Winning HGTV's Annual Million-Dollar Dream Home Giveaway Is Actually A Nightmare

Winning HGTV's annual million-dollar dream home giveaway is like the lottery. There are many entries, few winners, and two options when accepting a prize. In the case of HGTV's million-dollar dream home giveaway, winners can either accept the cash prize or opt for the house. 

The home doesn't just offer curb appeal; it's fully furnished, and the winner gets all its contents. Additionally, there is typically a brand new vehicle parked in the driveway that's theirs to keep as well. In 2023, HGTV's prize package had an estimated value of over $2.7 million.

According to HGTV's contest website, you can pick $750,000 in cash instead of the house and all that comes with it, and most winners do take the cash payout. This is because according to past lucky recipients, that just might be the better deal. Allegedly, winning the million-dollar dream home is far from heavenly; in fact, it can be a nightmare, with some winners' fairy tales ending in tragedy.

Why past winners dream they'll one day wake up from their HGTV nightmare

According to a 2018 Country Living report, out of the first 21 winners of HGTV's annual million-dollar dream home giveaway, only six were able to reside in the house for longer than a year. Not because the furnishings weren't up to their standards or the craftsmanship left something to be desired, but because of one tiny (but extremely significant) oft-overlooked technicality — taxes.

Take the 2019 home, for example: it's set in Whitefish, Montana, where it's nestled amongst towering pines and has the mountains as an ethereal backdrop. CNBC claimed that the winner of that house would have an annual property tax bill of over $12,600. CNBC also spoke with Mark Luscombe from Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, and he estimated that the federal taxes alone amounted to $789,140. Furthermore, the state taxes are likely another $100,000 or more, putting the final tax amount at almost half the total value of the dream home giveaway prize package.

The other 15 winners who didn't remain in their brand-new homes most likely sold them back to the developers or put them on the market after trying to make a go of it. Of course, some families cited other reasons, like not wanting to pull their kids from their current friends and school. But for the most part, it's that daunting constant in life, taxes, that can turn a winner's dream into something straight from their worst nightmares.

Is anyone living the dream?

HGTV's million-dollar dream home giveaway dates all the way back to 1997. Over the past couple of decades, many winners have had to put their abodes up for sale, with some selling them for much lower than the asking price. One of them, the 2007 winner, saw his dream disappear before his eyes when he faced foreclosure and bankruptcy. However, not everyone with a million-dollar home gifted to them experienced such a bitter end.

The winner from the competition's second year in 1998, Tina Carlson, managed to outlast all the other recipients, keeping her home for a whopping eight years. Yes, that's correct, the longest HGTV's annual million-dollar dream home giveaway survivor still made it less than ten years, all the while using her home as a vacation property, then attempting to make rental income from it before finally surrendering to the tax bill and selling.

As it turns out, the creators of the giveaway didn't exactly envision any of the winners living in the home long-term. The winner of 2003's contest shared what they were told by HGTV officials: "They told us the dream's not so much the house. The dream is what happens after you sell the house," per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. HGTV spokeswoman Emily Yarborough agreed. "Our vision of the dream is that it enables you to do what you want to do," she told the Post-Gazette. We'll skip the nightmare and just take the cash, thanks!