Tony Perry of Oakwood Homes, whose company served as the builder for the recent “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project at Lake Arrowhead in the Waleska area of Cherokee County, is convinced that participating in the project was a “wake-up call to raise the bar on my own life and in the life of our company.”
The Lake Arrowhead project was initiated when a friend of the Tipton-Smith family nominated them as deserving of inclusion in the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” series as a way to help rebuild the family’s lives. Faith Tipton-Smith was a single mother with three children who lived in a home on a picturesque Lake Arrowhead site. In February 2005, the family home was lost in a fire. They decided to rebuild on that same site, since they loved the location. The house plan was one the family members had picked out together as their “dream home” and which included input from the oldest child, 16-year-old Ransom, an aspiring architect. Three months into the rebuilding effort, Ransom and one of his friends, Alex Yurewich, died in a tragic car accident, which also resulted in injury to Tipton-Smith’s oldest daughter, Missy.
The family’s problems didn’t let up, as Tipton-Smith temporarily lost her job while medical bills kept piling up. The rebuilding effort on the home had to be halted while it was still in the framing stage. The home, now exposed to the elements for close to eight months, was then engulfed with hazardous mold.
The family’s fortunes finally took an upward turn when they were selected from thousands of applicants to receive an “Extreme Home Makeover” because they had experienced more tragedy and loss than any family should have to bear.
Oakwood Homes, which Perry (pictured at work site during project) operates with his wife and business partner, Patti Bachtel, was recommended to the ABC-TV production crew by both Glenda Casteel, head building inspector for Cherokee County, and Marguerite Cline, mayor of Waleska. After being contacted by ABC about assuming this key role in the project, Oakwood Homes sent a team of several people from the company, including co-owner Bachtel, to observe a televised build in Austin, Tx, for two days. Perry said that as a result, “Patti told me this is something we could do and that it would be the best thing we’ve ever done.”
“In taking on the job as builder, we realize that since we are a small company, we needed to bring in others to serve as building partners,” Perry explained. “We sent out an email to the approximately 300 Certified Home Builder Program builders through the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association. The response was so great that we actually couldn’t use all of the builders who said they would be willing to help.”
Each selected builder partner was put in charge of a specific area of the build. The group of building partners and the particular task they took on included Windsong Properties/Loren Construction, site preparation, foundation, stone, and landscaping; TIH Homes, framing/cornice; The Housing Group, electric, mechanical, plumbing; Harcrest Homes, insulation/drywall; John Vaughn Homes, trim, cabinets, stairs, and fireplace; Robert Harris Homes, paint; Leland Homes, countertops, gutters, and decks; Mayfield Homes, flooring and tile; and Capo Custom Homes, detail, warranty, punch list, cleaning, lockout, mirror, shower, and hardware.
“We had the most incredible people working with us,” said Perry. “They didn’t come to just do a good job. They came to do the best they could do, and we had a great build.”
Perry remembered that the first big problem the builder team faced was the mold. “We had to kill what was there and abate it for the future. At first we had trouble finding someone who could do this in less than five days. Then Disaster Services Inc. (DSI) came in and working with a company called Serum, killed the mold in 24 hours.”
Bachtel pointed out that most “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” projects involve taking down the old home and starting from scratch to provide a new home. “To the Tipton-Smith family, the Lake Arrowhead home they had already begun to build was their ‘dream home’, and that’s what they wanted to finish,“ she said. “We first had to fix what was there in order to give them back their ‘dream home’. Fixing the framing was the hardest part, and this took an extra eight hours.”
Another benefit resulting from the build is that the home is now certified by both the EarthCraft House and Energy Star programs, which Bachtel described as being “the most energy efficient house you can have.”
The target for the project was to complete the build in under 106 hours, and the job was actually accomplished in less time than that. On Thursday morning, Jan. 11, the Tipton-Smith family was greeted by a surprise door and the voice of Ty Pennington, one of the television show’s stars, exclaiming, “Good Morning, Tipton-Smith family…” Following a press conference at city hall in Waleska, the Tipton-Smith family was sent off to enjoy a vacation in California while work was underway on their home. Construction began at noon on Saturday, Jan. 13, and the completed project was unveiled to the family and a large crowd of well wishers on Thursday, Jan. 18.
Throughout the project, there was a tremendous outpouring of community support for the Tipton-Smith family, which includes Faith and her two daughters, Missy, 16, and Emily, 8. Perry said that over 4,000 volunteers turned out to do something to “make it happen…they came from everywhere. The community loves this (the Tipton-Smith family). Faith has always had a home with the environment where kids naturally came to gather.”
On the work site itself, there were over 200 people hard at work for each of four days, and as Perry pointed out, “they were all getting along.”
The Woodstock-based builder said his company had learned a lot from the experience. Commenting on the “wake up call”, he added, “We plan to do even more as a result this. It brought a resurgence of energy to our company, as well as enthusiasm and a desire for more effort. This will make it hard to understand in the future why we can’t get a job done. I want this team effort and willingness to cooperate to be a goal for our company, and I’m as excited about the future as I’ve ever been.”
Gary Brown, the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” show’s project manager for the build, said that “working with Tony (Perry) was an absolute delight. Of all the builders I have worked with, Tony had the biggest heart. He was there for all the right reasons, which makes my job a pleasure.” The show’s co-executive producer, Conrad Ricketts, said that Perry is the first builder to have ever said, “Yes, we’ll do it!” before he (Rickettts) finished telling the family’s story.
The “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” Lake Arrowhead show is expected to be broadcast by ABC on Sunday, March 11, but viewers are advised to check their local listings.
“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”, which has won back-to-back Emmy Awards as Best Reality Program (non-competitive), is in its fourth season on ABC. The program is produced by Endemol USA, a division of Endemol Holding. Denise Cramsey is the executive producer, and David Goldberg is the president of Endemol USA.