An Interview with HGTV Dream Home Winner Don Cruz

Cruz family during Money Magazine photo shoot at the 2005 HGTV Dream Home.
Cruz family during Money Magazine photo shoot at the 2005 HGTV Dream Home. Image © Don Cruz, used with permission.

Every year, sweepers debate whether taxes on the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes prevent it from being worthwhile entering to win. After all, those taxes could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Don Cruz, the only winner of the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes who has tried to live in the home he won, is often used as an example of how winning the HGTV Dream Home can leave you worse off than before you won.

Cruz family during Money Magazine photo shoot at the 2005 HGTV Dream Home.
Cruz family during Money Magazine photo shoot at the 2005 HGTV Dream Home. Image © Don Cruz, used with permission.

Mr. Cruz and his family loved the gorgeous Tyler, Texas Dream Home and wanted to keep it, despite the high tax burden. Although they had several ideas to make the home pay off, zoning restrictions and other issues prevented them from working out, and the house was threatened by foreclosure. The Cruz family auctioned the home in January of 2008, living in it for only three years after winning.

So, did winning the HGTV Dream Home make life harder for Don Cruz instead of the dream it sounds like?

In 209, Don Cruz graciously agreed to an interview, and his answer was a resounding NO. In fact, he was still trying to win again! Here's what Mr. Cruz had to say about his incredible experience:

Mr. Cruz, were you an avid sweeper before you won the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes?

Don Cruz: No, in fact, I didn't really know that there were free-to-enter sweepstakes until I heard of the Dream Home. I buy a lottery ticket every year on Christmas and my birthday and that was it until I heard about the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes.

I started to enter for the 2003 Dream Home in Mexico Beach, Florida. I entered again in 2004 and won in 2005.

Do you remember how many entries you submitted into the 2005 Dream Home Sweepstakes?

I submitted 19 entries, all online.

Do you enter any sweepstakes now that you've seen that you can win big prizes?

Yes, one -- the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes!

Really? You're trying to win again?

Yes! I'd love to do it again. Let me tell you, just the Winner's Weekend was an amazing experience. When you win, HGTV flies you down to see the house for the first time.

They put you up in the finest hotels -- we stayed in the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. We ate at the best restaurants. At one restaurant, I got to meet country singer Dwight Yoakam. They took us everywhere in a stretch limo. I thought the first time I'd ride in a stretch limo, I'd be six feet under!

When they bring you to the Dream Home, there are representatives from all of the sponsors, like Lumber Liquidators. There were probably 100 sponsors there, cheering us on, and they videotaped the whole thing. It was amazing.

So what was the first thing you thought when you found out you'd won?

I thought that I'd been Punk'd, as in the MTV show, by my foster daughter. She watched the show all the time, and always said she'd get me on there.

They drove up to the house in a white Denali and I went out to meet them. All these people started coming out of the car, and they were setting up video cameras and holding boom microphones over me, and none of them were saying anything!

It turns out that they had left the child safety locks on in the back of the Denali, and the HGTV representative couldn't get out to tell me what was going on!

Was that the Denali that was part of the prize? Do you still have it?

Yes, it was my Denali, and I still have it. In fact, I have a license plate that has HGTV on it.

What was the best part about winning the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes?

Oh, just all of it. The Winner's Weekend, the people I met... HGTV has some really nice Dream Home message boards where you can make suggestions (the sponsors read the boards, though they don't participate) and some of the past winners stop by and leave messages sometimes. One of the people that I met on the message boards became one of my best friends, and we're still close.

I used to also really enjoy giving free tours of the house. The first tour I gave was to a family from China. They had flown 16 hours to the US and their first stop was the HGTV Dream Home. They were just going to look from the road, but I saw them and invited them in.

What was your favorite part of the 2005 HGTV Dream Home itself?

The TV. I'm a big fan of television, and I spent the first night in the Dream Home camped in front of the big-screen television with surround sound. It was the first time I had owned surround sound. I was in heaven.

So you actually lived in the home for nearly three years, right?

Yes, that's right. We auctioned the home in January of 2008.

Did you keep any of the furnishings from the Dream Home?

Yes, each of us picked one thing that was special to us. I picked the TV with the surround sound. My son kept a coffee table from his bedroom. And my wife chose an 8-foot tall antique dressing mirror from the bedroom.

Some people are hesitant to enter the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes because of the high taxes. Do you think they should be wary, or do you think that the big prize win is worth the tax hassle?

It's worth it. It's definitely worth it! What other sweepstakes can you win where you get the big house, the furnishings, the Winner's Weekend, the car, and so much more -- and when you sell it, you get all that cash!

You've said that you don't regret winning the home. Is there anything that you would do differently, knowing what you know today?

I'd do everything the same. It was a fantastic experience. We met great people, we gave hundreds of free tours, we had a blast.

Do you have any advice for people entering the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes?

Enter as often as you can, enter every day. And if you do win, live life to the fullest.

Thank you, Mr. Cruz, it definitely sounds like you've done that! And good luck winning again!

Note that in recent years, HGTV has listened to complaints that the Dream Home is not affordable, and has been offering cash options to winners. This alleviates many of the problems winners have had with paying their sweepstakes taxes.