'Extreme Makeover' house in Clayton escapes foreclosure again

It appears Milton and Patricia Harper and their three sons will continue living for now in the 5,300-square-foot home constructed four years ago by the ABC television show that rebuilds or refurbishes homes for families in need.

The house was scheduled to be sold on the Clayton County Courthouse steps Tuesday but the auction never happened. Court records showed Milton Harper filed Monday for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which stalls the foreclosure.

In the bankruptcy filing, Harper said he owes $100,000-$500,000 to creditors including the mortgage company, six credit cards, two pawn shops and Sprint. Harper says he owns the same range amount in assets. He is set to meet with creditors April 21, and states he's received credit counseling.

Harper would not discuss the details of the stopped sale Tuesday.

"I don't want to comment on it right now," he said when contacted by phone. He said the family will remain in the house.

The law firm handling the foreclosure would not disclose details, either.

"The property did not go to sale," said January Taylor, spokeswoman for the Atlanta law firm of Johnson and Freedman. "We can't give out anything else on it."

The legal maneuver keeps the foreclosure at bay, said Atlanta attorney Tom Austin, who is not involved in the case. But Jonesboro attorney Stephen White said the filing doesn't mean the couple stops paying their debts.

"This just means debt cannot be collected without a court order," said White. "It stops the foreclosure and gives the borrowers a chance to propose something to satisfy the arrearages. The regular payments still have to be made and also whatever is owed."

White, who is also not involved in the case, said he expects the presiding judge to bend over backwards to help keep the family in their home. Even so, there are limits.

"I've seen situations where people will hang on more than what they can afford and the judge has to tell them, 'Hey, we're trying to help you get a fresh start,' " White said.

The Harper home was given a free makeover when the show's producers learned the family was having septic tank problems. In addition to the $450,000 remodeling, the show gave the family $200,000 in cash.

The couple borrowed against the house to start a business and ended up with a $450,000 mortgage. After struggling several years with finances, the couple faced foreclosure in August. The house was saved then by a loan modification.

After defaulting on that loan, the house was again up for auction Tuesday. The proposed sale on the steps of the Clayton County courthouse garnered a small crowd of the curious.

"I think it's sad," said Myron Wakefield. "The house was paid for and they had all that cash. How could they take all that and lose everything? It's just ridiculous to me."

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