Could HGTV Dream Home Taxes Spell the End of the Dream for Winners?

The HGTV Dream Home Taxes Are Daunting, But There Are Ways to Handle Them

The 2005 HGTV Dream Home
The 2005 HGTV Dream Home Was a Dream for Its Winner, Even If He Couldn't Keep It. Image (c) Scripps Network

The dream of winning an amazing house lovingly created by some of America's most famous designers and renovators has spurred hundreds of millions of entries into HGTV's Dream Home Sweepstakes each year. However, the dream also has a dark side: winning such a huge prize comes with an equally huge tax hit.

The Trouble with Big Sweepstakes Wins: How to Pay the Taxes

In the United States, sweepstakes prizes are taxed just like any other kind of income.

Whether you make $30,000 working at your day job or you win a $30,000 vacation doesn't matter to the IRS, it's all taxed the same way.

This is fine if you happen to win cash prizes and can simply deduct the taxes from your winnings; but with vacations and other prizes that are difficult to liquidate, you have to scrape up the money to pay the taxes.

The HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes has an additional tax problem: not only are you hit with a heavy tax bill because the IRS treats you as if you had made an extra few million dollars of salary, but if you choose to keep the house, it comes with its own costs. For example, you can expect to pay sizable property taxes every year, and just paying the utilities on a huge house can cost thousands of dollars every month.

But just because the tax bill can be sizeable doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to win the Dream Home. Even after paying their taxes, Dream Home winners come out way ahead.

 

How to Handle the HGTV Dream Home's Taxes

So you're faced with a big tax bill as well as other costs. How can you handle all of that and still end up millions of dollars richer than before you won the prize?

One obvious way to help pay off the costs of winning is to put that beautiful home to work for you, for example, by renting it out.

This was Don and Shelly Cruz's plan when they won the 2005 Dream Home in Tyler, Texas.

The 2005 Dream Home had several buildings on its property including a second stand-alone house on the shores of Lake Tyler. The Cruz family intended to either sell the lake cottage or to turn the house into a Bed and Breakfast to generate income. But zoning regulations prevented either idea from working out, and the Cruzes ended up having to put the Dream Home on the market to pay the bills they have racked up.

This is why every Dream Home winner so far has done the same thing with their windfall: they sold it. Selling the HGTV Dream Home is the easiest way of handling its taxes.

Is the Dream Home Sweepstakes Worth Entering If You Have to Sell the Prize?

Thinking about it, it seems disappointing to win an amazing home and then have to sell it again. However, winning is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. HGTV goes to great lengths to surprise the lucky winners, they treat them like royalty when they fly out to see the home, they can vacation in the house and enjoy all of its amenities, and they can often take the designer furnishings and extras like the car that is also awarded in the Dream Home Sweepstakes for their own.

When Milton O'Bryant won the 2002 Dream Home he said, "It is almost magical the first time you get to tour the house. When we arrived in Annapolis we were greeted by a wonderful staff that took care of all of our needs. You will eat the finest foods, visit the area's best attractions, and receive numerous gifts and keepsakes."

Furthermore, the HGTV Dream Home is a prestigious property that many people would love to own, meaning that it usually sells for a great price. Even after paying the taxes, smart winners have enough cash left over to live their dream, including renovating their own home to make it perfect or buying a different, if slightly less expensive, dream home.

In their article Is It Really a Dream Come True?, MSNBC quotes HGTV spokeswoman Emily Yarborough as saying: "Our vision of the dream is that it enables you to do what you want to do."

Enter the Dream Home Sweepstakes – But Don't Fixate on the House

If you won a giveaway where the prize was a million dollars cash, a vacation, appearances on television shows like Oprah, and a brand new car, you'd consider yourself very lucky indeed. However, some people call the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes a nightmare because of the tax burden. The important thing about this sweepstakes is not to get fixated on keeping the home, but rather to enjoy the experience and the money and other great prizes that you will receive.

As Milton O'Bryant said: "I would have loved to keep it, but I was also terribly proud to sell it. It is a strange emotion... I am proud of this sweepstakes, and I want everyone to enter. It is a chance of a lifetime that everyone should risk. What happens after you win will be what you decide is best."

Other Ideas for Handling the Dream Home Taxes

In the past years, HGTV has often offered Dream Home winners two options: take possession of the house or accept a large cash prize along with the other perks of winning (usually a vehicle, cash, furnishings, and artwork). Taking the cash option means that you would receive hundreds of thousands of dollars and won't even have to worry about finding a buyer for the house.

You may be able to whittle down the tax burden by donating part of the prize, like the vehicle or the artwork, to a worthwhile charity. Charitable donations are often tax-deductible, and this may help make the costs more affordable, especially combined with some of the other options.

The Dream Home Sweepstakes usually gives away a large cash prize along with the home and vehicle, and you can put this cash toward the taxes. You can also try to set up a payment plan with the IRS.

If you already have a home, you can try to sell that home or mortgage it. You can also try to take out a mortgage on the Dream Home.

The Most Important Thing to Do if You Win the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes

So what should you do if you are lucky enough to win the HGTV Dream Home? Sell, refinance, make a deal with the IRS, or something else altogether?

To decide what is right for you, you should get professional help.

The very first thing that you should do if you win the Dream Home Sweepstakes, or any large sweepstakes prize, is to hire an experienced accountant to help create a plan that will allow you to make the most of your windfall

Read about the Experiences of a Real HGTV Dream Home Winner

For more information on this subject, read my interview with Don Cruz, the winner of the 2005 HGTV Dream Home in Tyler, Texas. Find out whether winning the Dream Home is worthwhile from someone who is in the best position to know.