They’re not another “horror story.”
That’s what India Dickinson — whose family and home were featured on TV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” — wants you to know.
The family recently filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, but Dickinson says the 2011 makeover — and the higher property taxes and utility bills that followed — wasn’t a factor.
“This house has been a blessing, tenfold,” she said Wednesday during a phone interview.
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“God willing, you will never see a ‘for sale’ sign in our yard.”
But other families who’ve been featured on the show have suffered foreclosures or struggled to sell remade homes with values that far out-price the houses around them.
And even though the Dickinsons’ electric bill has more than doubled — and that’s when it’s a “good month” — their bigger home off Beaufort’s Mystic Circle might soon allow them to make a new addition — to their family.
Big home, big bills
Chapter 13 bankruptcy is called a “wage earner’s plan,” according to the United States Courts.
It allows people with a regular income to develop a debt repayment plan and make payments for a few years to a trustee, who dispenses the money to creditors.
The “most significant advantage” of this type of bankruptcy, according to the courts, is that people can keep their homes. Assuming a homeowner makes mortgage payments on time under the repayment plan, foreclosure proceedings can be stopped.
Bill Dickinson said the family’s home was never in danger of foreclosure, but he was behind a couple months on payments when he filed for Chapter 13 in October.
Court documents show the family still owes about $143,000 on their home, and that they were about $3,500 in arrears at the time of filing.
Beaufort County records show the family paid a property tax of almost $2,500 on their home in 2016, compared to just over $750 in 2011, the year of the remodeling.
Their electric bill was around $200 before the makeover; now, in a good month, it’s about $450, and it often ranges between $500 and $600.
In 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported the stories of five families whose homes, after being remade on the TV show, were hard to sell or foreclosed on.
And, according to that newspaper, the producers of “Extreme Makeover” were aware of the financial burden a bigger home could bring and were “downsizing” the projects to better jibe with the realities of the economy.
Her family was aware of the “horror stories” before they were finalists for the show, India Dickinson said. And they vowed that if they were selected, they wouldn’t take out a second mortgage on their home.
They’ve kept that promise, she said.
The source of their debt wasn’t the home, Bill Dickinson said, but loans he’d taken out “to rob Peter to pay Paul.”
He got in over his head after he retired from the Marine Corps in the fall of 2013, he said, and soon thereafter, when he was applying for disability assistance for his service. That process took about a year to complete, he said, and during that time his monthly income was a sixth of what it was when he was on active duty.
He landed another job in February 2014, he said, which helped stabilize his income.
The Chapter 13 filing is like starting over, said India Dickinson, who’s now taking technical college classes with an eye toward someday getting her bachelor’s degree.
And, she said, it’s helped the family make an important decision: to continue with the foster care application process and, hopefully, host a child.
The big question
“I hate to say it,” India Dickinson said, “but the bankruptcy helped us make the decision (to be foster parents), because we could financially afford it.”
It’s a decision the family has been praying about for two years, she said.
Her two oldest children, one of whom is serving in the Navy, have moved to Virginia. And the blessing of a home with added space is something the Dickinsons want to share.
“A child hasn’t been placed yet,” she said, “but we’ve done the home study.” All that’s left to do is have the fire marshal inspect her home and take a couple of required courses to complete the process.
There are still three children at the big white home on Mystic Circle, including 7-year-old Sophia-Rayne.
The little girl, just 16 months old at the time of the makeover, was suffering from the mold that plagued the family’s old home.
“I think that’s what tugged at people’s heartstrings the most,” India Dickinson said.
The big question, she said, was whether the new, mold-free home would help the little girl’s respiratory function.
It has, she said.
“I will not sell this home,” she said, when asked if that had ever been a consideration.
“Because it’s our forever home.”