The Nasty Aftermath Of Extreme Home MakeoverS

If, like us, you might have found yourself sucked into a tearjerking episode of Extreme Home Makeover. And if so, perhaps you also wondered if they give the families money to maintain the indoor handicapped-accessible basketball court/biodome/personal amusement park/craft wing.

For those who have other Sunday-evening priorities and aren't up to speed: Extreme Home Makeover is a feel-good show par excellence in which a deserving family with a hard-luck story and an inadequate home get their prayers answered by perky-haired deus ex machina Ty Pennington and a can-do team. The TV crew descends, tears are shed, the old home is demolished, tears are shed, and an elaborate new domicile tailored to the family's needs and interests is thrown up in a matter of hours by volunteers, pros and the magic of television. More tears are shed. The finished product is always spectacular and everyone — including whatever celebrity has signed on for this week's mission — is left with tears of happy satisfaction in their eyes. It's one satisfying hour of TV.

I recently heard at my local hardware store some grumblings about the show: seems a local family made the cut but, although the house looked fab on camera, in fact it was unfinished. And what was finished was shoddily constructed: After the show, the crews left things only as far as they got. This was anecdotal, but according to today's Wall Street Journal, it's the reality for a lot of participants.

But after the cameras have gone, another trend has been developing: Homeowners struggle to keep up with their expensive new digs. In many cases, the bigger, more lavish homes have come with bigger, more lavish utility bills. And bigger tax assessments. Some homeowners have tapped the equity of their super-sized homes only to fall behind on the higher mortgage payments.

After all, it's not like the families have received a windfall along with the digs, and there's no tax exemption for being feel-good. Adds the article, "The show's producers say they are aware of the problem and are making changes appropriate to current economic reality: downsizing." Which, presumably, leaves those prior chosen families SOL, and is surely cold comfort for the family whose dream home — which, after all, provides not just shelter but ready-made collateral for the recipients — is now facing foreclosure.

In EHM: 2.0, houses will be more modest, amenities less lavish, and materials greener. While this may make for less "Move that bus!" drama, I'm guessing crafty ABC producers will find a way to satisfy the 9 million viewers with increased byplay, celeb involvement, or ever-more-dramatic backstories. However, for those left with less home than ever, such magic seems less likely. If the housing market is a good economic barometer, this might be good way of measuring the real impact of life-changing reality shows. They may be spectacular, yes, but when the cameras stop rolling, the recipients of the patronage are left with the bills.


Realty Check: 'Extreme Makeover' Downsizes Its Dream Homes
[Wall Street Journal]