BEFORE ABC-TV PARTNERS with one of the country's top builders to create a home from start to finish in 129 hours in front of an audience of 20 million viewers, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's senior producer Conrad Ricketts has some words of wisdom for the team. “I always warn them it's like childbirth and war,” he explains. “You plan and strategize, of course, but you actually have to go through it to understand what it's like on the other side.”
And with a developing partnership between the network, the builder community, and the nonprofit organization HomeAid America, the Extreme Makeover experience is one that more of the country's top 50 builders may be likely to undergo.
Although all the specifics are not available, HomeAid America sources confirm that they are currently in negotiations regarding a strategic partnership agreement with the show. “We are still outlining what we can and can't share regarding Extreme Makeover,” says the organization's communications director Mary Lou Tull. But, sketchy details aside, one fact remains: The organization has found a key position for itself as a liaison between builders and the network—and that could be good news for more of the nonprofit's 90-plus builder “captains” across the nation who may want a chance to participate.
Show Stoppers The show, which airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. EST, surprises a family each week by providing an elaborate home makeover. Currently rated among the top 10 television shows, big builders have become involved this season as specific projects require totally new structures. In September, an episode featuring Shea Homes aired. And a KB Home project in Las Vegas was featured in November. Centex and Standard Pacific have also completed projects, although the Standard Pacific episode had not yet aired as of press time. And, according to Ricketts, the show is currently negotiating with Beazer Homes as well. “When we have the opportunity to work with these builders, they really become the ultimate strategic partners,” he says. “With their relationships and at their cost, they bring everything to the table. And they give us the epic shows.”
For the Centex project, HomeAid not only alerted them to the opportunity, but acted as their liaison throughout the process. “Obviously, we were dealing with a busy Hollywood production,” says Doug Barnes, Seattle division president for Centex. “We know how to build houses, but not in five days. HomeAid helped prepare us for everything, set our expectations, and held our hand with the logistics and planning that were needed to work with the show.”
But if a top custom home builder or remodeler is hesitant about participating in a latter-day version of a warp-speed barn-raising, they needn't fret that much: Despite abundant benefits of involving mega builders and remodelers in the show, ABC-TV doesn't plan to include big builders in their redo episodes more than “a few times a season,” says Ricketts. “Everything has to align perfectly,” he explains.
The show, which averages 2,000 to 3,000 applications a day, spends a huge amount of time sorting through the supplicants to identify its neediest families. That job alone is incredible, says Ricketts. Then, the town has to completely support the project, with round-the-clock accessibility to building inspectors and neighbors who agree to 24-hour construction demands for equipment and personnel. Not to mention the state of the house itself.
“There has to be a need to tear down an entire house,” says Ricketts. With the Shea home project, there were asbestos issues and wood so rotten mushrooms were growing out of the walls. The original home for the Centex project had completely burned down, and the KB home was crafted from cinderblock and full of bacteria, he recalls. “Scratching it and building new is a determination driven by the story and the partners.”
Builders Reap Benefits Still, it's good work if you can get it, says Derrick Hall, KB Home's vice president of corporate communications. Unlike the other builder partners, KB did not work with HomeAid during a Las Vegas project for the program completed in November. But the company still reaped the benefits in the form of national exposure and operational lessons learned. “We really saw implications for our business on the emotional and the tactical side of the experience,” says Centex's Barnes.
Operationally, builders are introduced to the shows' method of “vertical building.” The process begins by defining the scope of work and then breaking down the five days and nine hours of allotted time into 15-minute time increments. “If you fall five or six hours behind on one of our builds, that's the equivalent of being days behind on a regular four-month build,” says Ricketts.