HOLT — Nearly nine years after rebuilding her home on national television, Arlene Nickless is giving back her keys.
The Holt resident is due to vacate her Eifert Road home by Monday after years of struggling to manage the mortgage.
The designers of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” – with the help of hundreds of volunteers – built the house in 2008 after the death of Tim Nickless, her husband of 18 years.
The house was seized in September and has been auctioned online for weeks.
On Sunday, cardboard boxes were stacked on the dark hardwood floors once featured on national broadcasts. The 2009 Ford Flex offered with the house sat in the driveway hooked to a moving trailer. And the overwhelming feeling of Arlene Nickless in tears all those years ago took on a different tenor.
“When I walked out of the house the day Extreme Makeover happened, you’ll see me say, ‘I can’t believe this is happening,'” she said. “And, honestly, that’s how I feel right now: I can’t believe this is happening.”
Nickless isn’t shy about defending the ABC show, whose lavish reconstructions have, in some cases, led to foreclosure due to rising property taxes and expensive utilities. She is less complimentary of her mortgage officer who is now being targeted by state regulators.
She said the foreclosure of her home resulted from an ongoing struggle to manage the property’s pre-renovation mortgage – a balance that stood at around $30,000 after the 2008 renovation, but had soared to at least minus $113,000 at the end of 2016.
An answered prayer
The “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” crews arrived at the Nickless family’s doorstep in September 2008, some nine months after Tim Nickless died.
A nurse at Ingham Regional Medical Center, Tim Nickless is believed to have contracted Hepatitis C after being pricked with a patient’s contaminated needle. He battled the disease for seven years before his death in January 2008.
More than 1,600 Holt-area volunteers joined the show team to rebuild the Nickless Family Home, an 1860s farmhouse that had fallen into disrepair during Tim’s illness.
The old house was torn down and after a five-day construction period, Arlene Nickless and her three sons were given a new 3,300 square foot four-bedroom home with stone columns, dark wood floors, a wall interior water tank and a retractable one. flat screen television.
The house included a LEGO-themed room, another bedroom with blueprints covering the walls, and an airplane bed for Arlene’s youngest son.
The construction has brought the community together amid the economic downturn, said Karen Schroeder, vice president of East Lansing-based Mayberry Homes, the home’s general contractor.
“It was really at a time when everything was so solemn, so gray,” Schroeder said. “It kind of put a spark back in the Lansing area.”
Schroeder said that after the home was renovated, state and bank officials were able to reduce the Nickless family’s mortgage from about $140,000 to $30,000 and lower the interest rate significantly.
But the house’s annual taxes more than tripled from 2008 to 2009, according to county records, from about $2,000 in 2008 to about $7,500 in 2009.
These increased taxes and insurance costs would be paid over the next few years through an escrow account in the house mortgage, inflating the Nickless family’s monthly mortgage payments.
In 2010, Nickless had a car accident that caused him to fall behind. In late 2010, the property was put up for sale by the sheriff.
She filed paperwork to stop the foreclosure the morning of the sale and the sheriff’s deed was expunged, according to county records.
At that time, Nickless said, the mortgage lender offered to pay off the mortgage balance if she could find $15,000. Before she had a chance to collect the money, she said, her mortgage was acquired in 2011 by Ocwen Financial.
Over the next few years, Nickless struggled with the loan.
She tried mortgage affordability programs but, in some cases, new home equity disqualified her from those payment avenues. She tried to find answers from the mortgage company, but said she could rarely get in touch with anyone who spoke English. She said she withheld mortgage payments because she didn’t know where she was sending her money.
“I was trying to find answers,” she said, and the information she found online about Ocwen was not encouraging.
Just last month, the State of Michigan issued a cease and desist order prohibiting Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC from continuing to violate state mortgage law. A state news release said Ocwen had a history of “improperly servicing and managing escrow accounts”, difficulty keeping accurate records, and problems with crediting payments correctly.
Ocwen called the allegations “unsubstantiated,” but added that the company continues to work with state regulators.
Since 2008, the company has provided Michigan borrowers with about 21,000 loan modifications, about 39% of which included principal forgiveness totaling about $317 million, Ocwen spokesman John Lovallo said in an e -mail.
Since Ocwen started paying off Nickless’s loan in 2011, she hasn’t made a mortgage payment, Lovallo said, but Ocwen has continued to pay all the taxes and insurance on her home, which is now valued at over $275,000.
The company offered Nickless a change in 2014, but said the payments of around $1,650 a month would have been too high and due too soon.
Lovallo spoke to the State Journal about the loan after getting clearance from Nickless.
Lovallo said Ocwen sympathizes with any homeowner facing foreclosure and is “committed to working with struggling borrowers to find the right solution for them to keep their home.”
Eric Schertzing, Ingham County Treasurer, said state and nonprofit mortgage servicing programs exist, but there’s not much that those programs can do.
No program can help someone who doesn’t have the cash to pay their mortgage, Schertzing said, and “if a situation doesn’t work out, you have to be open to mid-term corrections as needed,” such as selling the home. .
In September 2016, Nickless’ home again went through a foreclosure sale and sold for around $113,000. The six-month redemption period elapsed, with Nickless unable to raise the necessary funds.
Nickless’ home is currently listed on auction site hubzu.com for $176,000, and the family has until Monday to vacate the house.
An uncertain future
Nickless’ situation bears similarities to other homeowners featured in ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” between 2003 and 2012.
A spokesperson for the show’s producers, Endemol USA, declined to comment Wednesday when contacted by the State Journal. However, the company acknowledged in a Wall Street Journal article in 2010 there were issues with larger-than-life homes and the expense that came with them, and said they had “cut back”.
Schroeder said that as a general contractor, Mayberry Homes worked on the design of the Holt home with show producers who pushed for “a certain size, a certain scope.”
“It had to be ‘extreme,'” said Schroeder, owner of Mayberry Homes with her husband Bob.
Behind the scenes, she and her husband did everything they could to make the home manageable for Nickless, she said.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this,” Schroeder said. “But I always say, you know what, when Lansing was asked to step in, they did it with flying colors and I’m so proud of our community.”
Nickless had big dreams of giving back to the community through the home.
She dreamed of using the house as a camp for children who had lost a parent. She wanted to build a memorial garden for her husband and a blessing garden for all the volunteers who helped build her house.
But those dreams were swallowed up by the continuing threat of foreclosure.
“I feel bad because so many people have come together to help us,” she said. “I know I shouldn’t feel like I let them down, but I did.”
Nickless doesn’t know where she’s going, she says, or where she’ll store a lifetime of memories. She wanted to share her story in hopes it would bring change for others struggling with house payments.
“It breaks my heart to know that there are families who go through this every day,” she said.
Contact journalist Beth LeBlanc at 517-377-1167 or[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @LSJBethLeBlanc.
Watch the episode “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” featuring the Nickless family here: