|Former Wrestler Terri Runnels|
It's no secret that the housing market is far less than desirable these days. Home foreclosures are at an all-time high and according to a new government report, home prices across the U.S. fell nearly 5% this past May alone. So what is a homeowner to do when she's ready to pack up and move, but encounters an unforgiving market that slows down or prevents the sale of her house? In the case of Terri Runnels, she's giving it away. Runnels may be best known to her fans as Marlena, the World Wrestling Federation diva. These days, though, she's moved away from the ring, focusing more on her family and charity work.
That focus is what led her to create "Make the World Write," a national essay contest whose winner will win $100,000, as well as Runnels' personal home in Gainesville, Fla. That certainly an admirable prize in any situation, but what makes it more unique is how Runnels is trying to navigate the worsening housing market and economy. "The reason I came up with this," says Runnels, "is because I was going to sell my house ... and the market is horrible." She decided if she couldn't sell it, she would give it away. And with that, Make the World Write was born. The contest is simple: the entry fee is $200, and you must write "how you will change the world for the better," according to the Web site.
One winner will be picked, and will be given the home, plus $100,000 to put toward making the world a better place. Runnels can get at least a portion of the market value of the home back via the entry fees. "I believe in paying it forward," Runnels says. "The worst case scenario I want is that
entrants hone their writing skills and they've thought about what they would do." And with the economy in the state it is, Runnels isn't the only one who's thought to make creative use of it to help out. "I heard of a lady doing this, only with an essay telling your favorite story about a pet," Runnels says, which gave her the idea for her own contest. More and more people are finding the surprising benefits that can be had by literally giving away your house. Similar contests involving the donation of a home have appeared across the country, from Melbourne, Fla., to Danville, Ill., in recent months as foreclosures rise and property values plummet. Oftentimes, the donation of something like a home can benefit not only the receiver of the new shelter but also the donator, who can possibly qualify for large tax breaks on the donation. Laws are different across states regarding taxing on donations, and something given away as a contest prize does not always apply, but in some cases it does --and in today's economy, those tax breaks could outweigh the lowering amount you'd receive for selling the property.
With no sign of a housing boom on the horizon, Runnels hopes to continue giving away homes for several years. "If this goes over with flying colors, I'd love to this same thing every year. The most important thing... is that I'm able to help people in the larger way that I want to. I'm excited about it, and see potential in the future." And for Runnels and other families and individuals like her who are feeling the crunch of the economy and the stale real estate market, being able to put shelter over someone's head, while still receiving some benefits and tax breaks themselves, is all they could ask for.