Dream On

Winning a luxury home on the Eastern Shore was the chance of a lifetime for a Texas couple, even if they will never live there.

October 13, 2002|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Imagine this: You're working on your home computer while your wife tunes in to HGTV. She tells you about a dream-home contest and suggests you log on to the Web site and enter.

You do. Once.

A few weeks later, at the police department in Midland, Texas, where you supervise the front desk and coordinate telephone response, you are surprised by television cameras and smiling HGTV representatives informing you that your entry was the lucky one out of more than 11 million.

Soon after that, on a golden spring morning, you find yourself walking a windswept beach on the Chesapeake Bay with your wife, your son, your daughter and her fiance.

You remark to each other that it really is a dream. This striking off-white house in three peaked-roof sections, set back from the bay amid 9 acres, is yours.

At least it's yours for now. But reality intrudes on every dream, and soon you will face the prospect of a few hundred thousand dollars in taxes coming due in April. And although you love everything about the house, the Chesapeake Bay is a long way from family and friends in Texas.

So you face your options: Sell or rent.

You decide to sell, and by the end of the summer, someone else holds the title to the house, the land, the furnishings and the spectacular views from almost every room. You and your family never even spend a night in your dream home.

A dream gone bad? A tease that leaves a hole in your pocketbook? More proof that nothing's ever free?

Winning HGTV's 2002 Dream Home may have turned out to be more complicated than it looked at first, but Milton O'Bryant still feels like a lucky man.

In fact, once the trip was over, the TV cameras were gone and daily life settled back into reality, it became clear to O'Bryant that the house on the Chesapeake "didn't really fit what we had planned for our future and our family" in Texas.

So despite the glow of winning a strikingly beautiful, fully furnished house, he and his wife recognized that this would not be their dream home after all. It would, however, make other dreams possible.

The house is now someone else's retreat. But O'Bryant has some $900,000 after taxes to put toward a dream home closer to his friends and family. It will be somewhere in the Texas hill country, where he has long wanted to spend his retirement years.

There's also the $35,000 Chevy Trail Blazer that came with the package. His wife, Ana, is keeping that, along with a couple of picture frames from the family's visit to the house for the formal presentation earlier this year.

Those tangibles, together with stacks of photos his family snapped, menus from seafood feasts held in their honor by HGTV, memories of the boat trip from Annapolis across the bay to the house near St. Michaels and other souvenirs, will always remind them of their only trip to the dream home. It was "the best four-day vacation of my life," O'Bryant says.

The prize came at the right time. O'Bryant, 49, marked his 20th year with the Midland Police Department this year, making him eligible for retirement.

His wife, Ana, 39, a court co-ordinator for a district judge in Midland County, has a few more years to go, but the idea of a dream home for the retirement years is appealing nonetheless.

Equally appealing is the new financial comfort in their lives. They paid off their mortgage in September, which removes the monthly payment on their current 1,900-square-foot rancher. They can now afford to retile the house, eat out when they please and even travel to Spain to visit Ana's parents every year. They also have real estate agents looking for land for their hill country home.

For the O'Bryants, the windfall from selling the dream home more than balances the hassles of figuring out tax burdens and conducting a real estate transaction many states away.

HGTV has been giving away dream homes for six years, and the winners almost always end up selling it to pay the taxes. But HGTV president Burton Jablin says that's OK. "Then they have the money to build their own dream home," he says.

In the meantime, they can enjoy being winners.

This year's dream home, including separate guest quarters, isn't huge at 2,800 square feet. But with 4,000 square feet of deck space surrounding it and connecting the main living area with the guest quarters, there is a synergy with the surrounding land and water that gives it the feel of a much bigger place.

The house was furnished under the practiced hand of Linda Woodrum, a designer based on Hilton Head Island, S.C., who is a veteran of previous projects for HGTV. For this one, she chose colors reflecting the surrounding water and land, a pale-blue stain on the wooden floors and silvery tones for the furnishings.

The result is a casually refined look that resonates with Ana O'Bryant. "It's what I would have picked," she says.

As she reflects on her only visit to the dream home, she betrays only a little wistfulness about having never spent even a single night there. She prefers to look ahead.

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