Buyer (and seller) beware of home giveaway contests

In every real estate downturn, some home owner whose having a hard time selling their home has what they think is an original (and brilliant) idea: Hold a sweepstakes and raffle off the house! Just charge $1,000 a ticket and require that at least 300 of them be sold before you turn over your keys, you've in essence, sold your house for $300,000 -- right? Not so fast, Einstein.

For one thing, it isn't legal. When the state runs a raffle -- like the lottery -- that's legal. When you do it as a private citizen, it is not. Nonprofits may hold raffles but despite your dwindling savings account, you likely aren't a nonprofit except in the eyes of your mother-in-law. No matter how you cut it and despite those who try each year, an individual homeowner can't legally print up raffle tickets and advertise his home as the prize.

Nevertheless, people have found a couple of ways to get around this whole nonsense of legality -- or lack thereof.