Charity house raffle quickly draws worldwide interest, orders for 1,000 tickets

Sale of Washington County farmhouse benefits San Mar Children's Home

Sale of Washington County farmhouse benefits San Mar Children's Home

January 20, 2008|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

WASHINGTON COUNTY ? News that a Washington County farmhouse is the grand prize in a charity raffle ignited a media frenzy and calls from would-be buyers all over the world.

But until a couple of days ago, Maryland had not approved the raffle, leaving San Mar Children's Home organizers and the ever-increasing orders for tickets in a sort of legal limbo.

Late this past week, San Mar got the news it needed: The raffle has been approved, Executive Director Bruce Anderson said he was told in a phone call from the state inspector.

"Hallelujah," Anderson said in response to the news.

"The problem has been we've got hundreds of calls from people, and we've told them we just don't have the tickets yet," he said.


But now, the raffle tickets can be printed and sent out to the nearly 1,000 people who already have placed orders, Anderson said.

The house, at 13607 Indian Springs Road near Big Pool, became something of a sensation after The Herald-Mail published a story about the raffle plans in late December.

Until then, homeowners Karen Crawford and Dennis Kelly had endured a year and a half of struggling to sell the house in the nation's sagging real estate market.

Recent history of the house

The couple bought the house and its 3.2 acres in early 2006.

Built in 1929, it is next to a trout stream, near Whitetail Resort and surrounded by 1,500 acres of woodland owned by the Western Maryland Hunt Club.

The house was in the initial stages of being fixed up in June 2005 when M&M Enterprises LLC bought it for $185,000, said Paul M. Johnson, a Realtor based in Frederick, Md.

"Basically, it was bought as a shell," Johnson said. "Only four bedrooms and one full bath then."

M&M, which Johnson said specializes in restoring houses and reselling them, "put on a new roof, siding, windows" and more before putting the house back on the market through Johnson in February 2006 for $399,900.

Current owners Crawford and Kelly bought it for $375,000 that April.

By then, it featured four bedrooms, three baths and a great room with a stone fireplace.

Crawford, a county native and longtime local teacher, said she and her husband loved the house at first. But little more than three weeks after buying it, they realized the two-story house wasn't really what they wanted.

"We're getting ready to retire ... we need a one-story," Crawford said last month. "We discovered that the hard way."

So, according to the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., which tracks real estate deals, the house went back on the market in early May 2006 for $384,900 ? enough to cover their purchase price and a Realtor's commission.

And then, it sat. And, as the nation's housing crisis worsened, the couple agreed to drop the price again and again. By last September, it had fallen to $349,900. Though several couples were interested, Crawford said, none came back, apparently because they couldn't get financing.

Despite that, when another Realtor picked up the listing last fall, the price was set much higher at $425,000.

"That's what I thought it was worth," Realtor Cynthia Moler said.

The house still didn't move.

San Mar sees opportunity

When Crawford showed Moler a story in The Herald-Mail about a Midwestern farmer offering his place to the winner of an essay contest that had a $100 entry fee, the two were excited.

Moler learned that Maryland law allows only a nonprofit organization to raffle a house and that an appraisal is needed. So the house was appraised, which gave it a value of $390,000.

Moler proposed the raffle to a local charity, offering it any proceeds above the $390,000 needed to pay for the house. But the charity took so long deliberating the offer that Moler withdrew it, she said.

She then turned to San Mar, which also was ill-at-ease about the idea, Anderson said. But after Moler offered to take responsibility for all arrangements, his board of directors agreed, he said.

For San Mar, the idea was a fundraising opportunity it would be "foolish not to embrace," Anderson said.

Caring for children sent there by state Social Services and Juvenile Services agencies, San Mar has needs beyond its current three group homes, shelter, school, foster care for boys and girls, and adoptions licensing, Anderson said. It wants to build a multipurpose center that could have a gymnasium, classroom and housing for as many as 40 girls, including 20 now living in an older building on San Mar's campus, he said.

How the raffle works

Each raffle ticket costs $100. There are to be five winners. The grand prize is the house, second prize is a 2008 Toyota Camry, third prize is a donated handmade Persian rug, fourth prize is furniture and fifth prize is $1,000 cash.

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