This Nason's Corner home is for sale after the winner of HGTV's Urban Oasis 2020 sweepstakes decided not to keep the property. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)
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Thousands of people from around the country will be hoping to win a Portland house next month through HGTV’s annual Urban Oasis contest. 

Each year, the cable network’s sweepstakes gives anyone who enters the opportunity to win a newly renovated home in an up-and-coming city selected by the network.

But many past winners have found their jackpot too expensive to keep.

According to a 2018 report by Country Living, HGTV began giving away homes in 1997 for its Dream Home sweepstakes, which subsequently inspired two spin-off giveaways. The network in 2008 launched its Smart Home contest, which offers winners a high-tech, energy-efficient house. Urban Oasis began in 2010 for those drawn to city life.

Courtesy HGTV
A room that was once a screen porch became the home’s new kitchen. The sweepstakes winner will be offered the fully furnished house and $50,000 from LendingTree, a package valued at $650,000. (Courtesy HGTV)

While the appeal of winning a modern, luxury home for no up-front cost is seductive, winners are still responsible for property taxes, income taxes, and upkeep, which can often be outside of their price range.

According to a July report by digital finance magazine The Balance, every Dream Home winner so far has either sold the home they won or accepted a cash option over possession of the house.

Last year’s Urban Oasis home was no different.

In February, The Star Tribune reported the object of the 2019 contest – a $650,000 farmhouse in Minneapolis – was put up for sale last winter only months after a winner was selected. The winner, Arizona resident Fannie Allen, opted to take a $300,000 cash prize instead of the house. 

The same story reported Magne Jensen, the 2017 Urban Oasis winner, chose a $350,000 cash prize over a $650,000 Knoxville, Tennessee, house he won through HGTV.

The three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bathroom Portland home is off Brighton Avenue on dead-end Essex Street, surrounded by older homes. According to Zillow.com, the house was purchased last December for $275,000, the homeowner paid nearly $4,400 in property taxes last year, and its most recent tax-assessed value was $188,200.

In addition to the fully furnished house, the next grand prize winner will also receive $50,000 from LendingTree. According to a Sept. 8 press release from HGTV, which calls the house “a charming 1900s New England cottage,” the total prize is valued at more than $650,000.

If the next winner chooses cash over the home, the property has a good chance of selling quickly. On Sept. 15, Zillow released a report that ranked Portland 11th on a list of 12 mid-sized U.S. metropolitan areas that have housing markets “poised for growth” next year. 

The report lists Portland’s typical home price at over $334,000, up 7.5 percent from last year, with a projected 3.9 percent growth in 2021. It also states “nearly 40 percent of homes” in the area sell above the listed price.

Celebrity designer Brian Patrick Flynn worked with Portland architecture firm Briburn and Freeport-based construction company Big Country Built to remodel the 1900-era home, seen here from its backyard. (Courtesy HGTV)

Cities that joined Portland on the list included Syracuse, New York; Boise, Idaho, and Huntsville, Alabama. A press release from Zillow said these cities are “replacing expensive coastal metros such as San Francisco and Seattle that have led the way in the past.”

“Many of these markets also happen to offer home shoppers more space for their money, as the coronavirus has shaped where and how people want to live,” Zillow said.

The Urban Oasis house in Portland was designed by Brian Patrick Flynn. According to HGTV, Flynn also designed the Urban Oasis and Dream Home houses for the network in 2018. He will host the “HGTV Urban Oasis Special 2020,” which is scheduled to air Wednesday, Oct. 7, at 7 p.m.

Construction on the home was handled by Freeport-based Big Country Built, and architecture was by the Portland firm Briburn.

Harry Hepburn and Chris Briley, co-founders, owners, and principal architects at Briburn, said the renovation of the home took approximately six months, from January through June. 

Along the way the crew ran into roadblocks – some anticipated, like working through the harsh Maine winter, and some not, like having to hold the majority of their meetings remotely and facing supply shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The videotaping process was really interesting because we couldn’t all get together and do our normal walkthrough of the house and explain the decisions that were made and the changes that were made and why, because we had to do that remotely,” Hepburn said. 

The Portland project initially had a different builder, but Briley said Big Country Built came in “guns blazing with a fantastic attitude” to get the job done.

Early in the process, Hepburn and Briley were asked for their ideas on how to transform the house and worked with other members of the team to develop floor plans. The final product is pretty close to what they suggested in the early days, but the home required major changes.

“From where they were to where we are now is just massive,” Hepburn said.

After the network selected the home, it discovered it was made of concrete, which Briley said is relatively uncommon in Maine and resulted in “very, very little insulation” and a chilly interior. The architects decided to wrap the 1900-era house to make it more airtight and insulated, and then re-sided it.

Other major renovations included adding a new side entry and building a master bedroom suite on the second floor. Hepburn said he thinks the backyard and large deck are other appealing points of the house, with large sliding doors that connect the interior and exterior of the home.

As it does with all of its builds, Briburn conducted an energy modeling study on the Portland home and found the new heating system will use six times less energy per year than the old boiler. That could save homeowners up to $14,000 annually in energy costs.

That is, if the winner decides to keep the house. 

HGTV’s Urban Oasis 2020 sweepstakes begins Oct. 5.