'Extreme Makeover' extremely expensive: winning man forced to move out

victor marreroVictor Marrero was kissed by the gods of reality TV. After he and his Camden, N.J. rowhouse were depicted, roaches and all, on a February 2007 20/20 piece about his poor city, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came a-calling. It was a whirlwind: by August 2007, he and the two of his five sons who still live at home were taking the keys to a five-bedroom home in Pennsauken, Penn., on property owned by Camden youth program Urban Promise and built by J.S. Hovnanian & Sons.

And then he faced the reality of living like the rich people do on a monthly pension of $939, which was not even enough for the 56-year-old man to afford the $11,500 annual cost of utilities and property taxes. Not to mention considerable debts Marrero had amassed in his years of living in poverty (not detailed by news reports) that were barely repaid by a $59,000 donation from the community. Marrero tried to sell the home -- he wanted to ask $499,000, a price that local real estate agents said would be hard to achieve -- but Urban Promise wouldn't let him.
This week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, he came to an agreement to sell the home back to Urban Promise for $275,000. Some of the organization's volunteer interns will live there, while Marrero is headed to parts unknown with his two boys and a comfortable nest egg.

Whether he's learned anything about using money wisely is debatable. Much like lottery winners, who probably displayed their doubtful financial literacy by using lottery tickets as an "investment" in the first place, the recipients of "extreme" largess are typically saved out of considerable financial holes by their brand-new homes. It is not to say that anyone who's struggling with poverty, illness, or other hardships don't "deserve" glitzy TV charity; but it is highly unlikely that many of them are able to quickly become conversant in the challenges of living large.

Especially if their incomes don't even leave enough cash left over to pay for the stamp to mail their bill payments. As often is the case on TV, it looks a lot better on the small screen than on the super-sized canvas that is life.
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Justin Stephens, NBC
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