It’s not just banks and government agencies whose work encouraging subprime lending left people with bigger homes and mortgages than they could afford. We can give reality television a small share of the blame, too.
The house at 10512 Baldy Mountain Rd. in Sandpoint, Idaho, looks like just another vacant foreclosed home. Some appliances, a bathroom mirror and even the hot tub are missing. The dining room of the three-bedroom house has water damage.
But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill problem house. Call it an Extreme Foreclosure. The 3,678-square-foot McMansion is a product of the popular “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” reality television show. It isn’t the only “Extreme” home to fall on hard times.
Each week, an average 9.4 million viewers tune in to ABC-TV for what, over seven seasons, has become a classic formula: Find a struggling family with a heart-tugging story and send them on vacation as an army of volunteers work frantically to replace an existing home with a much nicer and bigger one in just 106 hours. Each episode ends with a dramatic tear-filled tour of the new home, packed with donated furnishings, and outsize extras like a carousel or bowling lanes.
Those huge homes, often plopped into the middle of modest neighborhoods, might have come free, but the property taxes and utility bills did not. Some owners even tapped into the equity and ended up with large mortgage payments they eventually couldn’t afford to make. The series producers have taken note. We might need to take the “Extreme” out of “Extreme Makeover,” as the houses built on the (really!) tear-inducing series get smaller. “It can be extreme without being the biggest house you’ve ever seen,” one interior designer who works with the show insists. Not in America!
Changes are being made, though, and one in particular caught my eye: “A swimming pool is no longer a must, unless it could be used for therapy.” The piece doesn’t explain what sort of healing requires its patients to swim in an Olympic-sized pool. It seems most of us get by without one. But I hope that these downsized homes don’t result in a slew of financially stable but psychologically troubled homeowners in the future.