I happened to catch an episode of the show “Extreme Makeover” a few years ago that wowed me. I didn’t watch the show regularly (still don’t), but this one was captivating. The Extreme Makeover team was coming to the aid of a black family who lived in a modest, rather run down home. What I expected the team to do was work with the existing house in some way. Instead they tore the whole house down and built a brand new, large home on their plot of land, with a lot of new furnishings. It looked like a small mansion. When the family came back to see what they had done they were astounded beyond words. They were jubilant. The children were celebrating. The father got down on his knees and cried. The team took the family on a tour of their new home. The whole place was beautiful. Of course the family could not thank the team enough.
I was very happy for the family, but somehow it seemed a bit much. It was like a dream, where a family would get its fondest wish for free from people who were infinitely loving and generous. It seemed just a bit too good to be true. What was the point in totally replacing the existing home with a brand new one? I thought the name of the show, “makeover”, meant you took an existing place and “did it up” some to make it nicer, though there was the “extreme” qualifier. A thought entered my head, “I wonder if ABC did this as a PR move for ratings.” Did they do this sort of thing on a regular basis? I didn’t know. Shortly after the show ended, reality set in for me. I wondered, “How is the family going to pay the property taxes, and the insurance on this place?” This wasn’t a dream. There are real costs to having luxury. Given that the family originally existed on a modest income (made apparent by the house they originally had), could they afford their new home?
Well reality eventually set in. The family has lost the home to foreclosure, not for the reasons I thought. The family took out a mortgage on the house in order to start up a construction business, which recently failed. A lot of construction businesses have been folding up due to the mortgage/foreclosure mess. The real estate business has gone through another bust, not unlike the dot com bust of 8 years ago. Anyway, I feel sorry for the family being put through this. They got a “taste of paradise”, so to speak, and are now having to give it up. They didn’t fall victim to a subprime mortgage, but rather to the mess created by those types of mortgages. It was kind of like the fall of Enron. Not only did it hurt the employees of Enron, but many other ancillary businesses that had some sort of relationship to it.
What happened to this family is not unusual, in a sense. A friend of my family built a custom home for his own family about 14 years ago. They kept it for about a year, but it ultimately got to be too expensive for them, and they had to sell it. That’s at least better than foreclosure, but this was their dream house, the one they thought they’d stay in for many years.
Nevertheless, I think my gut suspicion was right. Despite the fact that the Extreme Makeover family fell victim to forces beyond their control, I think it’s also got to be said that the family got more than it could handle.
I’ve had this theory for a while that there’s usually a reason why people are where they are financially and materially, whether they be rich, middle class, or poor in America. There are skills of judgement, discernment, investigation, discipline, management, having a good eye for the value of things, plus qualities like ambition, curiosity, being extroverted/outgoing, risk taking, being educated, and having a good work ethic that make the difference between the economic levels. When I was in my 20s I had this thought that if you took all the money from the rich and gave it to the poor, and watched what happened, eventually those who were rich (before their money was taken away) would get their money back, and the people who were originally poor would go back to being poor, simply because the rich knew how to create wealth and maintain it, unlike the poor. Not that I’m an exemplar of being rich. Far from it. I’m saying that I know a little about why I am where I am financially and materially.
Anyway, I think it would’ve been more realistic and generous at the same time for the Extreme Makeover team to have worked at improving the existing home the family had in some way, making it a nicer place to live, rather than discarding it totally and thinking they were doing the family a favor by giving them a mansion. The family thought it was a wonderful gift at first. I thought it was, too. I wonder if they feel that way now though.