The Arizona Republic
Canceled TV show had role in Valley
On Friday night, ABC aired the final episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” the reality TV show that captivated Valley viewers in 2005, when it transformed a struggling Gilbert family’s rented ranch house into a two-story, 5,300square-foot dream home — complete with a full-size, electrically powered backyard carousel.
But financial woes spoiled the show’s fairy-tale ending, forcing the Okvath family — Bryan, Nichol and their seven children — to sell their one-time $1 million mansion for $540,000 in the spring of 2010.
Alfredo Dreyfus Jr., the owner and founder of Aero-zone, a Mesa-based company that sells new and aftermarket aircraft parts, bought it. Today, Dreyfus, his wife and their two young
children live in the home, near Higley and Guadalupe roads.
Although the property was described as an “extreme makeover home” in the listing, Dreyfus didn’t make the connection. He’s not a fan of the show, he said, and still hasn’t seen the episode in which his home was built. He thought the description just meant that the previous owner had sunk a lot of money into improvements, so he was astonished by the amount of work the home needed when he visited.
Still, he and his wife were intrigued with the design.
“It’s got a Spanish villa feel and we love the idea of a horseshoe home wrapping around a central courtyard,” he said.
He knew it would take a lot of work to renovate the home, which had fallen into disrepair.
But before they had even started work on the house, they received a couple of offers for the house — one of which would have meant a quick sixfigure profit.
Though he and his wife discussed the offer, Dreyfus said, “We both really like the uniqueness of the home and the rural feel of it. We can see our family being raised here and living the rest of our lives here.”
It took six months of renovation – new tile, new paint, new carpeting, new baseboards and extensive landscaping – before the Dreyfus family could move in. The home’s famous carousel was long gone, so Dreyfus added a playground set, canopy and a retractable awning in the courtyard.
The only downside to living in a home that millions of people have seen on TV?
“Sometimes people stop their cars in the middle of the road and jump out to take a picture,” Dreyfus said. “It’s kind of weird, but fun. It’s a great house and a good conversation piece.”
“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” debuted in late 2003 and peaked in popularity in 2005, when it averaged 16 million viewers a week. ABC canceled the Emmy-award winning home makeover show in mid-december.
Ty Pennington, a carpenter and former model, served as the genial host of the series, which featured an army of volunteers rebuilding the homes of hard-luck families in a matter of days.
The Gilbert episode began in 2004, when one of the Okvath’s daughters, Kassandra, then 8, was undergoing treatment for cancer at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson.she was a fan of the show and wrote to the producers, asking them to rebuild the center’s cancer ward.
The producers, touched by her selfless plea, hatched a bigger plan. In addition to renovating the cancer ward, they would tear down the 1,800square-foot house (with its leaky roof and problem plumbing) that Kassandra’s family was renting and rebuild a dream home.
The project generated enormous interest in the Valley. Nearly 4,000 people stood outside the home on a cold and rainy February day to watch the unveiling. The episode aired on March 13, 2005, with the stunned Okvath family reacting with smiles and tears of joy.
And the home’s owner, who had okayed the renovation, had signed the property over to the Okvaths, giving the family full ownership.
It seemed like exactly the type of happy ending the show was famous for, but after the cameras left, reality intruded.
Utility bills skyrocketed, reaching $1,200 during the summer months; property taxes increased from $1,625 in 2005 to more than $4,100 in 2006.
Bryan, who was unemployed when the show was filmed, worked sporadically as a truck driver and fire fighter, but none of the jobs paid particularly well. Strapped, the couple used the house as collateral for a $405,000 loan in 2006, but payments on the adjustable-rate mortgage soon became unmanageable.
They tried to sell the house several times — for $1.9 million in 2007, then for $1.4 million — but they got no offers.
They narrowly avoided losing the home at a public auction in 2008, then put the house up for sale again. By 2009, the asking price had dropped to $800,000.
In early 2010, it was reported that the Okvaths had been separated for several months and seemed headed for divorce. Efforts to reach them for comment were unsuccessful.