Thousands of Savannah-area volunteers helped custom-build the mint green neo-Victorian in one week of November 2010 after the family was chosen to be featured on the since-canceled ABC reality show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The home helped the Simpson’s then-youngest child through some developmental challenges, but the family has grown with the birth of another son in March.
“The reality is our family dynamic has changed and we need to accommodate how the family is now,” Carmen Simpson said Thursday.
Assessed at $664,000, taxes and maintenance on the house have proven expensive and time-consuming, said Kathy Burnsed, a spokeswoman for the family. Jim Simpson is a minister who runs his own audio-visual business, Shift Creative, as well as the church he founded, City Church Savannah. Carmen is a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her older children.
The Simpsons aren’t going far.
“We will stay in the Savannah area for sure,” said Carmen Simpson.
Right for the time
The property is listed with Ben Farmer Realty for $524,000. Matthew Lufburrow is the listing agent. It’s a 4 bedroom, 3 and 1/2 bath with 3,323 heated square footage, he said.
Luffburrow doesn’t expect to have an open house. There’s no need with all the attention the property has already garnered, he said. He does expect to show the house to pre-qualified buyers only; it’s his standard policy.
The house features a princess room for 6-year-old Katelyn, a skateboard-themed room for 10-year-old Isaac and a music-themed bedroom plus a therapy room and heated outdoor pool for Zoë, 3.
That customization could be a plus, said Lufburrow, who’s picturing a young family in the house.
“It just depends on the clientele,” he said. “Someone who comes in Katelyn’s room, the princess room, if they have a little girl I can’t imagine in a million years they’d change it.”
Zoë was the focus of the family’s desire to get out of the dilapidated home they were trying to renovate on the same property just south of Ardsley Park.
He was born with hydrops fetalis and was not expected to live, but beat the odds. He’s now walking with assistance and talking. He’s thrived in the new house, Carmen Simpson said.
“The fact that we were able to have a completed house that was free of dust and sheetrock dust and draftiness and everything, that was a huge blessing for Zoë because he struggles every and now then with chronic lung issues from being on a respirator when he was born,” she said. “That was the biggest thing. Also, to have a finished space so he could receive therapies in the home.”
The new house came just at the right time for “miracle baby,” she said.
“It came at such time in his life that it put him in the next position developmentally to get him closer to being independent, walking and living an independent lifestyle. This came at a time in our lives when that was a huge need. He has made great strides because of the therapies that were able to be done in the home and the therapies able to be done in his pre-school last year.”
Carmen Simpson said she is not worried about what volunteers who worked on the house will think about a For Sale sign out front.
“I think people with the excitement to work through the night for six nights straight are the type of people who are giving and kind and loving,” she said. “It was so overwhelming driving up in the limo and hearing the roar of the crowd and being like, holy cow, this is our city that has come together to make a change in our children’s lives, mainly Zoë’s life.”
J.T. Turner Construction led the local volunteer effort to build the house, recruiting a small army of subcontractors who worked around the clock for six days.
“We have to trust that Carmen and Jim know what’s best for their family and its future,” said Chief Operating Officer Tripp Turner. “As their builder, I do not feel it’s appropriate to cast judgment on the decisions they make for the betterment of their family.”
Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity also sent volunteers to the build. They salvaged items from the Simpson’s old house before it was demolished. The show ultimately was helpful in getting local contractors aware of Habitat’s then-new ReStore, which resells building materials to benefit the nonprofit, said Executive Director Virginia Brown. But as the producers made clear at a pep rally early on, the television show’s purpose was to entertain, not solve social problems. Habitat requires owner input, including sweat equity and financial education. It also provides incentives for the owners to keep the house for at least a decade, a policy meant in part to honor the contributions from the community.
“It gives me confirmation,” Brown said Thursday when told the house was for sale. “I don’t want to condemn anybody. ‘Extreme Makeover’ is great entertainment and a lot of fun for the community. It was a great community builder. But I’m still such a huge supporter of Habitat and the way we build houses.”
Miriam Center lives catercorner from the house. Not a fan of the show, or the disruptions the build brought to her neighborhood, or even the look of the finished home, she said she figured it just a matter of time before the Simpsons would sell.
“I don’t think real people could live like that,” she said. “It’s like living in a show room.”
Big houses, big expenses
The house at East 55th and Abercorn streets came fully furnished. Because of a loophole in the federal tax code, the couple didn’t have to claim its value as income. A fundraiser paid off the mortgage on their old house, which they had bought at foreclosure about a year earlier for $67,525. They were showered with other gifts, too, including a new Ford Explorer, three iPads from St. Andrew’s School, a desktop computer and two notebook computers from Savannah computer firm Infiniti, a lifetime family membership to the Telfair Museum of Art, a year’s supply of milk from Chik-fil-A, and $100,000 worth of scholarships from South University.
Upkeep and expenses didn’t look to be a worry at first.
“I really don’t feel there’s any issue with the home,” Jim Simpson said in a December 2010 interview. “We’re well within our means here.”
But property taxes quickly proved to be a hurdle. The Simpsons paid their 2011 property taxes and late fees in March of this year after the county placed a tax lien on the house. City property taxes were paid at the same time for a total of $11,381 in annual property tax and penalties.
Other “Extreme Makeover” families have found themselves in dire financial straits.
In April 2010, the Wall Street Journal listed four families that faced foreclosure or a sale of the house to meet their expenses. Last year The St. Augustine Record reported that a Hastings, Fla., family featured on the show in 2005 was losing its house to foreclosure.
In an email response about the late tax payment in March, Jim Simpson wrote: “Our house is a wonderful blessing and we are doing everything we can to keep it the way it is because our city and our neighbors have quite an investment in it.”
On Thursday, Carmen Simpson said she sees her situation as pretty ordinary.
“We’re not in a different position than any other family,” she said. “A hard-working dad, we pay our bills and we do what it takes to not go under.”
And she remains grateful for the house even if she won’t be living in it much longer.
“The reality is this house is a blessing,” she said. “The whole experience is a blessing and it will forever remain as a symbol. The house itself will remain as a symbol of how it really impacted our son Zoë.”