They can't give it away
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on December 11, 2011 1:50 AM
Goldsboro donated the Molly Smith Thompson House on Virginia Street to This Old House in June to be the prize in the magazine's Save This Old House sweepstakes.
As Monday's Goldsboro City Council meeting drew to a close, District 6 Councilman Jackie Warrick, during his comment period, turned to City Manager Scott Stevens and asked about the house the city had donated to a sweepstakes in June.
Warrick wanted to know if a winner had come to tour the house yet.
"I'll check on it," Stevens said.
What neither knew, however, was that Scott Kingsley, the winner of the Save This Old House sweepstakes, had already made the trip to Goldsboro, visited the Molly Smith Thompson House on Virginia Street and stormed out of town last week back to his home in Acworth, Ga., about 30 miles north of Atlanta.
The house's disrepair, he said, was too much.
When the city unveiled its Comprehensive Historic Neighborhood Revitalization Plan in February 2006, city officials had high hopes for the target neighborhoods, especially those in the area surrounding Goldsboro's Union Station.
By 2009, 39 homes had been purchased through the plan, with more than a dozen already sold.
The program's momentum was being spurred on by other downtown projects, including the unveiling of downtown's master plan in 2007 and the completion of initial renovation work on Union Station in 2008.
Today, however, the neighborhood plan, like the houses themselves, is stale.
The Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. website currently advertises 13 residential properties for sale downtown -- including the house Kingsley was offered for free.
That home was not the original one proposed for the contest, though. A much smaller, and arguably more renovation-ready, house, the Nettie B. Taylor House at 408 S. John Street, was originally proposed for the contest. The 1,300-square-foot structure was not what the magazine was looking for, however.
The city purchased the house in 2007 for $21,000.
The 3,804-square-foot Queen Anne was then in the final stage of condemnation, and not much has changed since then.
Kingsley said he felt duped by the photos online of the house, which he said must have been taken long ago.
"The inside didn't match the picture of the inside in the contest," he said after seeing the house Nov. 30. "That outside picture must have been taken a few years ago."
And that was what did it for the 62-year-old who had visions of moving his whole family to Goldsboro until he arrived.
"After I saw the inside of the house, it was way beyond repair -- way beyond," he said. "Don't get me wrong. Had it been repairable and one block closer to town rather than on that particular street, I would have jumped at it in a heartbeat."
Kingsley had nothing but good things to say about the people in Goldsboro, especially DGDC promotions coordinator Lara Landers, who showed him around. But he said he was appalled when he visited City Hall and learned what kind of investment it would take just to make the house livable.
"I looked through all (the prior records on the house) and just by a quick guesstimation, it would probably take a couple hundred thousand dollars to bring that up to a livable condition. The fire messed it up so bad," he said. "Plus, after spending that much money, unless the whole neighborhood changed, you probably wouldn't come close to getting your money back if you wanted to sell it."
Had he accepted his "prize," Kingsley would have been subject to the restrictive covenants and timeframes dictating what types of renovations were allowed and when they needed to be done.
Still, he had to talk it over with his wife back home, so he took lots of photos to show her what he had seen.
"She totally concurred that it was beyond our abilities. It was far above what This Old House usually has its weekend warriors doing. Someone who is a contractor by profession would need to do that house because of the interior damage because of the fire," he said. "You couldn't walk through all of the doors and I didn't want to walk on the floor above it."
Kingsley's 966-mile round trip to check out what he hoped would be his family's new house only left him angry.
Kingsley was suspicious of the contest from the moment he was informed he had won the house, though.
A Nov. 29 comment on the This Old House website attributed to a Scott Kingsley in Acworth, Ga., showed concern at the sweepstakes' expectation of such a fast decision on accepting a piece of property that Internal Revenue Service documents indicated was worth a taxable $45,000 -- especially since he hadn't even seen it yet.
"They gave me just 10 days from their mailing to either accept or decline the prize but are draging (sic) their feet to let me tour the home. Is there something they don't want me to see?"
Following his trip to Goldsboro, he emailed Ms. Landers at DGDC to again praise her and the other residents of the city for their hospitality, but also to reiterate how disappointed he was in the discrepancy between the house's photos online and its actual condition.
Kingsley said due diligence was not done and that the true condition of the house was not shared with him ahead of his trip. He said the pictures online in no way reflected the condition of the home and that it was a shame because he and his wife were prepared to leave their jobs and move to Goldsboro.
But due diligence might not have been done in several avenues of the magazine sweepstakes, as Ms. Landers said she was unaware that a winner had been selected until the Goldsboro News-Argus contacted her asking when he would be touring the house.
"We had not heard from This Old House," she said.
A spokesperson for This Old House, Karen Affinito Greco, said the magazine would be selecting another winner, but would not say when that selection would occur or if there had been previous winners to turn down the home. Ms. Landers said Kingsley was the first winner to tour the house.