ORWELL, Ohio - Get literary and get lucky and you might win a farm in the rural hinterlands of far northeast Ohio.
A couple will award their three-bedroom, two-bath ranch home and 431/2-acre farm in Ashtabula County to the winner of an essay contest on why the writer would like to win the farm. An independent judge will pick the winner.
The volunteer judge, whose name will be kept secret during the contest, has a master's degree and is studying to become a teacher, owner Rose Wallace said Monday.
To qualify, a contestant must submit an essay and a $100 entry fee by nonrefundable certified check or money order. The contest will be limited to 3,000 entries, which would mean $300,000 for Rose and Dennis Wallace, who plan to retire to Tennessee.
The property is assessed at $170,000 and real-estate agents value it at about $250,000, which means the Wallaces could net $50,000 more from the contest than the sale value.
Rose Wallace, 54, said the contest fees would be enough to pay off their mortgage and provide a down payment on a retirement home in the Pulaski, Tenn., area.
"People are leery when they hear about it," she said. "But this is for real."
The couple hopes a young family wins the farm. They raised three children on the farm after buying it 14 years ago and had previously lived in Cleveland and Sheffield Lake west of Cleveland.
"Somebody is going to get this farm for $100," said Dennis Wallace, 59.
The Wallaces had worried that they would struggle to sell the farm in the traditional manner given the area's slow-moving real estate market. A house up the street from them has sat vacant for two years.
Cordie Stevenson of Howard Hanna Price Real Estate in Andover estimated that the average property in eastern Ashtabula County spends at least six months on the market. She said sales prices seem lower of late, too.
Given the economic climate, Dennis said he and Rose "figured we'd take our chances."
They printed up hundreds of fliers promoting their "Win a Farm Essay Contest" and started tacking them up on public bulletin boards around the region.
The farm includes a six-stall barn, two pole barns, a stocked pond, fenced pastures and a small apple orchard.
Mark Samwick of Allentown, Pa., who runs Essaycontests.com, estimated that only about 5 percent of the win-a-home essay contests launched by private citizens end with the keys being passed. Most offers die out from lack of interest, he said.
The contest began in late March and more than 350 entries have been submitted, Rose Wallace said Monday, plus another 75 that were disqualified for reasons including failure to include the fee. The pace has been slower than the couple expected, she said.
With entries running about six or seven per day, it could take more than a year to reach the 3,000 threshold.
More information on the contest is available at: www.winafarm.bravehost.com.