Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I'm A Little Late To The Party Here, But I Didn't Realize What Really Happens After Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

Okay, I realized I'm years too late on this, and I knew reality shows aren't in the business of ethics, but I was still shocked when I learned of the misfortune has fallen on some of the participants of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The show puts people in a really tough position after the show ends, leaving them with massive tax bills and electric expenses.

Don't get me wrong here - Extreme Makeover: Home Edition can be very helpful for people. It provides families with homes appropriate for their large families, for their ill children, and so on. And the show does advise people to consult a financial adviser after participating in the reality program. But it has the capacity to leave people with less than they started with.

The stories of foreclosures and undervalued home sales are incredible. Sadie Holmes, a recovered drug addict who dedicated her life to helping people, was forced to fight foreclosure on her Florida home. Per The Huffington Post, "Holmes has been burdened with charity fees, code-violation fines and money borrowed against the property that was revamped in 2006 by the ABC show."

Money problems aren't the only ugly truths to surface from the reality show. The Higgins family found themselves homeless and embroiled in a lawsuit because of the show. While I don't have the links to the articles that I read yesterday on this subject, I can direct you to this site for a piece of the story. When their parents died, the five Higgins kids, all aged 21 and under, were offered a place to stay by the Leomiti family, members of their church. Here's where this gets messy - the Higgins claim that the Leomiti family did this after they heard about Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, hoping for a home expansion and a payday. The Leomiti family denies this, taking the side that they were taking the kids in to help them. Long story short, the Leomiti family ended up with a giant house and both families ended up with cars and other stuff. The Higgins kids ended up leaving the house shortly after the episode was filmed. The Leomiti family seems to stand by the fact that the Higgins kids didn't want to live by their rules, but the Higgins family states that they were kicked out after the show ended because the Leomitis just wanted the house, not the responsibility. So the Higgins kids, now scorned, try to sue ABC. They said ABC did them wrong - they were promised a place to live and they didn't get it. The case was thrown out of court because ABC never did promise the Higgins' any right to the property - after all, the Leonidis owned it before and they continued to own it after the show aired. The Higgins also sued on the grounds that ABC was showing reruns of the show and profiting off of their misfortune. However, they probably did sign lengthy contracts absolving ABC of all responsibility, so...yeah. That wouldn't hold up in court. When asked about why they're suing ABC, not the Leonidis, it seemed like the family was trying to go for a payday that they felt they should have earned for being on the show.

I honestly have no right to judge in this situation because there are three sides to every story, and there's no clear truth in this one. You could say that a little bit of fame and fortune made either family greedy. You could say the Higgins family was wrong and left on their own. And you could say the Leomiti family pushed the Higgins family out. We may never know. The thing is, I don't think that the Higgins family had any right to sue ABC, which was summed up well in the article linked above. Note that Mesisca is the Higgins' lawyer.

MESISCA: Well you have to realize that all this of has taken place since March 27 of this year.  On March 27, that's when the program aired and here we are in August, a period of about four or five months and in that period of time, the Higgins children, all of them have left the Leomiti's home. 
ABRAMS: But why is that ABC‘s fault? That's what I do not understand. If they want to sue the family and say, look, this was the deal.  You knew what the deal was.  You effectively suckered ABC into coming in here because our family was the one that made a great story.  I get that.  What I don‘t get is how ABC or the production company is responsible for these problems. 
MESISCA: I can approach this on a number of levels.  First, the Higgins have experienced a nightmare.  This has been a very difficult time for them, loosing both of their parents last year.  The home would have never been provided for the Leomitis in the absence of circumstances that the Higgins were involved...
ABRAMS: So you sue the Leomitis.
MESISCA: It was the Higgins who were told that a home would be provided for them, that a place would be constructed for them to live in.  I think what happened was ABC and the production companies involved steered this into a joint enterprise, if you will, between the Leomitis and the Higgins', instead of just going forward and providing the Higgins with a place for them to live.  There was never a disclosure made to the Higgins concerning the fact.

Yeah, I hate to say it, but Mesisca isn't even making that compelling of an argument. Any landlord / tenant agreement (which this clearly was, in a way) never says that the tenant 'owns' their home. Stating that the Higgins were never told that this wouldn't definitely be 'their' house is pretty weak. Which is probably why, aside from a big payday, the family went after ABC, not the Leomiti family.

The Llanes family of New Jersey had to leave their home because of the burden of increased taxes. The Simpson family sold their house three years after getting their extreme makeover. Another family tried to start a construction business and ended up losing their home when it failed. (Not a great financial decision in retrospect, but they probably thought that was their chance to get back on their feet.)

It's unfortunate that a show that seems to have such good intentions ends up being so tragic for so many people. But on the flip side, the show does exactly what it promises - it gives people a home and other things at the time of filming, but gives no promises for what happens afterwards. The show doesn't promise ongoing support. But the show also doesn't require people to stay in the home. And technically, that is fair. Everything's done after the cameras stop rolling...and those on the show did agree to be on it.

For some of this, I do not blame the show. I'm sure people could have sold the houses sooner than they did for financial security. Or budgeted differently. But in some cases, there's nothing people can do. If they didn't have enough money for a small home before, they certainly don't have the money for higher bills and tripled taxes. It's unrealistic to think that by giving someone a nicer house and a car, they'll magically find a better job and be more able to support their struggling family.

Some have raised the question, shouldn't ABC have stopped the extravagance and given people a modest but functional home? Well, sure. But that wouldn't buy them ratings and big money from sponsors. Nobody wants to watch Not So Extreme Makeover. The same way they wouldn't want to watch The Most Moderate Loser as opposed to The Biggest Loser. It's just not what people want to see.

Okay, that was my rant - that's what Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has done to some of its participants. It's not the show's fault - people did sign contracts - but it's still unfortunate that the tears of happiness turned to tears of desperation.

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