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Can I Use A Raffle to Sell My House?

Dear Ali: My husband and I own a house near Austin in a subdivision riddled with foreclosures. We bought in 2003, and since then our home has dropped in value by over $45,000 and we are $25,000 upside-down in the house. However, we have three children, and want to place them into a better school district. I am also in school, and I am faced with a 145-mile daily commute. After searching for creative ways to sell a home, I came across the idea of home raffles. Are they legal in Texas? Would this be an advisable way to get out of a house in an unfavorable market? We are not looking to make any money. We just need to break even, so we can have a fresh start.

A: Oh, what a plight. I am really, really tempted to run to Greenwich, Conn., and pull some sundry mortgage derivative king out of his mansion and send him down there so he can see what damage he has wrought. However, revenge doesn't answer the raffle question. What's more, I'm not a Texas agent, much less a Texas attorney. I found one for you, though, in the person of Aimee Hess, author of the Texas Attorney Blog, and the president of Law Offices of Aimee Hess, P.C., located in Streetman, Tex.

Here's what she had to say: "The Texas criminal statutes consider a raffle by someone other than a charitable or a nonprofit to be a form of lottery -- you'd want to check with your local District Attorney to find out how they view this [because it could be considered illegal gambling.] Secondly, even if a raffle did not violate criminal laws, an owner would need to make sure having one complied with other Texas laws that apply to the raffle procedure. Finally, the owner would need to keep track of the name and address of each person who bought a ticket, and if the raffle proceeds were not sufficient to pay the debt on the house, the owner would need to promptly return the price of the ticket to each purchaser."

Okay, that's pretty bleak. Here you are driving three hours a day to better yourself and trying to get your kids into a better school district and now I tell you a raffle is going to involve legal costs and a ton of paperwork and might not even work.

However, Ms. Hess was kind enough to suggest an alternative you may want to try: an auction. You can negotiate with an auctioneer to sell the house with a "reserve bid" which means that if bids do not meet or exceed a certain amount (in this case, enough to pay off the mortgage), the sale won't be concluded.

Raffle ticket image by alykat via Flickr, CC 2.0

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