By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Mike Baker of Burch Builders Group looked at the home in Hyattsville once and knew he would have to start from scratch.
The two-bedroom house was the target of the popular reality TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," for an episode to air this fall on ABC. It belongs to Nikema and Tamara Tripp, who have three sons and run an after-school bus ministry for a local church. To give the Tripps the home of their dreams -- with plenty of room for their children and the neighborhood kids to run around -- Burch Builders and hundreds of volunteers razed the old house and built a new one with an open kitchen, hardwood floors and a big fenced-in yard.
But the project is not just a boon for the Tripps. It could also bring new life to the modest community, where home values have fallen 20 percent over the past year and foreclosures and bank auctions dot the streets.
"Anything that's renovated over there would help the value of the neighborhood," said Linda Simpson, president of the Prince George's County Association of Realtors, who has been showing homes in the area. "It may make the existing houses maybe want to do a little bit, too."
According to property records, the Tripps' home was assessed at $230,190 this year. The median home price in Hyattsville for the 12 months ended in July was $199,612, according to data from the real estate site Trulia. That's $50,388, or 20.2 percent, below the median sales price for the previous year. The number of homes sold has also dropped 22 percent to 188.
In addition, data from Trulia show that one in three properties on the market in Hyattsville is in some stage of foreclosure. A three-bedroom home about two blocks away from the Tripps' is being auctioned by a bank for $85,000. It was last sold in 2006 for $302,900, according to county records. It now has been on the market for more than two months.
During a scouting trip to the Tripps' home a few weeks ago, Baker, a vice president at Warrenton-based Burch, said he noticed that the house was built at the bottom of a long slope, causing water to collect on the Tripps' property. The crawl space under the house was flooded, Baker said. An elderly neighbor who spotted Baker and his crew thought they were coming to fix the drainage problem. She had been complaining about it for 30 years.
So the crew did just that. They started by grading the land to fix the drainage issue and laying a solid foundation for the new two-story, 2,700-square foot home. It now has a partially finished basement with plenty of storage and concrete walls filled with plastic foam to improve energy efficiency. The house was expanded to include three bedrooms, four bathrooms and a fireplace. Baker said his team was careful to blend in with the character of the community.
"It's a very traditional old neighborhood, and we didn't want to put a contemporary home in there," he said.
But the home does employ some of the latest eco-friendly innovations that could reduce the Tripps' utility bills to less than they were paying before, Baker said. The house uses a geothermal heat pump, which lowers the gas bill. All of the windows are quadruple-paned, and the standing-seam metal roof helps to reflect heat. Solar collectors were also installed on the roof and generate about five kilowatts of electricity, which is then sold back to the energy company and credited toward the Tripps' monthly bill.
Baker said the "Extreme Makeover" project is the first time his company has used so many environmentally friendly features on one property.
Typically, building such a complex home would require roughly 18 months, including planning and design. The team of volunteers finished the project in about one week. Several hundred people were hammering, sanding and wiring at one time, Baker said, resulting in what he called "controlled pandemonium."
He estimated that the house was worth $625,000 to $650,000, not including the land, which was assessed at $70,290 this year. Kathie Lucero, a producer for the show, said the family still carries a mortgage on the old home and will be responsible for all property taxes, which could now triple. Several attempts to contact the Tripps were unsuccessful.
Several other families who have participated in the show have reportedly struggled to keep up with the increased taxes. A family in Arizona has put their "Extreme Makeover" home on the market after the father was laid off and hurt his back, according to a report in the East Valley Tribune. A spokeswoman for Endemol, the production company that created the show, said families are advised to consult a financial planner to help them understand expenses associated with their new home. The company said that participants are not required to pay income tax because the company leases the home from the families during construction. The improvements are considered the rental payment. A special provision in the tax law allows income tax to be waived on rentals of fewer than 15 days.
"This show is about benevolence," Endemol USA President David Goldberg said in an interview transcript from 2004 provided by a company spokeswoman. "It isn't about duping them and then leaving them riddled with a bunch of tax bills."
But Paul Caron, an associate dean at the University of Cincinnati College of Law who has blogged on the issue, said the show is "taking an extremely aggressive position on an already kind of problematic provision in the tax law. It's almost hard to imagine that a court would go along with that."