Things couldn't have looked better three years ago for Milton and Patricia Harper of Lake City, who giddily accepted the keys to a small castle, plus enough money to pay taxes on it for 25 years.
Now, the Clayton County house that "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" built is a two-story, turreted example of how things can go wrong. It's in foreclosure.
The Harpers used the house at 5489 Ahyoka Drive as collateral for a $450,000 loan, Clayton County mortgage records show. Records at the law firm handling foreclosures for the lender, JPMorgan Chase Bank, say it is in foreclosure. The four-bedroom house with decorative rock walls and a three-car garage is scheduled for auction on the Clayton County Courthouse steps Aug. 5.
The Harpers, who declined interview requests when reporters knocked on their door Friday, told WSB-TV they got the loan for a construction business that failed. Failure seemed an impossibility in February 2005, when ABC-TV viewers got a look at the stunning home constructed in a subdivision three miles east of I-75.
Painted dark olive and covered with specialty shingles, the home's domed door opened into a structure that featured four fireplaces, a solarium, music room and a porte-cochere that connected to a new office for Milton Harper, who owned a home-security company at the time.
The yard was a study in landscape art, with young magnolias, fieldstone and a Leyland cypress hugging one corner. A black metal fence ringed it.
It had taken shape in six intense days in January 2005, when Atlanta-based Beazer Homes USA and "Extreme Makeover" demolished the Harpers' old home, which had been plagued by a septic system that backed sewage into the house after a hard rain.
Professionals and volunteers came together to erect the largest home that the "Extreme" team had ever built.
Materials and labor were donated, but the home would have cost about $450,000 to construct.
When they were finished, the home dwarfed all the ranch and split-level structures in neighboring lots.
That was not all. Beazer Homes' employees and company partners raised a quarter-million dollars in contributions for the family. The sum included scholarships for the three Harper children and a home maintenance fund.
The Harpers, whom ABC chose from among 15,000 "Extreme Makeover" applicants, spent the week in Disneyland while 1,800 workers swarmed about the site.
The Harpers opened the new home to lots of friends, said Amber May, 18, who lives a few doors away.
Even at midnight, "we'll see six cars and a million kids" at the house, she said.
Another neighbor, Brittney Harris, said the Harpers seemed considerate.
"They're good, quiet neighbors," she said.
Perhaps they are, said Donald Williams, who was visiting Harris. But he doubted their business acumen.
With $450,000 "they could have just bought a business," he said.
A representative for Beazer was unavailable for comment.
A representative of ABC offered an e-mail: " 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' advises each family to consult a financial planner after they receive their new home. Ultimately, financial matters are personal, and we work to respect the privacy of the families."
Law firm McCalla Raymer LLC, which has a team of specialists handling JPMorgan foreclosures, confirmed that the Harper home is on the calendar for auction next month.
The news left Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt wondering what went wrong. He recalled a chilly January day when he and a handful of others wrestled an aged beam into place in the home's living room. The Harpers' future seemed just as solid, he said.
"It's aggravating," Oswalt said. "It just makes you mad. You do that much work, and they just squander it."