‘Extreme Makeover’ family hits hard times
By Christian Avard
Staff Writer | February 04,2013
ATHENS — The Vitale family who appeared on the hit ABC television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” are now facing more financial trouble with their 3,000-square-foot home.
According to Louis Vitale Sr., the family needs to pay their mortgage of nearly $3,000 by Feb. 28 or they will lose their home.
“Right now we’re two months behind on our mortgage. If we fall behind one more month, the foreclosure proceedings start. We’re praying for a miracle,” he said.
In 2007, Vitale, his wife Sara and their two sons Kane, now 9 years old, and Louis Jr., now 7 years old, were selected among hundreds of families from Vermont to appear on the award-winning show.
The Vitales were in need of a new home because their $92,000 hunting camp fell into disrepair and was unsuitable for Louis Jr., who has an undiagnosed central nervous system disorder and severe skeletal abnormalities.
In one week, the McKernon Group of Brandon, along with thousands of volunteers, tore down the hunting camp and built the Vitales a five-star-rated, energy-efficient home complete with low-flush toilets, solar panels, a playground, fancy furnishings and more. “Extreme Makeover” also provided Louis Jr. with special handicapped-accessible equipment.
The family struggled to keep their new home once it was built, Vitale said. He also said he and his wife failed to read through the entire contract. When they did, they realized they were responsible for financing the house, a total of $220,000 for a 30-year mortgage with Chase Bank.
The Vitales could not afford their propane bills of $600 a month, because of the house’s size, let alone the mortgage, so they put the home on the market last June.
They tried selling it for $599,000, but reconsidered because it was difficult to sell in the current market, according to Vitale. Finding a new location to suit Louis Jr.’s needs would also be difficult, he said.
In addition to defaulting on mortgage payments and cobbling together heating bills, the family was not able to pay taxes last year. Taxes for one year are $7,730 on their home assessed at $311,400, according to Athens Town Clerk Darlene Wyman. Despite the missed payments, Chase Bank worked out a plan with the Vitales and agreed to pay the taxes for 2012, as long as they continued making mortgage payments. Vitale said the bank still expects to be paid back for those taxes.
Vitale said the family did not qualify for tax relief based on their income. Sara Vitale is employed as a mental health worker at the Brattleboro Retreat, the family’s only source of income.
Prior to working at the retreat, she ran Angel Boy Art — a nonprofit organization that helps children with special needs express themselves through art.
Vitale owned a 7-Eleven store in West Brattleboro, but lost his business in December.
“Business was terrible for three consecutive months and I could not make the required sales and volume goals.
They terminated my franchise agreement and it’s now under corporate management,” Vitale said. “I can’t collect unemployment because I was the sole proprietor and I was self-employed. That’s one of the downsides of owning your own business.”
As a result, the Vitales are turning to online fundraising to cover their mortgage payments. Even though they are paying the mortgage one month at a time, they still have two months in back pay that must be paid off.
They started a page at www.GoFundMe.com with the caption, “Save Louis’s handicap accessible home.” They raised over $1,000 so far but Vitale said they need an extra $1,872 just to meet this month’s mortgage payment.
“Our situation is not that different to what a lot of others are going through. It’s tough to come out and say we need a bailout. At this point, all I wish I could do is find a job,” Vitale said.
According to the family, they are not the only “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” family now facing difficult circumstances. In April 2010, The Wall Street Journal published an article examining five families who participated in the show and lost their homes to foreclosure.
Attempts to reach Lock and Key Productions were unsuccessful.
As for the Vitales, they will continue raising funds to meet their February deadline.
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/Louievitale.