It all started with a headache of a house.
When David and Chenoa Rivera purchased their first home together in 2011, it was 70-percent finished. Looking beyond the foreclosure’s lack of flooring and landscaping, the missing lighting and appliances, and a vermin infestation, they realized a little vision and elbow grease could transform it into a lovely home for their growing family.
Once the rehabilitation was complete, their second realization hit: “Wow, we can remodel houses,” David said.
That first remodel was followed by another, a rental investment. They progressed—from renovating 6 homes a year in 2014, to 12, 15, then 20. Today, they are on track to renovate 30 homes in 2018. Whether a simple facelift or stripping everything to studs, they can transform a home in as little as six weeks.
“Our motto has been to get the most beat-up house on the best block,” said David (Recreation Administration, ’08), who finds the houses and manages contractors while Chenoa (Business Administration, ’10) handles the design.
Their passion, talent, and success caught the eye of HGTV, which eventually contracted with the Riveras to film a TV series in the style of House Hunters or Flip or Flop. The season premiere of Rustic Rehab is slated to air in the next few months, kicking off eight episodes that reflect the last year of their lives.
Chenoa considers herself a Butte County local, having lived here since she was a year old. David is a transplant, who came to Chico to play football for Butte College and competed alongside Aaron Rodgers. While his athletic career took him to Missouri, an injury put an end to his days as a kicker and he decided he loved Chico so much, it’s where he would return to complete his degree.
The charismatic couple met while attending Chico State in 2005. They fell fast and hard for one another and married in 2008.
Finishing each other’s sentences and volleying thoughts like a tennis match, they look back on their time at Chico State with fondness, saying the quality of academics, great professors, and campus culture paved the way for success in the careers they have had to date.
“The way our society is today, you have to be open and able to communicate,” David said.
Until last year, both were working full-time jobs—Chenoa in medical sales and David as a special events coordinator—while also running renovations and being parents to their children, ages 5 and 1, and Chenoa’s daughters, ages 17 and 20.
When Chenoa saw the original casting call, they sent in a submission. A year later, she was contacted by Pie Town Productions, which started House Hunters. After a phone interview, a Skype session, and the Riveras filming clips of themselves looking through materials at Home Depot, they were offered the chance to shoot a pilot. When ratings were good, they contracted for a show and left their longtime jobs behind.
“We took this leap of faith. ‘Let’s go all in,’” Chenoa said.
With cameras watching, the Riveras forged forward, buying and flipping homes at a rapid pace. This March, with filming near complete, they had five finished houses on the market and were in various remodel stages with six others.
At every potential house, Chenoa draws from the “SWOT” method (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) she learned in her Chico State marketing classes to evaluate the home’s potential. Dozens of houses after their first remodel, she and David now can walk into any house and immediately calculate its value, square footage, age, and—most importantly—potential selling price if they were to give it a facelift.
Sitting in a charming house in escrow in northwest Chico, they recounted how when they bought it, 15 people had been living in its 1,200 square feet of space. They pulled up disgusting carpet to reveal original hardwood floors, which were refurbished throughout. They ripped out warped kitchen cabinets and installed new ones, while adding subway tile backsplash and granite counters. They created a laundry room in an attached garage-turned-family-room and relocated a water closet to expand the bathroom, which she painted a rich blue.
“It’s a little of my alter ego,” Chenoa admits, saying that she only uses neutral palates like cream and white in her own home but loves to play with color in their renovations.
Entirely self-taught, her designs are a blend of current trends and classic comforts, hitting just the right notes to appeal to a wide range of buyers.
“We’ve learned a lot in the field that we didn’t know before,” she said. “We are not perfect. No one is. You have to have that introspect to look back and try to do better next time.”
“You have to make mistakes to get good at what you are doing,”
Looking back on the last year of Rustic Rehab, they admit it was a bit awkward to turn their inner thoughts into show dialogue, as well as cameras watching their every move as they finalized paint colors, discovered wood floors hiding under carpet, or debated herringbone versus chevron patterns for shower tiles.
“It doesn’t matter if your kid is sick or just threw up on you, the camera is in your face,” David said. “You have to tell your story, smile, and show America what you are doing.”
As the air date approaches, they hope Rustic Rehab will resonate with viewers. But show or no show, the Riveras plan to keep making their mark in home makeovers.
“It’s so fun to transform a house no one would love and make it lovable,” Chenoa said.