Nice Price: $100 Buys $1 Million House

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 26, 2009

Karen McHale didn't bother telling her husband last month that she had purchased two raffle tickets for the chance to win a million-dollar house in Edgewater. The Idaho Springs, Colo., woman viewed the $100 she spent as a contribution to a Maryland charity, not an opportunity to actually acquire out-of-state property.

Then on Friday, Ryan McHale came home to find his wife in a frenzy, calling family members about some luxurious new digs. His question was simple: "What is going on?"

Karen McHale, 47, had just won a 6,000-square-foot house with an appraised value of $1.25 million. The house had been the top prize in a raffle organized by mortgage broker Tom Walters, who thought a lottery might be a more lucrative way to unload his Edgewater property than a standard sale during a tough economy.

Maryland law requires that a charity run the raffle, so Walters teamed up with the Annapolis-based We Care and Friends. The charity, which helps at-risk youths, was set to receive 10 percent of the proceeds if Walters reached his goal of selling 31,500 tickets, said president and founder Larry Griffin.

Walters, though, sold only about 24,000 tickets, leaving the amount of the charity's cut in limbo, Griffin said. He said he and Walters would figure out tomorrow how to split the proceeds.

"Whoever won it, it was a serious present for them for this year, especially with the economy," Griffin said. "The lady was like, 'Are you joking?' She never won anything in her life."

The raffle had garnered international media attention, and that's how McHale heard about it and decided to buy tickets. When she got the call that she had won, she "was completely in shock, in disbelief," she said by telephone yesterday.

Then came the more practical question.

"What am I going to do with a house in Maryland?" she asked.

She has decided to sell -- in an auction, not a raffle. She still has to pay about $300,000 in income taxes on the prize, she said, and she has no desire to uproot her family from Colorado.

Both of her sons, ages 19 and 24, live nearby, and she and her husband both have stable jobs as engineers. They live in a house that's half as big but one that they designed and built themselves, she said.

"I obviously want someone to buy the house who would live there and obviously enjoy it," she said. "It really looks super nice."

Karen McHale said she is flying to Maryland this weekend to finalize the paperwork and look at the property in person for the first time. She hopes to unload it as quickly as possible after that, using the cash to pay for her oldest son's upcoming wedding or perhaps pay off the debt on her own house.

"I figure this is my once-in-a-lifetime winning," she said. "And I'm done."

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