Emily Muniz and her husband won the grand prize, valued at over $1.8 million in 2018

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January 31, 2019 11:41 AM

For many, winning the annual HGTV Dream Home giveaway would be just that, a dream. For Emily Muniz , it became a reality. But the Nashville mom, like the vast majority of winners, never moved in. Here’s why.

The 29-year-old mom tells PEOPLE she entered the contest twice a day every day in 2018, and would bug her husband to get his two entries in each day as well. Still, Muniz, who lives in Nashville and works as the executive producer on a local morning show, never thought she would actually win the grand prize valued at over $1.8 million. Last year, it included a custom-built home in Gig Harbor, Washington, $250,000 cash to help with property and income taxes, and a Honda Accord.

Courtesy Emily Muniz

One fateful day last spring, she came home from work only to be “ambushed” by her husband, wielding a microphone, and a camera crew in her house. They let her know that her name had been randomly drawn from 123 million entries as the winner of the million-dollar prize package.

“It was completely surreal,” Muniz tells PEOPLE. “I couldn’t believe I won. It felt like something I could have only dreamt.”

Muniz says she had been a fan of HGTV “since the beginning of the network,” and loved watching the Dream Home building process because she loved to “geek out over the floor plans.”

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Emily Muniz and Designer Brian Patrick Flynn
Courtesy Emily Muniz

“It’s not that the homes are just beautiful and in great locations, but it’s the design and craftsmanship that goes into each one that’s impressive,” Muniz says. “I’m also a huge design fan and like seeing how the designers finish out each project to see if there’s ideas I can steal for my own home.”

However, Muniz and her husband, who share a three-year-old daughter, ultimately opted to take the cash prize alternative instead of the grand prize that included the home in Gig Harbor. Muniz says she consulted a financial adviser in Tennessee because they wanted to make the best move for their family.

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“Obviously moving into an HGTV designed home on the water is a once in a lifetime chance that’s not easy to turn down,” she says. “My husband and I honeymooned in Vancouver and Seattle and fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. While we would have loved to have moved in, it just wasn’t the right time to uproot our daughter from school and change jobs while also trying to tackle the finances that come along with such an expensive property.

According to Country Living, Muniz’s decision one is a common one among HGTV Dream Home winners. The vast majority opt to accept the cash prize alternative or sell the home they’ve won.

“Of the 21 people who’ve won Dream Homes over the years, only six, or about 28 percent, actually lived in their home for more than a year,” the publication reports. “The vast majority either took the cash alternative or sold the house back to the developer within a year of winning.”

“We realize that not everyone is in a place in their lives that will allow them to pick up and move, or even take on ownership of a remotely owned property,” a representative for HGTV tells PEOPLE. “It’s a very personal decision for every winner.”

The rep notes, HGTV’s legal team “encourages the winner to speak with an attorney, accountant or other trusted financial advisor of their choosing.”

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Based on an analysis by Vocativ, the grand prize typically comes with a federal income tax bill of nearly $700,000, plus income and real-estate taxes that vary in price based on the home’s location. The cash prize typically carries a $500,000 tax liability and does not come with real estate taxes or any of the costs associated with owning a property. Muniz admits she and her husband are still responsible for carrying the taxes on the cash prize option.

However, Muniz says that taking the cash prize has provided incredible opportunities for her family, including establishing a college fund for their daughter, owning a new Honda, and donating to charities and causes that are close to their hearts.

Courtesy Emily Muniz

“No, it’s not the dream home, but this prize has helped us achieve other dreams of ours,” Muniz says.

“Regardless of whether our lucky winner decides to keep the home or opt for the cash prize, it’s an exciting and life-changing experience!” says the rep for HGTV.

Currently, the home that Muniz turned down is on the market for $1.9 million, and she says she cannot wait to for someone to purchase it, because she believes anyone would be blessed to live there.

“I’m extremely excited for the lucky family that gets to call it home,” she says. “The floor plan is amazing, the finishes are top notch and the designer, Bryan Patrick Flynn, decked the whole house out with unique designs that I could never replicate. It’s an incredible property and I can’t wait for the new owners to enjoy and love it.”

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Courtesy Emily Muniz

As for whether Muniz would enter the contest again? Absolutely, she says.

“Entering each and every day is just a chance because I thought ‘nobody ever wins.’ But for me, this dream came true,” she says. “I still can’t believe that by just entering my email address, I was able to win the 2018 HGTV Dream Home. There’s still many times when I can’t believe it really happened.”

There’s still time to enter to win the 2019 HGTV Dream Home, located in Whitefish Lake, Montana. Viewers who want to call the mountain oasis home can enter to win the grand prize (the custom-designed home, a 2019 Honda Pilot Elite and $250,000) until Feb. 18.

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