The Ins and Outs of 'Cheap Old Houses': From Instagram Sensation to a Brand New Show

Ethan and Elizabeth Finkelstein turned their passion for historic properties into a full-time gig, including a new show coming to HGTV and discovery+.

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Buying your very own home is a dream for many — and one that can seem somewhat unattainable due to the skyrocketing prices of most real estate listings that are located in the city. Enter Cheap Old Houses, a popular Instagram account that has now gathered a following of 1.6 million and growing. Self-proclaimed as “dedicated to the discovery of magical places,” Cheap Old Houses is followed by the likes of A-list celebrities such as Blake Lively, Miranda Lambert and HGTV’s own Joanna Gaines.

Photo by: Matthew Allen / Getty Images

Matthew Allen / Getty Images

What Is 'Cheap Old Houses'?

The Instagram account and website showcase low-priced, historic homes typically going for less than $100,000 located all around the country. These affordable houses are popular among millennials because of surging rents in larger cities and the possibility of remote work.

For those who just can’t get enough of neoclassical revival homes and vintage schoolhouses, Cheap Old Houses also has a subscription service of the same name: Each month, subscribers can get four newsletters that include collections of “Ultra Cheap Old Houses”, “Cheap Old Farmhouses”, “Cheap Old Houses Abroad” and “Cheap(ish) Old Houses.” While most of the houses shown on the account and the newsletters need a lot of renovation in order to be livable, part of the charm is revitalizing old and abandoned homes while simultaneously preserving their historic significance.

Who Runs 'Cheap Old Houses' and How Did It Get Started?

The property-lovers behind the account are Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein, a married couple who started the account back in 2016.

Although they aren’t real estate agents or professionals, Elizabeth has a Master's in historical preservation while Ethan has experience in digital marketing. They eventually turned their social media following into a full-time job. The duo receives thousands of emails from hopeful future homeowners who are on the hunt for their dream historic home, as well as new homeowners who have already restored their own cheap, old house with a little TLC.

Elizabeth started Cheap Old Houses alongside CIRCA Old Houses, a real estate listing website she founded that displays “the country’s most exquisite old houses for sale.” According to the Times Union, her love for nostalgia-inducing old buildings comes from her childhood home, an 1850s Greek Revival located near Saratoga Springs, New York. Ethan’s story is a bit different. Growing up with a father in the Navy, he moved often when he was young but dreamed of restoring his grandmother’s home, a centuries-old farmhouse his family passed down for decades.

Their mutual appreciation for historic real estate brought them together in the early days of their relationship. After years of scrolling online through interesting real estate listings and going to open houses together, Elizabeth finally started an Instagram account for CIRCA Old Houses before opening another account exclusively for older homes that were more affordable. And voila — Cheap Old Houses was born!

While some of their followers are fellow real-estate lovers looking for a little bit of escapism in the form of regal Victorian homes and converted Swedish churches, the Finkelsteins also receive tons of messages from followers who took a leap of faith and purchased a home they discovered on the account.

What Will the 'Cheap Old Houses' Show Be About?

After four years of filling our feeds with historic, affordable gems on the market, the wildly popular Instagram phenomenon is finally coming to the screens of all property aficionados with a 10-episode series slated to premiere in August 2021. Viewers will follow Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein as they explore small towns and cities in search of the perfect old homes to share with their 1.6 million followers.

They’ll go through the antique spaces, uncovering special architectural features as well as historically significant pieces that may be considered valuable today. Viewers will be able to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the selective vetting process the duo goes through before picking which home to show on their account.

In each 30-minute episode, Elizabeth and Ethan will be visiting a different location. At the end of each episode, they will ultimately have to choose between two low-priced properties to see which one will get the final feature on their Instagram account. Along the way, they’ll share the stories and unique architectural elements behind each home as well as their own vision for the house if given the chance to renovate.

With the help of 3D animations, viewers will be able to see the original design details in each house and what it could look like in the future after restoration. Elizabeth and Ethan will also showcase a “Saved Old Home” every episode, a property previously exhibited on Cheap Old Houses that has been transformed from an old house to one that is beautiful and completely livable.

How Can I Watch 'Cheap Old Houses'?

Fans of Cheap Old Houses can watch the upcoming series, set to premiere on Aug. 9, on discovery+ and HGTV. New episodes come weekly but in the meantime, you can get the latest updates on the Finkelstein's historic homes at @cheapoldhouses or @hgtv on Instagram.

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