HONOLULU (KHON2) — David Rivera was born and raised on Maui and moved to Paradise, California with his wife Chenoa.
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The two had a TV show on HGTV, Rustic Rehab, and are now in real estate.
On Nov. 8, 2018, they escaped Paradise, and lost seven of their homes; six were long-term rentals.
“We were able to come back to our house one year after the fire,” Rivera said. “We’ve been living here ever since and making great memories once again.”
“There were about 14,000 properties that burned down in Paradise, and maybe 4,000 or so there have rebuilt and it’s, you know, five years later,” said Chenoa Rivera.
The couple said the first house was rebuilt about eight months after the fire.
Similar to what is being made available to Maui residents, Paradise residents were given the option to have government agencies clear their lots, or have a private company do it.
The Rivera’s said if residents want the process to be expedited, they should consider going with a private company because there could be a long wait list for government agencies to clear each lot.
“The biggest thing we learned was knowing what our insurance covered and didn’t cover and knowing and keeping track of everything,” explained Chenoa.
The couple said the whole process wasn’t easy, mentally and financially. During the time they were rebuilding COVID had hit and the supply chain collapsed, leaving building material prices to go up.
But to ensure their home was safe in the future, they said another reason their rebuild took longer was because they used autoclave aerated concrete blocks to build.
“It’s basically a non-combustible material that’s recommended if you build in high hazard fire areas,” David explained.
They said the price wasn’t much more, but residents there and here in Hawaii can expect to pay about $300 per square foot to rebuild.
“Keep track of all this stuff because it can get messy in the end, with who is paying for what, what’s getting reimbursed, and it’s a lot and on top of your mindset and your mental health, it’s a lot to deal with,” Chenoa explained.
They advise Lahaina residents to start doing their homework and shopping around for contractors and to be wary of the bad apples. But if you have everything situated, it can help expedite the rebuild process.
“It becomes supply and demand because how many contractors are there to build houses, if everyone wants it done tomorrow, you’re on a waiting list or the price goes up because there’s so much demand for it,” Chenoa explained.
She said some Paradise residents were scammed, when people flew in from other areas, said they were contractors, took their money, and then left.
“When you’ve been through a traumatic experience, sometimes you’re not thinking straight, and you forget to ask or don’t know what to ask and then it’s too late and you have an unfortunate situation come about,” she continued.
The Rivera’s said a lot of people went to Paradise and tried to buy the lots, and the property values held and even became more expensive.
“The hard thing is you know there’s going to be investors who are willing to pay 400k or 500k for a custom home because they can sell it for several million dollars easily so it’s really a disservice to the people who own the land and are trying to compete with that kind of level and expenses,” said Chenoa.
“Keep the land,” David said as advice to Lahaina residents. “They should keep the land and rebuild, your insurance gives you more if you rebuild your house, if you go and buy another house they give you less.”
The Rivera’s said they understand every person and family situation is different and if people feel they need to sell, they shouldn’t feel guilty about it either.
David hopes the permitting process can be made easier for Lahaina residents to help stream line the rebuilding process.
Some of the government and state assistance money went to help creating and building a one-stop shop called the Paradise Resiliency Center, similar to the Lahaina Civic Center being an assistance center now. The Paradise Resiliency Center is still around today and residents can go in and seek whatever rebuilding resources they need.
“They basically brought in a third party that looked over plans and could streamline the plans really quickly,” the Rivera’s explained. “So anyone who wanted to rebuild, they had programs set up, and I’m not going to say it was easier to rebuild but it was quicker.”
They said bringing in a third party helped speed up the permit process and suggests having approved plans of houses ready to go so people can build fast, “and they can go home and start making memories,” Rivera said.
The Rivera’s said the fire insurance was a big cost. “Fire insurance is expensive here in California, the cost to rebuild is expensive, post-covid plus supply and demand, and we had a lot of contractors come out and assist and everything got pricier all together,” they said.
Their advice to Lahaina and Upcountry residents:
“Whenever there’s a major disaster, whether it was Lahaina or the Camp fire, it’s so hard but you have to find the positives and focus on the positives,” David said. “It’s easy to dwell on the negatives, but the positives are going to get you through the hard times and it’s a hard road but there’s always an ending.”
“And once the houses are rebuilt and people can go back to Lahaina there is a shiny light at the end of the tunnel, it’s hard to see it, you’re displaced, your life is upside down, we felt that too here, we just stuck together and said ‘okay we’re going to get through this and focus on the positives’ and find ways to come back to the town and make the town better and try and bring the positivity to other people and help other people think the same,” he continued.
“Be patient too,” added Chenoa. “It’s not overnight, you are in this for the long haul and it will be a rollercoaster ride but if you hold on long enough, you’ll have the house rebuilt and that’s the end goal if that’s what you choose.”
“Change is hard, but at the end of the day you have your friends, family, your island, community and there’s so much beauty in that in itself,” Chenoa said.
The couple has rebuilt their seven homes and have families living in their properties creating new memories once again.
The couple said they can be reached on Instagram and Facebook should Maui residents have any questions for them and need advice.