How To Buy a House in the Heights for $150

HOW TO BUY A HOUSE IN THE HEIGHTS FOR $150 213 E. 23rd St., Houston HeightsOr just pay $150 and don’t get a house at all! No, there are no missing zeros or Ks in that sale price, but there is a catch: Real estate agent and Houston Heights resident Michael Wachs says he’s accepting offers until June 13th, each accompanied by a nonrefundable offer fee of $150, for his family’s 2-bedroom, 1-bath bungalow at 213 E. 23rd St. The decision of which one to accept, he indicates, will be made by judging the best 200-word essay that accompanies it, not the offer amount. The required essay, he writes, should explain “why we should sell the house to you,” but include no names or identifying information: “The fee is nonrefundable if we find a buyer via this process. If we do not, we will refund the offer fee.” (He’s also discouraging his family and friends from applying: “It just would be fishy if our parents happened to have the best essay,” he notes.) Included on the website he set up to explain the sale — along with a handy form for collecting email addresses for his real-estate business and a bit of encouragement to support some hearing-aid legislation now under consideration in the Texas House — are a few photos of the property, a sellers disclosure, inspection report, and mold remediation certificate. Why’s his family selling? “We had longterm plans to fix-up our little place or build on the lot, but our baby is now going to school across the city and we don’t want to deal with traffic. (It’s a very Houston reason to move.)” HCAD values the 1,056-sq.-ft., 1920 home with 2-car garage on a 5,300-sq.-ft. lot at $394,129. [$150 House] Photo: Terrence Foster  

25 Comment

  • I remember seeing these types of things all the time back in the dot-com days. Figured there was some illegality to them that caused them to stop.
    I’d guess/assume that absent enough “letters” they won’t sell their house that way. And assuming HCAD is about right on value, that’s 2,500+ people sending letters (oh, and $150).
    Aint happenin’. I’ll be $150 I’m right.

  • See, I was right everyone. No one wants to live in the city. Thats why houses are selling for $150. Thanks Obama.

  • So… how’s this not a raffle? (illegal in Texas)

    Examples of unlawful raffles include any raffle that is:
    conducted by an individual
    conducted by a for profit business
    conducted by a charity that does not qualify

  • The Maine bed and breakfast owner referenced as the inspiration for this essay deal said she would refund all entries if she didn’t receive an equal amount of entry fees equivalent to the value of the inn (7,500 essay entries for the inn). Say they’re looking to get $500K out of this house then they’re probably looking to get at least 3,333 entries for equivalent value or will be refunding the entry fees back. Sounds like a good try for the adventurous, but I’m not a gambling man.
    Either way, a few thousand entries certainly sounds realistic (and that Maine essay contest had a lot of google search results in the news) and could be a very profitable way to sell ones house.

  • I have to give this the Serious Skeptical Side-eye, because even after visiting the website, I’m unclear on whether the $150 (plus winning essay) gets you the *actual house,* or simply the “privilege” of paying $400k+ for it. Maybe I’m just thorougly embittered by the market?

  • If he gets just 3,000 people to apply (and let’s face it, he will get many more than that; this is quickly making its way across the internet), this guy will far outpace the market value of the home. In a situation with such high demand, this is a win/win for him, as well as the winner. Win-win-win.

  • Would selling this house at $150 have an effect on the property values in the area? Or is that only calculated when it’s listed through MLS (which, I assume, this would not be)?

  • Based on the inspection report, I’d say the house is a tear-down. So the ‘winner’ is is really getting a $150 piece of land that could be worth hundreds of thousands. Is this legal?

  • GL: MLS is populated by data from the listing agent. So if no listing agent is putting it on the MLS, then no. Or the listing agent could put in whatever they wanted as the ‘market value’.
    Won’t effect property taxes either as HCAD is concerned with the value, not what you paid. Sure what you paid can be used by you to protest your value if you feel it’s too high, but if you paid under market value for a property and try to protest, all you’ll get is a “You bought it for less than market value? Congratulations!”

  • 2nd the opinion this seems like an illegal real estate raffle.

  • So people will be paying him $150 and doing his legwork for him: assuming they actually send in the money and write an honest essay, these suckers are telling this guy what they want and that they are in the market for a house. Even if he has to “refund” the money, how much free marketing has he already gotten along with a list of gullible potential clients?

  • @RJ: This is a raffle.
    @Gisgo: This is illegal.

  • It isn’t a raffle. It’s an essay contest with a $150 entry fee and a house as the prize.

    Don’t know if that makes it legal though.

  • I don’t understand the deal with this being illegal. Maybe it is but who cares anyway? This is Texas, and if this is illegal everyone in favor of property rights should jump on this and tell the Government to stay out of this guys business. Assuming, he owns the place free and clear then who cares how he sells it. Maybe…it would be considered akin to gambling, ohhh wait….lots of types of gambling aren’t legal in Texas, land of the free where the Government is supposed to, in theory, be big on ‘getting out of the way’ and not infringing on personal liberty, but completely lacking in practice.

  • (6) “Raffle” means the award of one or more prizes by chance at a single occasion among a single pool or group of persons who have paid or promised a thing of value for a ticket that represents a chance to win a prize.
    (tex. occupations code–only qualified charity can hold a raffle)

    (1) “Bet” means an agreement to win or lose something of value solely or partially by chance. A bet does not include:

    (B) an offer of a prize, award, or compensation to the actual contestants in a bona fide contest for the determination of skill, speed, strength, or endurance or to the owners of animals, vehicles, watercraft, or aircraft entered in a contest; or
    “Lottery” means any scheme or procedure whereby one or more prizes are distributed by chance among persons who have paid or promised consideration for a chance to win anything of value, whether such scheme or procedure is called a pool, lottery, raffle, gift, gift enterprise, sale, policy game, or some other name.
    (Tex penal code)

    In another state, an endurance event with way more people interested in participating than the limited number of entries was charging people a fee for the chance to be in a lottery to get an entry. While state law in Texas may be different, the court held it was an illegal lottery and ordered the company putting on the event to refund a lot of money. It looks like these folks are trying to get past the gambling prohibition by calling the $150 an “offer fee” and saying that they will in fact sell the house for $1 to the winner. This might trigger the legal doctrine of “ut anates ambulat”.

  • how is this a raffle?
    the fee is a non-refundable administrative fee.
    you aren’t picked by random, you are picked as a worthy owner by quality of writing a two hundred page essay.
    Personally, I wouldn’t ask for an essay. That would require reading a lot of potentially stupid writing. I mean, if 3000 people submit essays, that’s 600,000 words.
    I think requesting a shoebox diorama depicting your favorite moment in the history of the USA would make things go much faster, and you could potentially open a shoebox diorama USA history museum for extra income.

  • If this is legal I’m going to start a club where we host thousands of “essay contests” every night. The winning “essay” is the hand of cards closest to 21 without going over. You are all invited.

  • Toasty’s diorama idea gets my vote. Think how cool that would be.
    We have a couple of antique cars in “show” condition. We pay an entry fee to be in a “car show” with the winner getting a trophy. The judge(s) may or may not know what the hell they are judging since the cars range in years from teens to seventies. No matter. Whatever the judge decides will get the trophy.
    The car show promoter (individual or club or group) keeps the money and awards the trophy.
    So is this illegal? It happens every summer all over small town Texas in conjunction with all sorts of parades, cook-offs, and festivals.
    $150 = entry fee………essay = show car…… = trophy

  • Ya right! So clever, yet I’m not playing. $150× many foolish hopes = big $, not a house for you, you lose, more bs. Seriously?

  • Hi this Betsy I saw your home on the news you and your wife selling y’all home for $150.00 I love your home you and your wife keep it so nice and clean I will love to have ur home I’m looking for a house .I wish I can have your home that the kind of home I beening look for.

  • Way too convoluted and possibly illegal. From the comments posted, it’s clear the seller’s plan is muddy. Why not just say all offers must be submitted with an essay? Oh wait, he wants to cash in on the $150 deposits.

  • It is an Illegal Raffle.
    According to Texas Law even the contestants can be charged with a crime.

  • I’m wondering when a News Show will check with the Attorney General or ask the District Attorney in Houston what he’s not arrested yet.

  • Also this guy is a Texas Realtor.
    Did he not take Principles of Real Estate or Texas Real Estate Law class. Both classes are required to get a License and both are very clear about raffles for Real Estate.
    If someone informed the Texas Association of Realtors or the Texas Real Estate Commision of this activity there would be consequences.
    I’m not sure what the local association of Realtors would or could do? I think the $150.00 offer fee is the Problem and he is saying he needs 3000 entrants.

  • I have one idea why this may not be a plausible way for more folks to sell their homes. Think about the tax consequences for this transaction – the gain on the sale of your primary residence is normally exempt from federal income taxes. When you sell your home for $150 and collect thousands of $150 application fees, you have inherently changed the transaction(s) for how your home has been sold. All of the application fees should be subject to ordinary income tax, and most likely self employment income tax.

    It does not seem to me to be the most efficient way in any manner to sell a home these days.