Couple greets the historic beauty of Cheap Old Houses on HGTV


Ethan and Elizabeth Finkelstein found their true calling when they started their Instagram feed Cheap Old Houses, which now has more than 1.7 million followers. Now they play in an eight-part HGTV series of the same name. The show follows the couple in search of architecturally intact homes for less than $ 150,000 and tells stories about the home’s history and architectural details.

Elizabeth grew up in an 1850s house restored by her parents and has a Masters degree in Historic Monuments. Ethan has always loved old houses and old trucks. The couple are restoring a cheap but beautiful old farmhouse they grabbed for $ 70,000.

The Finkelsteins recently answered questions in an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: How do you actually find these wonderful “Cheap Old Houses”?

A: We scour the internet every day to find the nicest homes for sale. We look for them ourselves and accept submissions from our followers. We haven’t seen a price increase since our program “Cheap Old Houses” aired. The two houses we featured in the episode we shot outside of New York were on the market for over a year before the show aired, and they were both sold at one below asking price. Often times, these are homes that need special buyers who want to invest the time and effort.

Q: What are your tips for rating old houses? What criteria do you use to decide whether a project is worthwhile?

A: Do you mean by “worthwhile” financially? Are you planning a resale? We just bought a cheap old house that needed everything, including a new foundation. We plan to make it our long term home and we love it very much, so “worth it” is a bit subjective. You would need to know the value of comparable restored homes in the area, as well as the workload on the home, to know if you will break even in a few years.

Q: How do you feel about structural changes in the old building? We own a beautiful, immaculate Craftsman from 1914. We struggled to modernize the kitchen, which is largely in its original condition. Our proposed redesign is inspired by the existing space that should bring the converted kitchen to match the original, but we’re removing the wall between the kitchen and dining room to create a peninsula.

A: I always recommend keeping as much original as possible. But if you do make changes I would suggest keeping evidence of the old room. Find a way to keep the story alive so future owners can put it back together. Maybe you hold evidence of the old wall in some way.

Q: Who should we hire for a home renovation: an architect, a planning / construction company or a local contractor? We recently bought a home in rural Virginia and are struggling to find someone to do the renovations we need.

A: If you live in a historic home, I highly recommend finding a contractor who loves and understands old homes. Anyone who has only worked on new buildings so far will automatically recommend replacing parts of their house with new products instead of restoring the existing ones. Who you start with depends on your goals. Would you like to completely revise the design? Is your home habitable or does it require major work? I would first speak to a general contractor who is familiar with old houses. They can help determine where to start.

Q: Do the cheap old houses you visit have significant structural damage?

A: It depends on the house. Some are ready to move in, but others require the advice of a structural engineer. This is also the case with new buildings.

Q: Is there a turning point between the cost of renovating an old home and future resale value? If so, how would you recommend someone make this decision?

A: I think there’s a tipping point for this, and it depends what your intentions are when you get started. We are not experts in flipping (and we do not endorse it). Our intention is for people to fall in love with these old houses and think about restoring them and living in them. I see it in a similar way to children: it gets expensive and difficult at times, but it will be the most rewarding thing you will do. If you only look at old houses as profit makers, I am not sure if I am the right person to talk to. They might end up costing you more, and they might not. It depends on the location, the purchase price, the amount of work and the length of time you plan to be in the house before selling.

Q: How is the asbestos situation in these houses?

A: Asbestos was used heavily in the middle of the 20th century. So if your house dates from this time or was renovated during this time, you should always pay attention to the appropriate care when doing restoration work. We recommend “adapting” accordingly for all cases when renovating a house. Asbestos isn’t the only harmful material that has been used in homes.

Q: We have an old house with a green tub and sink, but everything else needs gutting. Where should we look for design inspiration?

A: I love green tubs and sinks. I can fall into a rabbit hole looking through old design catalogs for inspiration for kitchens and bathrooms. My favorite free resource is the Building Technology Heritage Library ( It’s a searchable database of thousands of old building materials catalogs. There are so many catalogs of old bathroom fixtures and pictures of old bathrooms. You can filter by date; Knowing the date of your home can help you find more accurate resources.

Q: What do you think of restoring bathrooms and kitchens to mimic a home’s original era when a home was being renovated?

A: Finding an original kitchen or bathroom from the year it was built is a rare find, because kitchens and bathrooms are the most “flipped” rooms in most homes. We’re all for giving them back their original look – or at least feeling them in context with the rest of the house, by adopting design elements from kitchens and bathrooms from the period.

Koncius writes for the Washington Post.

Copyright: (c) 2021, The Washington Post

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