Property raffles – going for homeless or broke

An Englishman’s home may be his castle, but if that Englishman had been prepared to move to Scotland, he could have won a real castle in a prize draw. Yes, this was another property raffle, which took place last year, and the castle you could win was Orchardton Castle in Auchencairn, near Kirkcudbrightshire, in Dumfries and Galloway.

OK, the castle was built in the 19th century and doesn’t have a moat and drawbridge, but it does have a couple of turrets and according to Susan de Vere, the property raffle’s promoter, it was worth somewhere in the region of £1.5 million to £2.7 million (not a very specific valuation I grant you, but perhaps the Scottish castle market is extremely volatile…). Anyway, to be in with a chance of winning it, all you had to do was purchase a ticket for £5.

Of course, I’ve written about property raffles before – about the Gambling Commission’s concern that some property raffles could be illegal lotteries, about how a promoter wrongly extended a closing date when tickets sales were lower than anticipated, and about how a promoter failed to give away a luxury property, incidentally also in Scotland, and offered cash instead.

Actually, that last case was not dissimilar to this one in that a complaint was made to the ASA, challenging whether the promotion had been fairly administered, because the winner received a cash prize instead of the castle.

In her defence, promoter Susan de Vere said she had made it clear that if insufficient entries were received, the property would not be awarded and a cash prize would be offered instead. This information was, she said, on the Win a Castle website and in the terms and conditions, which all entrants had to acknowledge they had read in order to enter the draw. The possibility of an alternative cash prize had, said Ms de Vere, also been emphasised in every TV, radio and magazine interview conducted in relation to the raffle.

So the possibility of a cash alternative was flagged up in advance and at the end of the competition the minimum number of entries had not been received, so instead of the castle three cash prizes were awarded – one of £65,000, one of £7,000 and one of £5,000. Apparently, the promoter also offered the winner a share of the property, but, having investigated the complaint, the ASA upheld it, because the cash was not a reasonable equivalent to the advertised prize and therefore the draw had not been administered fairly.

Property raffles continue to be popular, both as a way of selling your home and as a way of acquiring a home inexpensively, and I can completely understand the attraction. However, as I told Moneywise recently, as a consumer you should be very wary of them, because you’ve no real evidence that the properties actually exist or, if they do, that are actually owned by the person or company doing the raffling.

I’m absolutely not suggesting that Orchardton Castle doesn’t exist or that Susan de Vere set out to act dishonourably – I’m sure she didn’t – but I also want to point out that from the promoter’s point of view property raffles are fraught with difficulties. They might seem like a smart way to sell your home, but just hitting enough ticket sales is tricky enough.

In this case, there wasn’t a problem as such with a cash prize, although despite Ms de Vere’s efforts the ASA wasn’t convinced that the information about the cash alternative was clear enough, but if you’re not going to give away the property, the CAP Code says you must give away a prize of equivalent value, so there’s a significant risk that the numbers just won’t add up and you’ll end up either homeless or broke.

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist. 

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