Extreme home selling: Waterford family raffles off home

By Rory McCarty

Senior Reporter

In the current economic climate, some families have found that selling a house can be almost impossible. Finding a buyer willing to pay the full price is difficult in the current real estate market.

The VanDevelder family had been trying for two years to sell their house unsuccessfully. So they found an alternative solution: instead of selling the house to one person, sell it to 2,500.

The VanDevelders said they decided to raffle their house by selling $100 tickets to many people, giving each of them an opportunity to win the house. They said their intention was to keep selling tickets until they sold 2,500 tickets, then randomly select a winner who would actually receive full ownership of the house.

Joe VanDevelder, of Waterford, came up with the idea after seeing similar house raffles done in places such as Hawaii and Arizona. The first day they began selling tickets, they had sold 250 in the space of a few hours. But after only half a day, they had to put the raffle on hold.

“Our attorney gave us a bump in the road with the raffle,” Joe said. Shortly after the raffle began, their attorney called to tell them to stop selling tickets because it constituted a form of gambling, which is prohibited by law for individual citizens rather than organizations.

Joe came up with the alternative plan of having a short essay contest with a $100 entry fee rather than a raffle. Entrants would be required to write an essay of 20 words or less on the back of their raffle ticket to explain why they need to win the VanDevelder house. Joe said that “the details are being ironed out,” but the winner will be selected by a city official or someone unbiased to keep from having a conflict of interest.

According to Joe’s attorney, Phillip Strehle, what they have in mind is to make a panel of three people from different backgrounds to judge objectively.

“The most important thing is to eliminate the element of chance. We want it as anonymous as possible,” Strehle said.

People who’ve bought multiple tickets will be able to submit multiple essays which will each be judged individually as the entries will remain anonymous to the judges, according to Strehle.

Strehle also suggested choosing judges from different professions, such as an English teacher or a priest. “They’ll give legitimacy to it because they’ll be pillars in their community,” he said.

The VanDevelders are optimistic that when the essay contest gets started, the remaining tickets will be sold quickly, based on how many people have tried to buy tickets during the transitional period.

“We thought it would take 30 to 60 days, but the response has been astronomical,” VanDevelder said. “It wouldn’t have taken two weeks.”

Joe’s wife, Penelope, shares her husbands astonishment to the response they’ve received from hopeful winners.

“You would not believe the response,” Penelope said. “They all came back when the ticket booth was closed and they were all devastated.”

Penelope said that the poor state of the economy has actually contributed to the demand for raffle tickets. “Even though this is a bad time, people are pounding on the door, saying, ‘I have to buy a ticket because I’m going to be homeless soon,'” she said.

Penelope said that that she and her husband quit their jobs when they first put their house up for sale, thinking that it would sell quickly. Joe had a landscaping company which he sold so that they could move, but in the current economic climate he’s ended up working cutting lawns and plowing snow.

“Everybody’s losing their jobs. Everybody’s losing their homes. This is a one last hope for somebody,” she said.

Joe said that once the house is sold, they’ll either move to Houghton Lake or Colorado. “Either a little north or a helluva lot west,” he said.

But Joe said he’s positive that someone will win the house, “free and clear.”

“You gotta see this place and you’d be more than happy to scribble out a ticket,” Joe said. The VanDevelders are continuing the raffle/essay contest through their website,