HOLT, Mich. - Nearly nine years ago, Arlene Nickless had her home rebuilt on national television. By Monday, she must turn in her keys and leave.
Designers with ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” — helped by hundreds of volunteers — built her family's home in 2008 after the death of Tim Nickless, her husband of 18 years. But keeping up payments on the mortgage has been a struggle, and it was foreclosed in September, the Lansing State Journal reported. It has been up for auction online for weeks.
“When I stepped out of the house the day “Extreme Makeover” came, you will see me say ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’” she said. “And, truthfully, that’s what I feel right now: I can’t believe this is happening.”
Arlene Nickless did not blame the ABC television show, whose pricey rebuild have led to foreclosures in some cases, However, she did criticize her mortgage company, the Lansing State Journal reported.
Her home’s foreclosure resulted from an ongoing struggle to manage the property’s pre-makeover mortgage — a balance of about $30,000 after the 2008 makeover, but had ballooned to at least $113,000 by the end of 2016, she told the newspaper.
Eight months after Tim Nickless died in January 2008, more than 1,600 volunteers from the Holt area joined the show’s crew to rebuild the family home, an 1860s farmhouse that had fallen into disrepair.
The old home was demolished, and after a five-day building period, Arlene Nickless and her three sons received a new 3,300-square-foot, four-bedroom home with stone columns, dark wood floors, an indoor water wall, and a retractable flat-screen television, the Lansing State Journal reported.
But the home's annual taxes more than tripled from 2008 to 2009, from about $2,000 in 2008 to about $7,500 in 2009, according to county records.
Those increased taxes and insurance costs were paid through an escrow account, bloating the Nickless family's monthly mortgage payments.
In 2010, Arlene Nickless was in a car crash that caused her to fall behind in making those monthly payments. By late 2010, the property went to a sheriff’s sale, the Lansing State Journal reported.
She filed paperwork to stop the foreclosure the morning of the sale, and the sheriff's deed, which would have given ownership rights to the buyer at the sale, was removed, according to Ingham County records.
At that time, Arlene Nickless said the mortgage lender offered to pay off the loan balance if she could come up with $15,000.
Before she had a chance to gather the money, Ocwen Financial acquired her mortgage in 2011, she said. For the next several years, Arlene Nickless struggled with the loan.
She withheld mortgage payments because she didn’t know where she was sending her money, she said.
“I was trying to find answers,” she told the Lansing State Journal.
Last month, the state of Michigan issued a cease and desist order prohibiting Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC from continued violations of state mortgage law. A press release from the state said Ocwen had a history of improper "servicing and handling of escrow accounts," trouble keeping accurate records and problems with properly crediting payments.
Ocwen officials said the claims were unfounded.
In September 2016, Nickless' home went to a foreclosure sale again and sold for about $113,000. The six-month redemption period passed with Nickless unable to pull together the needed money.
The house now is listed on the auction website hubzu.com for $176,000.
The spokesman for “Extreme Makeover’s” producers, Endemol USA, declined comment Wednesday. However, the company acknowledged in a 2010 Wall Street Journal article that beneficiaries had issues with the larger-than-life homes and accompanying expenses, so the company scaled back.
Nickless doesn’t know where she’s going or where she’ll store a lifetime of memories, she said. She wanted to share her story in the hopes that it would effect change for others struggling with house payments.
“It breaks my heart to know there are families going through this every day,” she said.
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