For over nine years, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition reached out to families in need and provided a renovated home for them. Whether the families were stressed by low income, health issues, or other unforeseeable circumstances, the cast and crew would do their best to provide improvements that would benefit them the long run.
Led by former Trading Spaces star Ty Pennington, the team would work diligently through the night for seven days to create a well-crafted and beautiful house. ABC proudly promoted the show for its wholesome entertainment value and heartwarming tales.
However, behind the happy endings lies some dark secrets that some fans never knew about the show. Since this was a “reality” based show, many aspects of the show were altered and manipulated to provide the best possible outcomes. Also, years after the show's cancellation in 2012, some families have found their new homes to be true nightmares and have been forced to give them up.
Although viewers were provided with nine seasons of joy, these families have seen years of inflated utility bills, upside down mortgages, and, occasionally, a broken home.
From overly lavish makeovers to broken families and lawsuits, here are 15 Dark Secrets From Extreme Home Makeover You Had No Idea About.
15 ABC Sought Out the Saddest Families To Boost Ratings
The primary focus of each episode was to help a struggling family in need make a change for a better life. Each show would pull at the heartstrings of millions of Americans as they watched a deserving family get a new start. Although charity was at the heart of the show, so was viewership and good ratings.
Because of this ultimate goal, the producers of the show would seek out the worst case scenarios amount the submissions they received every month. They even took a particular interest in specific ailments and diseases. As highlighted by NBCNews.com, “According to the Smoking Gun, Extreme Makeover has a secret wish lists of victims the show's trying to hunt down: They want to find a family who has multiple children with Down Syndrome. They want to find a child with a rare condition that causes rapid aging and death. They want to find an extraordinary mom or dad who's diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.”
These details were revealed in an uncovered memo by an NBC executive in 2006. Although the concept of “family” should be at the heart of these programs, profits were still more important than the finalists.
14 Most of the renovated homes actually cost the families more
One of the many promises of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was the chance for a deserving family to get not only the home of their dreams but one that suited their current situation. Each house was tailored to the needs of the families and included special touches based on their individual personalities.
While these elaborate ideas looked amazing in the blueprints, these real-life mansions created additional burdens for many families. These new mansions came with hefty price tags that included inflated utility bills and high maintenance need.
Home Edition winner India Dickinson was a victim of increased monthly bills due to her new 4,000 square-foot home. In their article, the Dickinson family shared that “their electric bill was around $200 before the makeover; now, in a good month, it’s about $450, and it often ranges between $500 and $600.”
Additional contestants saw bills that rose up to $1200. Though winners were grateful for their new homes, many were placed in greater financial hardship than before the show “helped” them.
13 One Family Kicked Their 5 Children Out of Their New Home
While there were families that were featured on the show that found a better life thanks to the effort of the crew, some found themselves divided once they received their new home. Sadly, one family, in particular, found out the hard way what people will do to make themselves happy.
In this case, a North Carolina couple kicked out their five adopted children after the family received their dream home. According to the children, dubbed the “Fab Five” by adoptive parents Devonda and James Friday, they were forced back in to foster care just a few months after received the new home.
The Fridays denied the charges brought against them, however, the children were not back to their home.
12 Many of the Homeowners lost their new homes
Viewers were drawn to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition because of the generosity of the crew and its volunteers. Working to help a family in need live a better life was awe-inspiring, bringing tears to the eyes of audiences around the country.
Although inspirational to the audience, many of these families remained in financial ruins beyond the airing of their show. As the additional financial burden began to build up, many families were unable to stay on top of their mortgage payments and were forced to foreclose on their new dream homes. Multiple factors including increased taxes based on the new value of the house added to their troubles as well. Since the IRS treats contest winnings as income, winners still had to pay income taxes on their "free" homes.
Even years later, finalists are still facing foreclosure from their prize home, a tough reality for these “winners” of the show.
11 Contestants Lied To Get On The Show
Though anyone could apply to be featured on the show, the application process itself was perceived as too challenging for some families. ABC aimed to highlight families that had some significant challenge in their lives so this new home truly benefit them. Some finalists included families with special needs, medical illnesses, or facing tough financial times. Sadly, some families with real needs were passed over for other that faked their actual hardships.
Such was the case with the Cerda Family who claimed that their two young daughters were gravely ill due to mold in their home. After being selected for the show and receiving a newly remolded home with an improved filtrations system, the family later decided to sell their home due to increased costs.
However, it was then discovered by medical professionals that not only did the girls not have the disease but they were actually victims of medical child abuse. They were even temporarily removed from their home while the parents were investigated.
10 Families Resold Their Homes for Profit
While some families were forced to leave their homes due to rising costs and finances, other looked to take advantage of their newfound wealth. Depending on the extent of the renovations and upgrades, the property value these new homes almost doubled in value. Sadly, some saw their original gift of love as a means for a quick buck.
Although some families were forced to sell their homes because they could not afford them anymore, others directly sought to put their homes on sale to profit from the free renovations and additions. These sellers also boosted the same of their homes by position it as a “home featured on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
Sellers were able to sell their homes at inflated values and walked away with significantly higher profits thanks to the generosity of the show.
9 Over the top and impractical home "improvements"
One of the biggest complaints regarding the show was the inclusion of many additions that added no real value to the home. While crews did their best to incorporate personalized touches and decorative elements to the home, some additions were just too "extreme."
In the past, homes lad been lavished with fully working carousels and large home theaters that were simply created because the team was just that good. Since the show was airing on national television, the carpenters and designers were pushed to more and more elaborate designs and gimmicks for the sake of showmanship.
Criticism of the show’s use of lavishly useless additions hit a fevered pitch and show producers finally acknowledged there was an issue and worked to downsize the modifications to the essentials only. No more carousels for anyone.
8 Winning Families Were Forced To Move Due To Unwanted Attention
While people daydream about being famous one day, the families highlighted on the show got to experience being the stars of the show. Broadcast across the US for over nine seasons, the whole country watched every week for the next inspirational story.
Between the family trip and surprise reveal at the end of the show, the winning families were treated with the utmost respect and kindness by the staff and community. Unfortunately, some families were met with harsh criticism and scrutiny after the show was over. While many people in the town would participate in the build, others were declined because they did not feel the family was deserving of the upgrade.
In addition, many overzealous viewers would track down the homes of the finalist and park outside of their home, just to get a glimpse. While many yearn to be famous, there is a high price to pay when you finally achieve this status.
7 Neighbors hated the renovations
In many of the episodes of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, we see not just the crew of the show but entire communities getting involved in helping this family in need. Everyone pitched in to make improvements and complete construction in the seven-day period and took pleasure in seeing the happy faces of the winners.
However, when the cameras stop rolling, the truth of the new homes comes to light. These new mansions affected the lives of both its winners and those around them. Neighborhoods were soon hit with changes in property values thanks to the newly remodeled homes on their street. Property taxes went up as a result.
Though initially pleased to help out the families in needs, these neighbors soon learned the reality of their hard work and efforts: more money out of their pockets.
6 Noise Complaints and Property Damage To Nearby Homes
After the family spotlighted in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is whisked away to enjoy a family vacation or activity, the team went straight to work on the new home. Cast and crew also included any neighbors, friends, and members of the community that wanted to help.
While all efforts were focused on the family of the new home, surrounding neighbors often felt the effects of this team effort. With the crew working well into the evening, the spotlighted family was able to enjoy the peace and quiet of their vacation. Back home, however, neighbors were subjected to heavy construction work throughout the night.
In addition, neighbors located right next to the renovated homes were often bombarded with leftover construction supplies, wood, and even received property damaged all in the name of doing a good deed for others.
5 The New Homes Actually Broke Some Families Apart
Happy family, new home, and a chance at live renewed: all the makings of the perfect happy ending. However, when faced with the lingering issues of owning such a lavish home, some families simply cracked under pressure.
In the case of Debbie Oatman and her family, their familial situation became worse than before. Oatman, known to have a violent temperament, actually become more verbally abusive to her children after they receive their new home.
In an interview with TimesUnion.com, the oldest son, Kevin, shared, "I honestly thought things would change after we moved into the house and it would make everything better. She was happy and excited for maybe the first week, and then it was back to the same old garbage." Sadly, he has since become estranged from his mother. However, Oatman claimed that the increased scrutiny and notoriety added pressures that she was unable to bear.
In additional cases, families have also been torn apart by separations and even divorce stemming from issues surrounding their dream homes.
4 ABC Used Questionable Tax Loopholes for the Rebuilt Homes
Who hasn’t dreamed of winning it big on a game show and taking home that new car or trip to Tahiti? We cannot help but wish to be gifted with some fantastic prize that we could never afford on our own.
In many cases, this was the motivation for viewers to apply for the show. However, what is never truly highlighted are the consequences of being awarded such prizes: taxes, taxes, and more taxes. The producers of the show often found tax loophole and exceptions to avoid such hefty fees. TimesUnion.com reported that “Normally, television prize and award winners must pay income tax on what they receive -- and "Extreme Makeover" families typically receive an award worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. (However) a property owner could lease a home ... for up to 14 days, and that lease and any home improvements were exempt from state and federal taxes."
You have to give them credit for finding such a big loophole to try to benefit the winners.
3 Renovations Were Faked For The Show and Left Incomplete
One of the most unbelievable aspects of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was the short amount of time allotted to complete the construction. Crews were given seven days to renovate or completely rebuild some homes, working tirelessly throughout the night.
Viewers were always amazed at what they were able to accomplish in just a short timeframe. However, there is always some form of smoke and mirrors in the case of TV shows like this one.
In some cases, the crew could not meet the strict timeline and would complete just enough of the work so that the big reveal could be accomplished. Moreover, after the big “Move that bus!” moment, the crew and cameras would depart, leaving the family with the burden of completing the rest of the renovation on their own.
2 Shoddy Construction and Failed Utilities
Among the stories of inflated bills, property taxes, and maintenance were more horrific tales of incomplete and shoddy workmanship. Such was the case for the Home Edition finalists the Georgia Yazzie family. Their home came with an incredible promise: no future electric bills due to their new solar technology. However, five months after their home was completed, they were faced with more problems than they began with.
As reported by The Navajo Times, "Problems had started to surface with the air conditioner, water was draining from the roof right into the foundation, and the greywater irrigation system was malfunctioning, creating a stinky cesspool in the yard. Without water, the landscaping was dying."
In addition to the failed irrigation system, they also had problems with the heating system. As it turns out, shoddy construction and incomplete insulation work were the sources of their problems. ABC did make minor repairs to some of the problems, but the Georgia Yazzie family had to face the rest on their own.
1 ABC Has Been Sued over One Of Its Makeovers
In yet another case of parents choosing the new home over their children, the Higgins children focused their anger on ABC. In 2005, the family brought charges against ABC family claiming that they did not fulfill their promise for the children.
In their episode, the Higgins lived with Phil and Loki Leomiti after their own parents had passed away ten weeks apart. Their family received a new nine-bedroom home to accommodate all members of the family comfortably. However, the children claimed that they were eventually driven out of the home months after the renovation. They sued ABC, alleging fraud and breach of contract since the home was built to make their lives better.
However, ABC released a statement: "It is important to note that the episode was about the rebuilding of the Leomiti family's existing home to accommodate the inclusion of the five Higgins siblings, whom the Leomitis had invited into their lives following the death of their parents." Since this “promise” was never in writing, their lawsuit was dismissed, and the children were left to live separately with friends.
Do you have any other behind-the-scenes scoop from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? Leave it in the comments!