HGTV Obsessed Episode 31: Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein

This week Marianne welcomes Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein, hosts of HGTV’s new show, Cheap Old Houses. Then, Daniel Kanter, a self-proclaimed serial renovator, talks about the ups and downs of restoring historic homes.

August 12, 2021

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Cheap Old Houses is a new HGTV show about renovating old homes. Before it was a show, @CheapOldHouses was (and still is) a wildly popular — 1.6 million followers — Instagram account founded by Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein. The couple started the Instagram account because they have always had a huge affection for older homes.

Elizabeth is a historical preservationist who grew up in an old home that her parents renovated, and Ethan’s family had an old farmhouse in rural New Hampshire. The couple thought it would be interesting to post “before” photos on a platform (Instagram) that is really all about “after” photos. Much to their surprise, their account took off and it wasn’t just people who love old homes as they do. They realized a lot of their audience are people who thought that owning a home was unattainable; these people found looking at the old houses inspiring and hopeful. So far, over 100 homes have been sold as a result of being seen on @CheapOldHouses.

When asked how they find homes to post on @CheapOldHouses (under $150k), Elizabeth says she scours real estate listings every day, but now that they have such a huge cult-like following, fans are helping her by sending in listings. The couple looks for houses that have original features, not ones that have already been renovated or flipped. Their most popular posts are usually buildings that were not originally houses — structures like old churches, schoolhouses and libraries. But their personal favorites are homes that look like time capsules. “Ones where it looks like somebody left in 1952 to go to the dry cleaner or wherever and they never came back,” explains Elizabeth. “These houses are like a window into the way average people lived in America at that time.”

The Cheap Old Houses show doesn’t follow the typical HGTV real estate format. Instead of buyers looking for a home, Elizabeth and Ethan tour once-grand old homes, some of which have been rundown and neglected for years. The couple then determines what it would cost to renovate the old homes in hopes to find buyers who will appreciate them as much as they do and bring them back to their former glory. On the show, the couple also visit historic homes that have already been restored.

Then Daniel Kanter, who appears in an episode of Cheap Old Houses, joins Marianne to talk about his journey renovating an 1865 Greek revival home in upstate New York. Daniel started his design blog Manhattan Nest in 2010 out of his dorm room in New York City. A short time later he found and fell in love with a historic home two hours north of the city. He ditched the urban life and purchased the house for $85,000 then did most of the renovation himself, including restoring every bit of the exterior siding by hand.

Daniel shares some tips and advice on fixing up an older home. “Kiss your weekends goodbye, and not all of your friends will be as excited about your house as you are,” jokes Daniel. On the practical side, Daniel advises, “Keep at it, houses are not especially breakable, and most things are reversible … it’s good to just try.”

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