Dunstan Low was having trouble selling his home, Melling Manor, a six-bedroom Georgian country house in the Lune Valley in Lancashire.
He paid £435,000, and spent another £150,000 renovating the property.
But not long after the 38-year-old and his family moved in, his business took a downturn and struggled to find alternate work.
As the struggle to meet mortgage repayments grew, they put the house on the market for £845,000 in December 2016.
Yet despite reducing the asking price a number of times (eventually to £650,000), the viewings never translated into a sale.
One last option before losing the house
Meanwhile, the debts kept mounting.
Dunstan says: “[My wife] Natasha said “let’s just give it back to the bank”, and I knew she was right, but I decided to have one more look for a solution.”
It was then that he came across a news story about a family that had raffled a £1 million Devon property off in 2008.
He said: “While we were selling the house, we kept saying that we knew it was the kind of place where so many people would love to live, but it was beyond their means.
“That made it a perfect prize, and so we decided to try a raffle.”
Dunstan realised that if he could sell 500,000 tickets at £2 each he could be back in the black, and he could put his financial headaches behind him.
He used his professional skills to put the competition and a website together in just two days.
Legal considerations when raffling your house
Getting the competition right was essential, because it was important not to fall foul of the Gambling Commission.
This had brought down raffle attempts before – including one held in the Wirral in 2010.
The homeowners had used a question in order to make it a game of skill rather than gambling, and remove the need for a gambling licence.
They ended up running into delays with the Gambling Commission, because of the difficulty of setting the right kind of question.
It needs to be easy enough not to put too many people off entering, but hard enough to be passed by the commission as being enough to qualify as a game of skill.
Unfortunately you cannot run it past them before you start, so you have to wait, and hope it passes muster.
The 2010 raffle had to be put on hold just weeks after launch, while the Commission considered the question.
Once it was up and running again five months later, interest had dwindled so that the raffle ended up raising just £10,000.
It barely covered the couple’s costs.
A workaround for the raffle
Dunstan didn’t want to get into this issue, and could not afford delays to make the debts against his house become even more expensive, so he took a different approach.
Although he also uses a question to make it a game of skill, he added in a mechanism whereby people could choose to enter the raffle for free – without distinguishing between free and paid entries – which meant there was no licence required, and no regulation by the Gambling Commission.
He spoke to the Commission throughout the process to ensure they were satisfied, so is confident there will be no delays.
He admits that there was a risk that people would simply enter for free, and he would make no money from the raffle itself.
Effectively he was relying on the goodness of strangers to make it a success.
He decided he was willing to take the risk, and hoped that the house was attractive enough to persuade people to buy more entries too.
Like most house raffles, he included small print to state that if not enough tickets are sold to cover the cost of the house, the money made from the tickets will become the prize instead – minus any administration costs.
Once the competition was set up, and the website live, he sent out a press release: and the response was overwhelming.
‘Enough to make charitable donations’
He had media interest locally, swiftly followed by the national press and international titles.
The media coverage meant millions of people found out about the raffle, and the tickets started selling quickly.
For the free entries he has received letters from across the globe.
He said: “The raffle appeals to people on an aspirational level. They like the idea of having a dream house, without a mortgage, and being able to beat the banks.”
“At this stage we can cover the mortgage and the second charge mortgage, so we just want to sell enough tickets so that we can make charitable donations.”
The couple hopes to be able to donate £25,000 to the St John’s Hospice – as well as £5,000 to National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS).
The raffle will remain open until August 1– or until the last of the paid tickets are sold.
‘Back to zero’
After the competition, Dunstan says he will be left back at zero – including the cost of selling the house and last minute repairs and maintenance – with no home and no profit, but not owing anyone a penny either.
Deciding to raffle his home was an enormous leap of faith, but Dunstan didn’t find it stressful.
The whole process of trying to sell had become so difficult that it was a relief to actually be able to take control, he said.
“It was so hard to sit there and wait and hope a buyer would come along.
“It all just felt like such a primitive way of doing things. The hardest day of my life was the day when I admitted to myself I’d failed.
“After that it was easier to let that door close and a new one open, and take the leap.”
More homeowners going down the raffle route
He has offered to help others in a similar position, with a link on the website for people to use if they want help to run their own raffle.
He said he has already had a lot of interest through the site, and hopes to be able to help people faced with the same kinds of issues as he was.
His advice could prove invaluable, because at the moment there are as many tales of failed raffles as there are success stories.
No more raffles
However, he won’t be doing it again himself, and said he never wants to find himself in a similar situation again.
“You see all the property programmes, and there’s all this social pressure to get a house that’s as good as you can afford and put as much into it as possible,” he said.
“There’s this idea that your home will never lose value, so I had no idea of the level of risk I was taking. I’d never take that risk again.
“I just want to live somewhere normal.”