Extreme Makeover: Foreclosure Edition

Oh, here's a nice tale to warm the cockles during this holiday time. A family who was featured on ABC's sappier-than-Vermont series Extreme Makeover: Home Edition—in which needy people are blessed by the ABC/Sears gods with a new, shoddily-constructed house—is facing foreclosure on their reality mansion, because they can't afford the mortgage on the fully-loaded house. The Woffords of Encinitas, CA—dad's a chiropractor whose wife passed away so is raising eight kids himself—have been fighting with the banks for about two years trying to stay in their house. Now it looks as though that fight might be coming to an end. There's a last-ditch Hail Mary pass with a new bank in the works, but if that fails, the house will likely go up for auction.

Which just sucks. And reminds me why I hate this disingenuous, reckless show so much. The conceit of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition—this dumb blurry product-placement-crazed fantasy that people can just get a house and, boom, like that, have all their problems solved— isn't anywhere grounded in reality. If the sad story of the Woffords was the first of its kind to come out of the show, then it might just be a depressing little anomaly. But it's not! Several other families have faced financial problems after receiving ABC's dubious windfall. People on all sides of this show—the people who make it, the people who watch it, the people who agree to be on it—seem to be dumb or willfully ignorant to the fact that you really can't just get a house because you are nice and wish really hard for it.

I mean, look at what happened in this country with the whole sub-prime housing mushroom cloud. "Want a house but can't afford one? Here, buy one anyway!" It's a really reckless version of the American Dream to assume that just by virtue of wanting it (and of being an Amurr'can), we can all get the property of our dreams. Forget the way that ABC makes each family profusely thank them and Sears for all the wonderful free shit they just got (which is another reason to hate this show). That's not the true evil.

The real sin of the series is that preaches a dangerously foolish thing about finances. As Dr. Wofford himself laments, "A lot of people think when you get the house you get the mortgage. Well, you don't." Yup. ABC is cute enough to forget to tell you that they're not really giving people a house, they're building people a house on property that those same poor people, who are just as pour as they were before Ty and the crew showed up, must now pay for. It doesn't matter to ABC, because they just pack up the trucks and move onto the next string-plucked sob story. And, y'know, out of sight, out of mind. But there are still families left back there, dwelling in those money pits, long (well, not that long apparently) after the lights and action have frittered away.

A while back some people sued TLC over the shoddy craftsmanship of the hastily-redesigned rooms that were slapped together on Trading Spaces. But that was mostly for splinters and reconstruction costs. Now ABC has created an impossible situation that could leave people homeless. The show's altruism is at best just naive, and at worst cynically concerned with brand placement above the actual long-term welfare of a family.

What's next? Will some future show give people a baby they're incapable of raising because, aw, babies are cute and everyone's crying? It's a slippery slope, and all that.

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Here, lets clear up a few things. What has been driving me nuts for years about all this foreclosure crap with the show is how over-exaggerated it is, and how although much of it is somewhat true, it is only a small fragment of the whole story. So, I did a little digging around using news outlets, phone listings and public records and made a rather interesting discovery. As of right now, I've managed to confirm that 176 families who appeared on the show still live in the houses built for them, while 23 have since moved out of their houses. Of those 23, only 8 were due to financial issues, all of which can be traced to the recession and the financial crisis rather than the makeovers, as many of them reported the sources of their financial woes being things such as job losses and failed business ventures. The remaining 15 families ended up selling their houses for more personal reasons, such as career changes, divorces, and most commonly seen, empty-nest syndrome.

In addition, some of the families targeted by the media for almost losing their houses have in fact managed to keep hold of them instead. Larry and Judy Vardon of Oak Park, MI fell on hard times after the recession hit and had fallen behind on their mortgage, but overcame that obstacle when the community rallied behind them and raised enough money to help them out. The most widely known foreclosure case, that of the Harper family, really caught my eye because they, as it turns out, worked out another deal with the bank which allowed them to remain in the house. Another case which I found rather infuriating was that of the Wofford Family, who came close to losing their home in December 2009. In one article, Brian Wofford explained that the family's financial troubles were more complicated than just having to do with the house, and had more to do with trying to raise eight kids on a chiropractor's salary. A financial expert agreed with Wofford, citing a lack of financial planning as the source of their problems.

As for the 176 who still own those houses, a very large majority of them are reportedly doing quite well. One of my favorite cases is of the Pauni family of Logan, Utah. Janet Pauni and her eight children received a new home from the show and local volunteers in 2006, one year after her husband Danny died of a sudden heart attack. In the year between Danny's death and the makeover, the family struggled immensely, while afterwards, their lives improved dramatically. In an article from The Utah Statesman published in 2008, the family is reported to have been doing incredibly well in terms of finances, as the Polynesian catering service operated by the family was booming thanks to the Professional grade kitchen designed by Pennington himself which was included in the house, the catering bus, and the amount of publicity which the show generated for them.

As a person employed in the mass media industry, I understand how it works, both the positive and negative, and the sad truth about the news involving the foreclosures is that it is the kind of news that some people just love to eat up, almost like something out of a tabloid. Having gone through several of the articles, I've seen a major lack in evidence to support some of their claims, usually replaced by hypocrisy of the worst kind and an awful lot of ranting. Another thing to make note of is that despite the fact that these instances did not begin to appear in the news until 2007, a full four years into the show's run, I have yet to find one single foreclosure article which even remotely makes mention of the recession, a time when according to NBC News, over three million American homes had gone into foreclosure by 2010.

I could go further into the other criticisms aimed at the show, from the self-righteous hypocrites, people who are so miserable in their own lives that they have to drag everybody down with them, or those who simply don't understand that the reason the show only helped one family at a time was because it was after all a TV show, and not a charity, but doing so would probably cause me to blow a blood vessel. As a long time fan and two-time volunteer, I've joined up with other fans of the show to make sure the show's legacy stands for what it really was. If anyone doesn't believe me, feel free to search the internet for cases of the families who haven't been mentioned in these foreclosure cases. Prepare to be shocked.

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I am really confusing about Extreme Makeover Home Edition... I thought they will help people and paid off their mortgage..... what do they help with ? Now they leave them being foreclosure and extreme Makeover made alot of money so Why not help them payoff so they won't be in foreclosure. I was lucky before I did applied but did want to mail it because we are afraid of doing it
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The author of this article is obviously out of touch with reality and how finances work.... If EM:HE upgrades an $80,000 shack with a $500,000 mansion the mortgage does not magically jump up $520K, they are still paying on an $80K mortgage. A decision ABC had nothing to do with. Get your bitter jealousy in check Mr Lawson and maybe you could do something to help those families out.
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I totaly desagree with this text, because it's true what it says but We just can't say they made this family's life even worse! I mean, they were trying to help and that is all!
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It is a bit unrealistic but I wouldn't blame them or say they make it worse. I mean, I'm sure these families knew what would happen, it's not like it was a shock when the mortgage increased. The houses are ridiculous though, the only thing they haven't done is put a roller coaster in the back yard. They should keep it to a nice house, cover the needs and maybe add a few extra things, but not a freakin recording studio! I guess that's all about publicity, but it's not nearly worth all the trouble and money for people who would be more than happy with just decent living conditions and enough rooms in the house
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I've often wondered about logistical after-effects like property taxes, jealous neighbours and things like that, and I have been disappointed in the backslide of late with advertisers wanting their moment in the sun, but I don't consider myself as gullible as you imagine the viewing audience must be. I choose to believe in the positive things the show can bring about, and not just for the chosen family. Life ain't perfect either, but it beats the hell out of the alternative!
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Hilarious? How stupid are you JacobClifton? And the author of this article seems pretty stupid too. Or lazy. I'll just go with both.
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These comments are frickin' hilarious. Good work, R.
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Stop making this show look bad! I know a family that got a new home from this show, and they're doing better than ever! The only thing that went up some was the property tax (obviously), but they already knew that would happen. Actually, ABC warned them of that before doing anything, and they agreed. The utility bills didn't go up much because of all the "saving energy and what not stuff" they implemented in the new house. And, the people behind the show had a talk with the family beforehand discussing everything that could happen. Heck, they even discussed how big and so on the house could be so the family could still afford it. Now, if the families after being told all this, still say yes to the show, when they should have said no, well, that's their fault, so don't blame the show! If I'm not mistaken, because of the monetary problems that almost all people that request a new home have, ABC started not only giving a new house, but fundraising for money for each family too! This article is so out of line! Get your facts straight before writing up something so aweful about something you don't know! The show doesn't say it'll correct all the families financial problems! And I just wish that the people that simple commented negatively on this article, would read the comments, to see that your article is way off base!
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You're being absolutely ridiculous. These families would have lost their house anyway. ABC gave them maybe two or three years of happiness in a new home when they had previously lived in less than acceptable positions. What? Are we also going to blame Fair Trade for not giving every underpaid employee one million dollars. The world is not perfect but we should most definitely not blame the ones trying to make it better
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When EMHE frist started out they just fixed up the house that was already there. They might have added a room or two if it was a large family living in a small space. The only reason they would take down a house back then was if the house was completly un-livable and there was no way to fix it. From what I have heard (dont know if its true) ABC decided to just take the house down and rebuild it because it is actually cheaper for them then to fix something that was so badly broken. Although I agree that its not really ABCs fault that familys are facing foreclosure I do think that some of the houses they are building are just too big and are putting more stress on the families finances (due to higher property taxes and home owners insurance).
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i love this show its great and the almost always look after the people
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Come on!!! In the show almost every family receives their mortgage fully paid if not it's a College Fund or/and a new Car. Even some houses provide the areas so people can work at home and develop their income in what they love most. I don't think these families are left hanging by ABC. Maybe they can sell some stuff from inside the house and get their mortgage paid.

The show is very good and has a Heart!!!
When It's a Gift you can't ask for more hello work for it!!!!
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I got so sick of the show. And I often wondered what would happen to the cost of the new house... I only saw a couple episodes where they helped to pay off the mortgage. And how well built can a house be that's done in a week??? It just spells disaster.
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I'm so glad I never watched that show. That's terribly cruel.
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As I watched that show I always asked myself. "How do they pay for this house?" I guess I am naive. I thought they sat down with these people and worked out these small factors. I guess ratings and money supersede common sense. No big surprise there. I hope things get worked out for these people in bad times. I feel the work they do is for good, however they need to look at what happens after they drive away on that fancy bus. Good luck to all of them.
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Ok so what you basically say is that ABC should leave those family in their houses.

Come on, wake up... they are already building a house ... what do you expect? to pay for college? to pay for everything? Sometimes people need to be responsible for their acts.. if they can't affort a home well maybe they shouldn't buy one...

I can't afford a diamond watch... and guess what? I don't have one..
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Hear! Hear!
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Pretty eye opening.
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While I agree with the general sentiment that the "free home" might cause more problems than it solves, this post is extremely misleading by suggesting that ABC builds the family a home that they are then responsible for paying for. That is NOT how it works. The homeowners are simply responsible for paying the mortgage that they had BEFORE the ABC built the new home. Granted, the taxes and utilities may be higher than before the build, but the maintenance costs should be much, much lower. It's not fair to blame ABC for the families' financial problems that they have with the mortgage they held even before the new home.
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I admit that I don't like the show - it has always seemed exploitative of the families that really need help. That said, I wonder why there seems to be an assumption here that the folks on the show are bad with money and that's why they are in the situation they are in currently. In the shows I have watched are like the one in which a house was built for the multi-generational family of a young man who became a quadriplegic because of a gun shot wound (no he wasn't a gang member etc - I think he was a straight A college student), he and his family were living in a tiny house where he was sleeping in the living room the rest wasn't accessible for his wheelchair. Another was a single mother with a very sick teen daughter who couldn't live the hospital and return home because of the black mold that had taken over their home. These were not folks who were bad with money and created their own situation. i thought the point of the show was to offer families who are going through horrible experience or situation a hand up, . i agree with the person who says that you could build 4 homes for what goes into these homes. That's why Habitat for Humanity unlike the false charity here is actually helping folks live a better life.

The show is over the top and i guess I missed something but i didn't realize the families were expected to pay the mortgages of these mansions. The single mother lives in Oakland California, where it isn't unusual for very modest homes to run close to a million dollars. I know it is where i live. The tear-streaked hosts of and sponsors of the show should be ashamed of themselves. One more reality show that not only hoodwinks the audience, but this one seems to also take advantage of all the people who volunteer their time and hard work to build these homes.
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Man you are a jaded dude. I realize it is an opinion piece but wow its pretty brutal (not the style just the message). Of course these people don't always get left free and clear they have to take responsibility for their own situations. They get a ton of help and a better house for it. If they couldn't afford it before they aren't now, they just might be able to sell it easier and get more money out of it to get a more modest house. Yes they do go overboard sometimes and I'm sure in some situations maintenance costs and taxes are higher. That is like someone winning a brand new car and complaining that they did get money to run and insure it. It is an absurd line of thought.
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I remember seeing that show and thinkinig, they are building that man a house he couldnt possibly afford. It was huge and he couldnt keep up with the little house. They really should take that and the neighborhood into consideration. I often wonder about these houses that are three times the size of the other houses aroud it in a neighborhood that just cant carry that. What happens at resale ?
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These families are chosen for their background story. But that doesnt mean its their only issue. I believe that many of them are flat out bad with money and they wouldnt make it even if they won the lottery on top of it. They gave that man in encinadas a house that he couldnt possibly keep up with. He had no way of saving money that was obvious.

He couldnt get ahead when he was living in a tiny little house how is he going to do it in that McMansion when his taxes etc are going through the roof. I sold my big 4 bdrm victorian house because I know that I was about 3 years away from needing a new roof and possibly a new septic. I could not afford them both nor was I willing to go further into debt at 55 years old. It was tough. I cried for days as I packed,
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I'm not a home owner, so could some nice person please explain why this is a problem. If I live in a crappy house, and pay the attendant costs associated with it, but I'm still able to afford it, then Ty comes along and builds me a better house, how am I in trouble or having to pay more money? Other than possibly increased electricity bills, I guess. Where does the extra money these people have to pay come from? It seems to me they would have lost their homes anyway, either before Ty got there or after.
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This mans wife died four years before the Ty and his crew came in to help the family. It has been five years since then.....the children were 18, 16, etc. on down. There is no reason they couldn't have gotten jobs to help pay the bills, out of the eight of them, they have to have at least 4 of them of working age. So is it really the ABC Extreme Makeover's problem? Or is it just the bad economy? Did the families really think this was free? No way could they think that going from a dump house worth nothing to a house that could be worth over $100,00 wouldn't cause them to have higher property tax, etc. Look at how many families they have helped and those families that have been able to stay in their homes after the makeover. I think ABC should make the families sign something that says WE DO NOT KEEP YOU IN YOUR HOME AND PAY YOUR WAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. With this makeover you will have a house that is valued higher; therefore causing you more money in your property taxes. Would that make it clearer? I am sorry, but I am a widow too, and about the same amount of time this man has been one. Yes it is hard and yes, I do have children and I struggle. I think that what the EMHE does is wonderful for some of these families...KEEP GOING EMHE, I record all of your shows and watch 2 a day! I am sorry for this families problems, but the handful that may not keep the house versus the hundreds that have helped with serious illness and mold issues. The families that apply need to ask more questions or let the EMHE know their limitations.
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Also i am someone who has had expirience working with them. my really close family friend just got one done. and since they live in a very low income neighborhood and EMHE had limited space to build on it keeps their home costs pretty low. they haven't had any bad things to say about it. and while i think some of it might be a little sketchy its defintley not all bad and you shouldn't judge something you dont know everything about.
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As someone who has actually worked on one of these builds, I feel like I would offer my two cents. I was actually a bit of a skeptic but had an opportunity to volunteer so I went. EMHE has actively addressed some of these mortgage issues - when I showed up to the build the general sentiment was...this is it? The house wasn't some monstrous mansion, it was a modest house that would be manageable. It was explained to the volunteers that the house was that "small" to avoid problems like having the expenses of maintaining a mansion. Many of the houses now do have the mortgages paid for from community fundraisers, etc. Impromptu food drives, blood drives, and fundraisers popped up in towns around the one we were building in. The builder on the site I was at attempted to get the property tax rates for the property frozen but was unable to. However, as their house is the largest in the neighborhood, that will keep their taxes a bit lower. All of the new houses are also built with a geothermal system to reduce energy costs as much as possible. A family in the area had a house built by EMHE a few years ago and really did a lot in terms of fundraising and volunteering - they only had positive things to say about their experience. In terms of fixing up houses instead of rebuilding - this family's house was LITERALLY falling down on its own. It would have cost much, much more to try and rehab a house that was already crumbling before your eyes. Unfortunately it seems there were some problems with the structure of the show in the beginning but I think EMHE has taking actions to try and remedy/prevent these problems in the future.
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Why is abc sinking money into houses that people can't afford in the first place. I guess it's the idea that abc acts like they're doing something wonderful, when they're actually just slap-dashing a home together for the benefit of their own ratings, with no real care about the families left behind. Do they care that the family whose house they just made over may not even live in the home next year? Do they even ask? It's cheap to pretend like they're doing something wonderful when you've really just made the house the bank is going to take away a little nicer for the next family. Is it abc's fault? No. But they're not really being honest either.
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can someone please explain to me this system with the mortgage. I'm not American and I don't understand it.
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It's not EMHE that put these people in foreclosure it was their own doing. BEFORE EMHE they already had a mortgage. A mortgage is simply a loan with the house as collateral.
Let's say the Woffords had $100,000 left on their mortgage before EMHE came a long. Well, after they leave, guess what? They STILL have $100,000 on their mortgage! If they couldn't afford it before EMHE then a new house does nothing to change that. In fact, even if EMHE never built the house they would still be getting foreclosed on.
The only thing that changes is their property tax. Now if the original, linked article said that the reason they were being foreclosed on was because they could no longer afford the mortgage payment due to increased property tax then we may have a valid argument that EMHE did something negative. BUT, the article implies that the family simply overextended itself on the mortgage for the original house just like millions of others did during the mortgage boom.
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I knew there was a reason why I never could watch this show.
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The rest of my family loves this show. I keep saying that it's ridiculous to have one family receive such extravagance. They could afford to build 4 decent homes for the money they spend on luxuries for the featured families.
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Nothing is ever free in this world. Most especially not a house. Read the fine print, people.
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What they should do is pay for a certain amount of the house's mortgage for a while and then slowly wean the family off of it to make sure they are sustainable. If not that, then they need to start building more affordable housing for families that can pay for it. It's emotional while it's on the show, but then that same family ends up in the same place as before, but in a nicer house.
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another terrible "op-ed"
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TOTALLY agree..... I think it would be better served to fix up the homes they have then to start all over, but that wouldn't make good tv....
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