the money within two weeks of the contest’s end and return to the traditional methods of an open house and a real estate agent. If she has not sold the house by September, she will walk away, even if it means filing for bankruptcy, Lauver said.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke refused to comment without further information on any legal issues that could arise from the contest but said that there was &uot;tremendous potential&uot; for a problem to develop.

The Deputy Director of Communications for the Attorney General’s Office David Clementson also would not comment on the contest, citing its nature as a private legal matter.

Lauver plans to address any questions of legitimacy by acting through a local lawyer, which Cooke suggested. Lauver has not hired one yet, but she also plans to have local teachers judge the contest.

She modeled her competition after another family who sold their house through similar means in a different state.

Entries can be mailed to Win This House, P.O. Box 66, Sedley, VA 23878 and must include a cashier’s check or money order for $200, a one-page original essay, self-addressed and stamped envelope, and entry form including name, phone number, address, and date of birth. Contestants must be 18 years or older and a U.S. citizen. For more information, call Lauver at (757) 653-9579.

Lauver will contact the winner of the contest July 4 at the end of the judging period.

&uot;I just really love that a family could enjoy this house and would get it for $200,&uot; Lauver said. &uot;It would be like giving a gift away.&uot;