In November 2015, Avril and Robert Smith’s lives changed forever. Their 39-year-old daughter died suddenly and the family home became too many painful to remain in.
After repeated attempts to sell the house via conventional methods, including three price reductions, they were unable to secure a buyer.
In desperation, they decided to try another, more risky, method. In August last year, their son, Matthew, suggested they try to raffle the four-bedroom property in the tiny North Yorkshire village of Grosmont.
But Robert, 75, and Avril, 68, remain the reluctant owners of their home. Almost five months after launching the prize scheme with hopes to sell 60,000 of the £10 tickets they were told to close down the competition. The couple had fallen foul of Gambling Commission rules and were told that it was not a legal prize competition as it had been deemed a potential lottery.
Robert, a former lawyer, told the Guardian that the decision by the commission to pull the competition had been a “bolt out of the blue” and that he and his wife were still recovering from the shock. Smith claimed that he had contacted the commission in July to make it aware of the prize draw but he was informed of its decision only a few days before Christmas when thousands of tickets had already been bought.
“When Rachael died suddenly we decided we could no longer stay here,” Smith said. “There were so many memories, we brought her here as a baby, they grew up here. It became too painful.
“We’re both also getting old and want to be near our grandchildren – help out with them and allow our son to look after us a bit too – but now we don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ll try and sell it again but it could take a while.”
The Smiths had joined a growing number of homeowners who are trying to sell their properties through “win a house” schemes. Raffle tickets are sold at a low cost and the sellers hope they can make up the sale price and pick one winner.
The slowdown in the property market over the past year has led to an increase in the number of properties being offered as raffle prizes, in particular by homeowners who fail to achieve their desired asking price.
For some, like Dunstan Low, who last year decided to raffle off his six-bedroom, grade II listed home, Melling Manor, the method was a success after he added a free entry option in the prize draw to avoid breaching gambling regulations. His “win a country home” competition netted him £1m in ticket sales for his property, the east wing of an 18th-century manor house in Lancashire.
The Smiths’ daughter, Rachael, moved to Spain in 2015 to begin a new life with her partner. But just three weeks after leaving the UK she was found dead in her apartment. She died from sudden death syndrome.
Later that year, Robert and Avril put their family home of 42 years on the market to move closer to Matthew, 45, and their two grandchildren.
Avril, breaking down in tears, says: “We loved this home, we have lots of friends and the community is very close but after Rachael died everything changed. She still has her bedroom here and what happened was devastating.
“It was a lovely home but we need to make a fresh start, begin a new chapter in our lives and put some things behind us.”
The winner was originally to be drawn on Thursday, but the couple said they were “back to square one”, and now begins the laborious task of refunding more than 6,000 people who bought one or more tickets.
They said they had already extended the draw date to August after the charity Cancer Research UK had agreed to help promote it in 2019. They had hoped to raise up to £60,000 for the charity through the sale. Avril was diagnosed with cancer of the womb 10 years ago.
The home, which has previously been valued at £550,000, has an outdoor heated pool, log cabin, orangery and hot tub. The Smiths said the house was now open to offers in the normal way and ticket refunds could be claimed through the website.
If a raffle is deemed to be an illegal lottery by the Gambling Commission, it could attract a fine of up to £5,000 and a 51-week prison sentence for the raffle organiser. In a statement, the commission said it had a duty to “prevent illegal gambling” and that this prize draw had been considered a lottery.