Daunting debt, creative ideas

So what could you raffle off to pay your mortgage, insurance and taxes?

Published May 26, 2007

Last week, Amanda Stark and her husband, Bill Berry, thought they'd hit upon a creative idea to save their home: They'd raffle off their RV.

They'd sell tickets for $20, then throw a party to draw the winning name. And if all went as planned, they'd collect enough money to pay about $3, 500 in past-due property taxes.

That idea fell through when the Fort Myers couple decided that the RV, a 1983 Fleetwood Tioga, is in too poor a condition to give away as a prize. But the party, scheduled for this afternoon, had already been planned by then.

Stark, 30, and Berry, 34, hope that the mingling will at least raise awareness of a statewide woe: Crazy ideas, like RV raffles, don't sound so crazy any more, now that many mid-wage workers can't afford homes here. Blame skyrocketing prices, property insurance rates and property taxes. Five years ago, the median price of an existing home in Florida was $133, 700. Now it's $237, 800.

Stark said they might set out a bucket today to collect donations for their property tax bill. "But I don't think we're really going to push the issue too hard, " she said. "I don't want to put anyone in a position to feel like they're obligated."

That's because, for every supportive comment they've heard, there's been another that accuses them of looking for a handout.

Stark and Berry - parents of 2-year-old Patrick - bought their three-bedroom house a year ago for $229, 000, with a subprime mortgage and no downpayment.

The interest rates were steep: 8.75 percent on 80 percent of the mortgage, and 11.25 percent on the other 20 percent. "Every time I say it, " Stark said, "it just kills me."

"We thought, 'For two years, we'll struggle and get by, and after two years, we'll refinance, ' " said Stark, a restaurant manager.

But Berry, a carpenter, has had a hard time finding work since the housing market slowed. They'd been paying $1, 000 a month in rent; now, they've got an $1, 800-per-month mortgage, and another $600 in property taxes and insurance.

"This could be a farewell party, too, " Stark said.

Christina Rexrode can be reached at crexrode@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8318.