For $100 Down and Nothing More to Pay, Brian Katz Wins a $147,000 Dream House

updated 06/22/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/22/1981 01:00AM

It was, as is most anything in the American economy today, a game of chance—a raffle with 1,777 tickets sold at $100 a pop and the winner announced by Ronald McDonald. But the prize was no Big Mac. It was a $147,000, three-bedroom, 2½-bath, 2,400-square-foot house on a wooded half-acre lot 38 miles south of Chicago. And the winner: Brian Katz, a 30-year-old bachelor renter of a one-bedroom apartment in Schaumburg, Ill., which is 80 miles away. Katz makes around $30,000 annually as a railroad brakeman, but, like so many Americans, couldn't afford to own a home, save for the luck of the draw. "I don't know what to say," he gasped. "I think I'll sing." Instead, he called his parents in Hot Springs, Ark. and told them of his plans for a week-long celebration.

The home, located in the bedroom and farm community of Crete (pop. 20,426), was built by carpenter-turned-contractor Larry Austgen, 31. He began building it in 1979 "when the economy was rolling," but finished after interest rates had risen from 10 percent to at least 16 percent and the housing market had dried up.

"I sat on the thing for 18 months," Austgen says. "The economy did me in." His under-$40,000 yearly income wasn't enough to maintain his own ranch home half a block away and cover $1,400 monthly payments on the empty one. So a friend suggested that he raffle off the house—perhaps leading a new trend in American real estate (another home is being raffled in Alexandria, Va.). Austgen asked the nearby South Holland Jaycees to sponsor and oversee the drawing, giving them $15 per ticket to benefit the Special Olympics—and himself a handsome tax write-off (though he says he lost $30,000 in his own labor on the deal).

Local businesses sold the tickets (according to self-imposed rules, no more than 1,800 of them and no fewer than 1,650, or all would have been refunded) and the drawing was set for June 6, during the South Holland Wooden Shoe Festival and parade. About half of the tickets went to the towns-folk (some straitlaced locals objected to the gambling), and the rest to hopeful homeowners as far away as Barbados and Brazil. Cheryl Lyons, president of the Crete Homeowners Association, worried that a raffle fad could bring in residents who don't have a stake in the community, but the state's attorney declared he could not limit such grab-bag home buying.

Even with the $1,800 Katz will have to pay annually in real estate taxes plus maintenance and insurance, he is light-years ahead on his $100 investment. "The only thing I've ever won before," he beams, "was a spare tire for a bike."

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