Flipping onto the screen
Paradise couple parlay real estate success into a reality-TV show
David and Chenoa Rivera took a huge risk when they decided to buy their first distressed property in Paradise in 2012, a house that was about 60 percent complete when a turn in the market forced the builder to abandon the project.
“It was a foreclosure and we got a killer deal, but it was a project for sure,” Chenoa said, recalling that first purchase while sitting next to her husband in the living room of a more recent remodeling project—a mid-century ranch house on Sarah Avenue in Chico.
The Riveras said fixing up that first house—where they still live with their four children (Lily, Cienna, Kalani and Keoni, ages 20, 16, 4 and 1, respectively)—gave them the confidence to delve further into the real estate market, something they’d long dreamed of doing.
Now, the couple say they flipped 20 houses in 2017 and are shooting for 25 this year. In addition to their big family, they manage seven separate investment companies, personally oversee each restoration project and will star in an upcoming TV show on Home & Garden Television (HGTV) focused on flipping local properties called Rustic Rehab (formerly titled Flip or Flop Paradise, a spinoff of that popular series).
The Riveras met while attending Chico State and worked for several years in the fields they studied in college—Chenoa, a business and marketing major, worked in medical sales, and David, who studied special events and tourism, planned events for Rolling Hills Casino. They started investing in foreclosed properties to restore as rentals with a family member and, after some success, decided to quit their day jobs and start restoring houses full-time.
“Our passion for real estate kept growing, and when you find something like that, you have to take a leap of faith at some point,” Chenoa said. “You either sink or swim.”
Chenoa’s favorite part of restoring homes is interior design and enhancing curb appeal, while David looks after infrastructure needs like foundation, opening up floor plans, and septic tanks (a constant concern, as there is no sewer system in Paradise). Both of them credit the bulk of their ongoing success to building a team of exceptional local contractors, suppliers and real estate professionals.
The Riveras said they’ve flipped so many properties they’ve come to rely on a time-tested criteria: They follow the often-repeated real estate rule of seeking out “the worst homes in the best neighborhoods,” ensure a home has “good bones,” and rely on their instinct and experience to crunch the numbers.
“We’ve come to the point we can walk through a house once and say, ‘OK, it’s 1,200 square feet and will cost about $40,000 to restore,’ and then we’ll get all our quotes from contractors in and it’s $39,500,” said Chenoa, who is also a licensed real estate agent.
Time is also a factor in flipping: “You have to be quick and everything has to be running smoothly,” David said. “You have to get the work done fast and get it back out there and sold, because every day you’re holding it you’re losing money.”
The Riveras acknowledged there are some negative connotations to flipping properties, and said that—reality TV aside—they prefer to think of themselves as “restorers” and “refurbishers” who breathe new life into problematic properties.
“I feel that we take our work a step further than most people do,” David said, noting they use quality materials, licensed contractors and save what they can of homes they purchase, pointing to the newly restored original hardwood floors of the Sarah Avenue house. “We don’t make money on every house, and that’s OK. Our biggest thing is our reputation, and that’s based on our houses feeling like homes to the people who buy them.”
The couple said the TV show developed slowly, starting when Chenoa dropped a postcard portrait of the family into the mail in response to an online ad from HGTV calling for flippers. They forgot all about it until a year later, when an HGTV producer called to set up a series of phone and Skype interviews. Then came an invitation to visit the Hollywood studio of Pie Town Productions, producers of HGTV’s popular House Hunters and Flip or Flop franchises.
“We were walking through and just pinching ourselves asking, ‘Is this real?’” David said.
The couple filmed a pilot, Flipping Paradise, in August 2016, when Chenoa noted she “was pregnant and it was very hot.” The pilot was well-received, and the Pie Town crew began shooting a full season last June, wrapping up last month. For the show, the Riveras had to buy and flip eight properties in six months. The show is scheduled to premiere in April.
As busy as the Riveras are, they said they’re always looking for new opportunities. They’re not placing all their hopes on the TV series (David noted a second season is contingent on good ratings), but said the exposure can’t hurt their various other ventures.
“We definitely have that entrepreneurial spirit,” Chenoa said.