'Extreme Makeover' home in Atlanta in foreclosure

Harper family may lose luxury remodeled home in Clayton County

Things couldn't look 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. It was a product of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Now, the Clayton County house 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 Milton Harper's new office. 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, plagued by a faulty septic system. 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 done, 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 people swarmed about the site. The family returned to a new home, plus contributions worth about $200,000.

They opened the home to lots of friends, said Amber May, 18, who lives a few doors away from the Harpers.

"It will be midnight," she said, "and we'll see six cars and a million kids" at the house.

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 declined 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," said Oswalt. "It just makes you mad. You do that much work, and they just squander it."