Meet the Nyack-based dynamic duo behind the Instagram sensation (and HGTV series) Cheap Old Houses, and learn what it takes to turn a neglected bargain into a dream home.
Elizabeth Finkelstein likes to joke that she got her Ph.D. in vintage homes when she was two, living in the 1850s Greek Revival house her parents lovingly restored near Saratoga Springs. “I grew up with the idea that a home is something you are a steward of, that you work on, that is a constant source of projects, inspiration, and creativity,” says Elizabeth, a licensed tour guide, professor, and architectural historian. “I went on to get an actual master’s degree in historic preservation, but I don’t think that’s what started my love of old houses. That’s just what professionalized it for me.”
Her husband, Ethan Finkelstein, a marketing strategist, is passionate about antique homes as well, and has happy childhood memories of visiting his grandparents’ 18th-century, 200-acre New Hampshire farmhouse. When that home eventually landed on the market, it was too pricey for the couple. So they started searching for an affordable fixer-upper which led to the launch in 2016 of their uber-popular Instagram account @cheapoldhouses which (as of press time) has 1.8 million followers. “For many people of our generation, even those with decently paying jobs, owning a home right now is really hard,” says Elizabeth, 38. “It’s a pipe dream for so many, especially our younger millennial Insta followers. They’re living in expensive cities and putting [most] of their money toward rent, especially now because of the Covid market.”
For Ethan, 41, buying an old fixer-upper is a way to achieve independence. “I think it’s the opportunity to dream a different dream,” he says. “If you buy a million-dollar house in the Hudson Valley, you’ll be in debt for 30 years.” So, for me, [restoration] offers a little bit of financial freedom, creative exploration, and not fitting in a cookie-cutter mold. What we are most enthused about are the hundreds of stories of people who purchased these houses off our social feed. [We love] seeing people across the country move into their own place, their piece of the American pie, and not having to go into debt while doing it.”