Lottery Homes, What happens to them?

March, 2022

Fraught Property

What happens to most lottery homes once the contests end

Prospective homeowners might have plenty to dream about once builders complete the crowning touches to a palatial bungalow at 21 Easton Close in Erin Ridge, one of St. Albert’s fastest-growing neighbourhoods. Boasting more than 3,500 square feet of space, the three-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom pad comes fully furnished and offers such amenities as a double-car attached garage, exercise room, a huge partly-covered rear deck and even solar power.

The home is valued at $1.29 million, but getting access to it won’t cost you anything less than a $30 lottery ticket. Those who don’t have Lady Luck on their side might be consoled with the realization that their money will fund the efforts of The Boys and Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters organization that facilitates the Home Lottery campaign. As for the winner? Let’s just say whoever receives title to the spot will have to consider a slew of lifestyle decisions.

The odds are that few dream home winners will pull up stakes and move into their residential prize. Several of them might sell the property as soon as possible. Others might relocate to that set of digs and discover that the upkeep costs are too high to warrant staying there permanently.

“They generally don’t know what it would be like, and they try to make it work. It’s such a big life change for most people who win them. Maybe that’s why they want to sell at the end of the day. It could be due to affordability, or maybe it’s not the type of life change they’re looking for.”

St.Albert-based REMAX realtor Ryan Sellers about the challenges faced by families whose names are drawn in a home lottery

The allure of an upward lifestyle change, however, is what draws participants to snap up ducats for a chance to snag an opulent residence. Besides Home Lottery, other campaigns like Mighty Millions, an annual drive by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, features a $2.8-million Edmonton home as a big-ticket item. Full House, a major campaign for the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation and University Hospital, offers two Edmonton homes as a grand prize. STARS Lottery, which funds the provincial air ambulance system, offers three homes, including one in Edmonton worth $938,000.

The breakdown over how many winners stay versus how many sell their lottery homes in the Edmonton region is fuzzy at best. Charities offering dream home grand prizes that were contacted for this story either declined to be interviewed or replied that they didn’t have that information available. But social media website Reddit contained a few local anecdotes hinting that the sale of lottery homes isn’t all that rare. 

Lindsay Robertson, director of communications at the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation, recalled a few instances when people sold their grand prizes. “Sometimes people keep them for a certain period of time and then sell them,” she said. “And we don’t know about them until we follow up with them a few years later and find that out.”

Liz O’Neill, executive director at Boys and Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters has seen 42 houses change hands in its Home Lottery campaigns, the organization’s biggest annual fund drive, and hasn’t recalled any winners putting the properties up for sale due to hardship. But she’s noticed that those who win have already made up their minds about what to do with the residence. “People who move in make that decision very quickly, and people who decide they’re going to sell also make that their decision very quickly,” she noted.

O’Neill’s experience seems to be on par with a CBC story in 2017, when it reported that the vast majority of winners of homes in the New Brunswick-based Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation home lottery quickly put those top prizes on the market. At that time, in the years that the lottery had been operating, no winner had ever chosen to live in the lavish bungalows offered.

“Winning a prize like that is wonderful,” said one source interviewed for the piece. “It’s a big thrill. [But] it’s expensive. You’ve really got to think about that and I don’t think people do when they buy these tickets.”

A story in 2021 examined what became of the hot properties that U.S. cable channel HGTV made available in its annual Dream Home Giveaway. Out of 21 homes awarded as prizes over the years, only six managed to stay in those places for more than a year, the longest being a Florida-based winner who hung on for eight years before having to sell, primarily because the property taxes were brutal on the pocketbook.

Whoever wins the home up for grabs in Erin Ridge might have the same taxation experience, according to Sellers. He discovered one place nearby valued at $1.36 million, although its occupants had to annually fork over to the city roughly $14,700.

Insurance costs are trickier since an assessment incorporates several factors beyond the home’s features. That said, after much pondering, one broker at an independent St. Albert firm set a ballpark figure at $5,000 a year.

Arguably, the St. Albert prize is mortgage-free and its solar-power setup will go a long way towards cutting down utility bills. As an additional buffer against upkeep costs, Home Lottery offers $25,000 in cash to the winner. So does Full House, which earmarks the same amount for a $2.4-million dream home, as well as $10,000 for a second Edmonton place worth $1.6 million. Mighty Millions includes $100,000 in cash with its pad, while STARS attaches a $20,000 purse to its Edmonton home. 

Additionally, market research conducted by lotteries overwhelmingly reveals that anything with a roof on top is by far a favourite among consumers, despite accounts of previous winners getting rid of those prizes. “It could be location, it could be size, it could be a lot of factors that kind of weigh into whether they want to keep [their homes] or not,” said Robertson. “But it’s absolutely been proven to our researchers and even recent ticket sales that homes continue to be an opportunity for us.”

And in the end, Sellers believes there’s nothing wrong with folks wistfully thinking about the positive impact a luxury home would have on their lives. “I think it’s good for them to dream,” he said. “For some of us who don’t anticipate a win is going to come to fruition, we just want to support a great cause.” t8n  

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