Secrets Behind Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

In a sea of reality TV craziness filled with gossip, heartbreak and backstabbing, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was a breath of fresh air for viewers. The show gave struggling families a second chance to have the home of their dreams and gave the community an opportunity to come together to help make it happen.

But not everything behind the scenes was as perfect as it seemed on the surface. Ahead of the show’s reboot, check out some of the hidden facts about the show that the producers and host Ty Pennington don’t want you to know.

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It Wasn't His First Rodeo

While Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was certainly the show that catapulted Ty Pennington and his team to fame, it wasn't the first taste of reality television for many of them. Pennington started his career as a model and went on to star in Trading Spaces.

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Photo Courtesy: @typennington/Twitter

Jillian Harris, a designer on the show, starred on The Bachelorette before signing with Extreme Makeover, and fellow designer Rib Hillis worked as an actor before agreeing to do the show, despite his misgivings about reality television. Lucky for us, he got over his concerns and joined the team anyway.

Applying Is Harder Than It Looks

Based on what airs on the show, the application process for being selected seems as easy as pie. Simply send in an application, wait to be contacted and then bam! You're on the show. It turns out that making Extreme Makeover pie isn't as easy as all that.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

The application process for the show could take months as the casting department sorts through (according to one crew member) up to a thousand applications per day. One woman sent in multiple videos and letters asking to be on the show, and it still took several rounds for her to be chosen.

Hand-Crafted Heartstrings

Viewers of the show cry tears of joy as they watch families facing terrible and insurmountable obstacles given the precious gift of a newly renovated home. This emotional journey doesn't happen by chance, however.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

It has been revealed that the network seeks out particular types of families in order to pull at the heartstrings of as many viewers as possible. From families with chronically ill children to families with one or more of the parents suffering from a mental disability, the criteria for catching the network’s attention came down to whether they could craft the perfect story.

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People Faked Their Applications

With such intense competition for a spot on the show, it's no wonder that some people stretched the truth a bit to improve their chance of being selected. While crew members did perform background checks on the applicants to try to mitigate this, they weren't always successful at detecting the fraud.

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Photo Courtesy: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

One woman claimed that her daughters suffered from respiratory problems, so the show gave them a newly renovated house with fantastic ventilation systems to help her children breathe better. Medical professionals later determined, however, that her daughters didn’t suffer from respiratory issues, and the children were actually later removed from the house due to medical abuse by their parents.

The Show Didn't Solve All Problems

The families selected to get renovated homes on the show were usually struggling with some pretty significant issues before Pennington and his team came along. Although the show was able to give them a fixed-up house, it couldn’t fix all the problems the families were facing.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

Part of the attraction of the show was that some families were barely able to make ends meet before they were gifted with a beautiful renovated house. Viewers usually don't think about it, but many families still have the same money problems they had before, making it difficult to keep their new homes.

"Free" Isn't What It Used to Be

While the show provides families with a renovated house for no cost, the charges for having a beautiful new home can sneak up in different ways. The utility bills for a single-story house, for example, will be much less expensive than the utility bills for a three-story mansion with a fountain in the front yard.

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Photo Courtesy: Free-Photos/Pixabay

Some families who were unable to pay the ongoing costs of their new monthly bills have been forced to sell the houses they so happily received. The truth is the show can't prevent some of the costs that will trickle down to the families it helps.

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Family Feuds Behind the Scenes

There are some things that money simply can't fix, and a new house can't fix them either. The episodes usually finish with a fairy-tale ending for the families involved, but some of those endings take a sad turn once the camera crews leave, and life returns to normal.

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Photo Courtesy: TreVoy Kelley/Pixabay

For example, one family was experiencing some tension long before Extreme Makeover came onto the scene. After the presentation of their renovated home, the oldest son claimed that things were fine for about a week before his mother returned to her grumpy and verbally abusive patterns.

Too Much House

Does a family of four really need a six-bedroom mega-mansion? Most people don’t think so. Even during its peak, critics of the show questioned whether the crews were going a little overboard with the size of the houses they were renovating for the families on the episodes.

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Photo Courtesy: Udo Schroter/Flickr

Most viewers of the show agree that the families deserved an upgrade, of course, but some insisted the show was giving them too much. It wasn’t that anyone had a problem with the level of generosity. They were worried about the additional problems that could come with increased upkeep and other expenses the families didn't have to deal with before.

Foreclosures Instead of Fairy Tales

Viewers want to think that all the families got their happily ever after in their renovated homes and spent the rest of their days living contentedly there. While that may have happened for a few of the families that appeared on the show, that wasn't always the case.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

There were, unfortunately, a lot of foreclosures after the show. Some families took out mortgages on their new homes to help fund new business ventures or to pay off old debts and new bills. The new mortgages made it impossible to keep up with all their new expenses.

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Neighborly Consideration

The families that received the renovated homes weren't the only ones impacted by the show. Viewers often forget that the neighbors have to deal with the upheaval and the aftermath, even if the family doesn't get to stay in it.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

In one case, a family lost the home to foreclosure, and the new owners turned the space into a drug rehab center. Needless to say, the neighbors were less than thrilled that they were suddenly living next door to a drug rehab center without having any say in the matter.

Say Goodbye to Privacy

For the families moving into their new homes, there's a whirlwind week of camera crews and publicity, but once their episode is over, they expect to go back to a semi-normal routine. Unfortunately, they don't always get what they want.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

Neighbors and fans of the show often show up to gawk at the house, and members of the community have sometimes ostracized the family if they thought they didn't deserve the upgrade in the first place. Whether the reason is fame or infamy, the family's privacy is pretty much out the window, even long after the episode aired.

Huge Taxes

The crew and network certainly worked hard to find loopholes so the families on the show wouldn't get hit with thousands of dollars in fees and taxes, but they weren't always able to find a long-term workaround. Eventually, the cost of the property catches up to the family living there.

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Photo Courtesy: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Thanks to the renovations made by the show, property values skyrocket, and higher property values means higher property taxes. It might take a while for the change to take place, but eventually, the cost of property taxes will soar higher, forcing many to sell their new homes or struggle to make their payments.

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Greed Over Family

Most of the families on the show are deserving of a break and a little help by way of a dream home. Sometimes, however, the new house actually forces some families to break apart. In one case, five orphans ended up losing their place in the newly renovated home.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

A family took in the five orphans after both their parents died, and Extreme Makeover stepped in to give them a home where everyone could be comfortable. After the crews left, however, the family subjected the orphans to verbal abuse and racial slurs, and the children were ultimately placed in other homes. Disgusting, but true.

New Neighbors

When people are forced to move out of their new homes, their neighbors are also left with some fairly disgruntled feelings. After all, some of them came together and worked hard with the crew of Extreme Makeover to help that specific family, so they naturally feel a little cheated when all their hard work ends up benefitting a stranger.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

Plus, when new people move in, there may be some people who don't get along too well with them. This actually happened several times when new, mansion-buying neighbors moved into an otherwise calm neighborhood.

IRS Sharks

Despite the show's best efforts, the government finds a way to squeeze every last taxable penny out of homeowners, and the families shown on Extreme Makeover are no different. Although the network is good at finding a lot of loopholes, they aren’t able to avoid every type of tax.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

Beyond increased utility bills and property taxes, people were forced to pay quite a lot for their supposedly "free" renovated homes. The IRS often counted the gift of the renovations as a type of income, so families had to pay an income tax on their new houses.

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Flipping a Gift

Extreme Makeover worked hard to make each house unique and personalized to the family that would be living there. It added a nice touch, making the houses feel more like real homes for the families who were moving in. All those details were lost on some of the families, however, who decided to sell the houses almost as soon as the renovators left.

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Photo Courtesy: Paul Brennan/Pixabay

They certainly made a healthy profit on the houses, which had doubled or tripled in value. Sadly, the personal touches in the homes weren’t always relevant or appreciated by the strangers who moved in next.

Who Needs a Carousel?

As the show progressed, the designers had to try to up their game to outperform all the houses they had designed before. The result was that the homes started becoming rather ridiculous, with features like elephant doorways, carousels in the foyers and over-the-top dining rooms.

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Photo Courtesy: JPC24M/Flickr

Eventually, even the showrunners admitted things were getting a little carried away and imposed some limits on the designers to ensure the renovations were a little more practical and a little less wasteful. Still, critics of the show questioned some of the renovations that continued to go into the veritable mansions.

Taxed by Proxy

Even when families stay in their homes, neighbors have to deal with the fallout of suddenly living on the same street as a mansion. The property value of the whole neighborhood is impacted, and the entire community ends up paying the price.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

As the property values go up, so do property taxes, and neighbors living close to the house end up paying a lot more in property taxes as the overall value of the neighborhood goes up. For anyone interested in selling, it would be an appreciated financial boost. For those who continue to live there, it’s not exactly the reward they were hoping for after helping the crews renovate the home.

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The Nightmare Week

The family goes away on a mini-vacation (one week) while their house is being renovated, but the neighbors don’t have that luxury and have to deal with the construction. With such a fast turnaround time, the renovators work well into the night and start quite early in the morning to get everything done on time, and the neighborhood just has to deal with the perpetual noise.

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Photo Courtesy: Paul Brennan/Pixabay

In fact, they sometimes have to deal with more than noise, as construction materials end up in their yards and in their streets. Some even suffer property damage from the crews' equipment throughout the week.

Poor Construction

As you can imagine, with only a week to finish renovations, the quality of the work isn’t always up to par. Some families experienced some pretty terrible results — although it didn’t become obvious until months after the crews left.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

One family, for instance, was promised solar technology so they wouldn't have to deal with any future electric bills. What they got instead was a leaky roof, a failed heating system and unfinished insulation. It ended up costing them a fair bit of money to fix it all, and they were on the hook for all those costs on their own.

Not Always Finished

In order to make that tight deadline of one week for all the renovations, the Extreme Makeover crews would sometimes leave certain parts of the house unfinished. They would complete just enough to pull off the big reveal on TV but leave other parts pitifully incomplete.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

With their time up, the crews still left, even if the house wasn't finished yet. After all, they had the next location to get to for their next episode. The families were left to handle the remaining renovation — and sometimes the accompanying costs — themselves.

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The Legacy

For all the problems that went on behind the scenes and off the cameras, the show had a pretty good run and an extremely dedicated fanbase. It lasted nearly a decade, running from 2003 to 2012, peaking during its time on the air at nearly 16 million viewers per episode.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

The cast and crew did work very hard to make the dream homes a reality, working about 240 days per year to make it happen. By the end, they had helped renovate more than 200 homes for families across the nation.

Where's the Cast Now?

For viewers worried that the end of the show meant the end of the careers of those involved, fear not! The cast and crew have gone on to a variety of other successful projects over the years.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

Pennington has played the field, making some brief appearances on talk shows and guest starring on reality TV shows as well. Currently, he is the host of American Diner Revival, where he helps revive struggling American diners across the country to give them a second chance at success. He just can't seem to stay away from trying to make a positive impact on people's lives.

Pennington's Defense

A number of people have stepped up over the years to defend some of the criticism launched against the show. Pennington himself gave an interview pointing out that the network couldn't protect against every financial disaster that happened to the families after the show.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

As he noted, some of the families triple-mortgaged their new homes to finance business ventures and other things of that nature. When the businesses failed, they were forced to sell to get their money back. There's nothing the show could have done to prevent those types of outcomes.

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When Is the Reboot Coming?

It has taken a few years, but Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is finally getting a makeover of its very own. Avid fans of the show are probably already aware that the reboot will be airing in February 2020 — 9:00 p.m. on February 16, to be exact.

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Photo Courtesy: mohamed Hassan/Pixabay

While they haven't revealed too much about the first episode — they want us to watch it, after all! — we already know that it will be centering on a firefighter who is a single father of two. Needless to say, fans are waiting with much excitement for that first episode to air.

New Direction

The reboot will play to the original show's strengths, of course, but will take a slightly different direction. First, the show will be airing on HGTV, not ABC, and there will be slightly different criteria for the families appearing on the show.

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Photo Courtesy: @jessetyler/Twitter

The network has stated that they are focusing on who they call "local heroes," people who give back to their communities in a big way while fighting against big obstacles in their own personal lives. The first season will include 10 episodes for us to watch and see how they do with this new focus.

Updating with Some Celebrity Hosts

Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson will be the new host of the show. Even better, according to the network, he will be standing alongside a star-studded cast of experts and helpers, ranging from country singers to home designers.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

Ferguson is embracing the new role with enthusiasm and has already made several social media posts about being on the ground and working to get the first houses ready for the big reveal. To add even more dazzle, the network has said that a new celebrity guest will appear in each episode to help with the renovations.

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In with the New

When asked why Pennington isn't returning as host, HGTV had a pretty simple answer. They simply think Jesse Tyler Ferguson is a better fit for the direction they want to take the show this time around. His creative vision and energy are expected to bring something new to the iconic television series.

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Photo Courtesy: @jessetyler/Twitter

Hopefully, the gamble pays off, as viewers love the original show so much that they are bound to question any changes to the formula that worked so well in the past. We'll get to see the results of the change in February!

Pennington Is Not Gone Forever

For those who might be a little disappointed, don't worry. Ty Pennington isn't completely letting go of his beloved show. The former host will be returning as a hands-on builder and designer to help with the renovations taking place.

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

Pennington has already made some social media posts stating how excited he is to be part of the show and how much he's looking forward to making positive changes in people's lives once again. Together, he and Ferguson will create a brand-new dynamic, and the end result will be better renovations for the families they are helping.

Learning from the Past

As the premiere date of the reboot approaches, viewers everywhere are sure to have some questions. Will this new version of the show simply repeat the old one's mistakes? Will the new homeowners be forced to sell due to things like property taxes or utility bills they can’t pay? Will they provide mega-mansions of unbelievable and unnecessary grandeur to people who sadly can't afford the upkeep?

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Photo Courtesy: @extremehome/Twitter

Only time will tell. Viewers everywhere will be waiting for February to reveal exactly what kind of show this new version will turn out to be.

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