Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Stories That Ended In Tragedy

ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" gave well-deserving families a chance to start fresh in their dream home. The original run of the series ran for nearly 10 years, stretching from 2003 to 2012 (via Today). High demand from fans led to the series being rebooted in 2020 on HGTV, featuring a brand new team, more heartwarming stories, and gorgeous homes.

As some families came to find out, however, their home's renovation could quickly turn into another setback, as increased property taxes and bills caused homeowners to sell or lose their homes from the show. Others saw their families torn apart from the stress, turning well-intentioned gifts into catalysts for disaster. While it is clear that host Ty Pennington and the rest of the original team only wanted the best for the families they worked with, financial issues and interpersonal conflicts ultimately led to heartbreak and tragedy for some of the families featured on the show.

The Oatman-Gaitan family parted ways with each other

The Oatman family seemed like the perfect candidates for a home makeover and fresh start. Debbie Oatman was a single mother raising four sons, three of whom were adopted. Two of her adopted sons were diagnosed with HIV, and a mold issue in the family's home was a major selling point for the Oatmans to have their home renovated, according to the Times Union.

In 2007, the family's deteriorating home with a sinking foundation was replaced with a brand new home that featured luxury amenities, such as new appliances, furniture, and granite countertops, during an episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (via The New York Times). Unfortunately for the Oatman family, the home makeover could not repair the apparently deteriorating relationships between Debbie and her sons.

In a 2011 interview with Times Union, Debbie's son Kevin said, "I honestly thought things would change after we moved into the house and it would make everything better." He continued, "She was happy and excited for maybe the first week, and then it was back to the same old garbage." According to Kevin, his mother was prone to "outbursts." The paper reported that 22 incident reports had been filed by local law enforcement at the Oatman home between 1997 and 2010. By 2011, Kevin and his brother Brian had left home after becoming estranged from Debbie. Debbie's ex-husband, Joe Gaitan, told the publication, "The house didn't change her. She's still her plain old nasty self."

The Higgins children left their new home and filed a lawsuit

In 2004, the Higgins children lost their mother and father within 10 weeks of each other, leaving all five siblings orphaned, as noted by EastValley.com. The siblings were taken in by the Leomiti family, who had previously been the children's neighbors and who belonged to the same church, according to the Seattle Times. The Leomiti family had three children themselves, so the addition of the Higgins family doubled the occupants in their home.

Within a matter of weeks after the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" crew replaced the three-bed, two-bath home with a nine-bedroom mansion, the Higgins children left, the Seattle Times reported. The siblings alleged that the Leomitis created an "orchestrated campaign" to drive out the Higginses by using "race-based remarks" to "degrade and insult" the children. After leaving the brand new home, the Higgins children hired a lawyer to file a lawsuit against the Leomiti family and ABC for damages on allegations of "fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract." The Leomitis reportedly disputed the claims, and ABC had the breach of contract claims dismissed entirely.

After the siblings left the home that had been built to accommodate their new living situation, they reportedly ended up living apart from one another at friends' homes, according to the eldest Higgins sibling, Charles II (via EastValley.com). "We were promised a home," he wrote in court documents. "They broke that promise."

The Simpson family had to sell their new home

In 2010, the Simpson family was chosen by the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" team to have their house renovated to fit their family's growing needs. Jim and Carmen Simpson were more than deserving of the makeover; Jim ran a small company and was the minister of a local church, and Carmen was a devoted stay-at-home mother who home-schooled the kids. According to Savannah Now, the couple's youngest child, Zoe, was born with hydrops fetalis, a serious fetal condition with a 50% survival rate (via Stanford Children's Health).

To accommodate for Zoe's special needs, the "Extreme Makeover" team incorporated a therapy room just down the hall from his brothers and sisters that included cork flooring and visually stimulating features to assist with his cognitive and motor development (via Savannah Magazine). The home also boasted a heated pool.

Despite the house being perfect for the family's needs, the increase in bills and taxes eventually became too great for the Simpsons to keep up with. In 2011 and 2012, the Simpsons paid their steep property taxes several months late, accruing interest and penalties along the way (via Savannah Now). By 2012, the family decided to put the house up for sale, and Carmen told WTOC 11, "This was the wisest decision for our family right now," noting, "I do want to make sure everyone knows we are not ungrateful."

The Okvath family couldn't afford the increased taxes and utility bills

Nine-year-old Kassandra Okvath nominated the cancer ward she had spent time at for a makeover from "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in 2005. According to Deseret News, her story inspired the show's producers to renovate the Okvath family home in addition to the hospital ward as an added surprise. 

At the time of filming, the Okvath family was renting the home they lived in. Nichol Okvath, Kassandra's mother, told Deseret News, "We wanted her to know what having a home is." The show's producers managed to buy the home from the Okvath's landlord and transferred ownership to the family. The final makeover transformed the 1,800-square-foot rental into a six-bedroom mansion complete with a home theater and backyard carousel for the family of nine, as noted by Arizona Republic.

Although the family didn't need to make home payments, the utility bills and property taxes soon became too great for the Okvaths to handle. According to the Deseret News, the monthly utility bills for the house jumped from $500 to $1,200 and the property taxes quintupled. In 2008, the house went into foreclosure and the Okvaths had to sell two of their vehicles to cancel the auction sale. By 2009, the Okvaths had put the house up for sale (after failing to sell it two years earlier), lowering the original asking price from $1.8 million to $800,000, and then finally selling at $540,000. The Arizona Republic reported in 2010 that the Okvath parents had split.

The Nicklesses had mortgage problems

After the death of her husband, Arlene Nickless won a home makeover for her and her three sons. Her late husband, Tim, had just passed away after a seven-year fight against hepatitis C, which he was thought to have contracted from a contaminated needle while working as a nurse, according to Lansing State Journal.

The "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" crew rebuilt the family home, hoping to give the Nicklesses a fresh start free of charge. The Lansing State Journal reported that state and banking officials reduced the home's original mortgage from $140,000 to $30,000 and significantly lowered the interest rate as well. After the makeover, however, the home's annual taxes increased from $2,000 to $7,500 in just a year. A car accident in 2010 set Arlene back, making it more difficult for her to make her mortgage payments, and from then on, it became impossible for Arlene to catch up. By 2017, the house had been foreclosed on, and the family had to leave.

In an interview with the Lansing State Journal, Arlene told reporters that she had planned to build a memorial garden for Tim and open up a camp for grieving children. After her community came together to build her dream house, Arlene had wanted to find a way to show her appreciation. She said, "I feel bad because so many people came together to help us," stating, "I know I shouldn't feel like I let them down, but I do."

The Hebert family's bills tripled after their makeover

Eric Hebert had his home renovated after becoming the caretaker to his late sister's twins, Keely and Tyler, as reported by The Seattle Times. Unfortunately, after appearing on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," the full-time construction worker began to feel overwhelmed by the increased bills generated by the new three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom house. The utility bills reportedly tripled after the family of three moved in. A little over three years later, after the "Extreme Makeover" crew built the house, the Heberts were forced to leave after defaulting on payments, as noted by 4 News Now.

After the show aired, Eric's employer closed shop and he lost his job. In an interview with 4 News Now, Eric explained that he then attempted and failed to start a business, which only worsened his financial situation. "I mean the biggest thing was having to tell my kids that I lost their house," he said in the interview.

Regarding his selling the house, Hebert told The Seattle Times, "I'm doing it not to lose money. I just hope people understand the reality of it."

The Jacobo family's bills increased while they paid off their old home's mortgage

The Jacobo family of 12 received a much-needed home makeover in 2007, after their family doubled in size. Michelle and Jesus Jacobo took in Michelle's five nieces and nephews when her sister lost custody of them. Michelle's father moved in at the same time to help the couple take care of the nine children under their care, as noted by Kevin Green Homes.

In an interview with KMBC 9, Jesus told reporters, "We promised the kids that we will keep them together." The "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" crew quintupled the size of the house to make room for everyone (via LJWorld.com). This renovation, however, doubled the property taxes for the home and was expected to increase the utility and insurance bills. To help the family keep afloat financially, a fundraiser was organized by a local homebuilder Kevin Green.

It is unknown to the public if the Jacobo family has been able to keep up with the significant increases in bills.

Sadie Holmes' home was foreclosed on

Sadie Holmes struggled with cocaine and heroin addiction for 17 years. Eventually, Holmes regained custody of her five children after she turned her life around and got clean. In 1999, Holmes launched her nonprofit, Sadie Holmes Help Service. Holmes ran her nonprofit from her home, which was sadly destroyed in 2004 by four hurricanes and a house fire and had not be insured, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel.

In 2006, Holmes was selected by the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" team (via WFTV 9). The crew rebuilt the home and transformed the 900-square-foot home into a mansion with office space to serve as the base of her operations for her nonprofit organization. In addition to the new home, the show's producers secured property tax payments and insurance coverage for Holmes.

Unfortunately, the cost of running her nonprofit became too great for Holmes to keep up with. "It costs about $2,000 a month to run the pantry," she told the Orlando Sentinel. Other expenses include the organization's truck insurance and gas, office supplies, and home upkeep. An attempt to sell the home was made, but it didn't work out. Notably, the home's location in a neighborhood with "barbed wire and junked cars" severely inhibited the house's marketability, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel. No offers were made for the house, and it was foreclosed on in 2012.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

For the Beach family, living in their home was more expensive than selling it

Larry and Melissa Beach raised and fostered over 85 children, according to the Houston Chronicle. After Hurricane Ike destroyed their family home, the couple found themselves living with 15 children in a single family FEMA trailer.

In 2010, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" chose the Beach family as recipients of a brand new home. The crew built an eight-bedroom home with enough space for the couple and the children to live comfortably, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. Soon after the home was built, however, the couple lost their 2-year-old daughter, Mercy, after she suffered a seizure. Larry and Melissa decided that they would no longer participate as foster parents. As the older children grew up and left the house, the couple found the increasing property taxes too much for them to keep up with. "It's costing us more to live here than it would to sell it," Larry told the Houston Chronicle.

The Beach family struggled to sell their massive home and eventually lowered the asking price from $700,000 to $535,000. "We are torn. The community put a lot into this house and that's really the conflict we have struggled with," Larry told a reporter in 2013.