Inside Instagram’s Cheap Old Houses Phenomenon
It can be easy to assume that there are no longer any affordable houses available, especially if one lives in an expensive metropolitan area. Thanks to the Cheap Old Houses Instagram account, though, there’s now hope for those dreaming of buying a gorgeous property for less than the cost of a new car. If the Cheap Old Houses phenomenon hasn’t reached your corner of the ‘gram yet, you’re missing out on some excellent (affordable) house porn.
Its devoted 357,000 followers look forward to the daily posts of well-priced old houses across the United States. From a former church in Vernon Center, New York, to a castle in Waco, Texas, the account features a diverse selection of historic houses all over the United States that arouse one’s renovation lust at an affordable price point.
Just check out some of these recent posts:
A Neoclassical Mansion in Mason City, Iowa
A Beauty in Humboldt, Nebraska
An Historic Home in Glyndon, Maryland
A Project in Barre, Vermont
A Victorian in Lowville, New York
The Creator of Cheap Old Houses
One might assume that the Cheap Old Houses Instagram account was started by a real estate agent as a creative way to sell more property, but it is, in fact, the passion project of Elizabeth Finkelstein, old house lover, admirer of historical properties and not-even-close to a real estate agent.
So, who exactly is Elizabeth Finkelstein? And what is she hoping to accomplish? We went straight to the source — Finkelstein herself — and got the inside scoop on Cheap Old Houses and the woman behind the influential real estate phenomenon.
It’s a Family Thing
Her love for beautiful old houses was passed down to her from her parents. Finkelstein’s formative years were spent in upstate New York, where she lived with her parents in an 1850’s Greek Revival fixer-upper.
Over the course of a ten-year period, Finkelstein’s parents lovingly restored their historic home, and unknowingly planted the seeds for their daughter’s future career. “Watching my parents work on the house all the time really helped me see how they gave so much to the house and fell so much in love with it in the process,” she said.
Before launching her Instagram account, Finkelstein worked for The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The New York City-based group advocates to preserve the architectural heritage and cultural history of Greenwich Village, the East Village and NoHo.
First Came Circa Old Houses
Back in 2012, a whole five years before the launch of Cheap Old Houses, Finkelstein and her husband launched Circa Old Houses. Once again, her family homestead was the inspiration, only this time around her parents were trying to sell the redone 1850’s Greek Revival. When they had a difficult time selling the house (it was on the market for years), Finkelstein and her husband, Ethan, came up with the idea of a real estate website specifically aimed at buyers who were looking for historic houses.
Circa is similar to other real estate listing sites in that users can search by the number of rooms and bathrooms in a home, but it also features a wealth of resources specifically aimed at buyers of historic properties. From real estate agents who specialize in selling architecturally significant properties, to a list of salvage yards, Circa is the place for old house lovers across the United States.
“I really tried very hard to be different from the other sites doing similar things in that I wanted to speak to an audience of people like us, people who were younger, people who saw old houses as fun,” Finkelstein said.
The Cheap Old Houses Mania Began With a Blog Post
Finkelstein started a column on Circa’s blog called 10 Under 50K. Each month, she would spotlight 10 amazing houses that were priced under 50K. The posts consistently went viral, and readers began sending Finkelstein listings.
The Cheap Old Houses Instagram feed was initially started as a space for overflow listings. The viral success of her 10 Under 50K posts meant that Finkelstein ended up with a huge stockpile of real estate listings from her readers, and she had nowhere to feature them. She liked the (very) literal name, Cheap Old Houses, but she had no idea that the Instagram feed would become such a sensation.
What Makes COH Such a Phenomenon?
Finkelstein credits the success of Cheap Old Houses to the fact that it taps into a feeling of both escapism and accessibility. “People sitting in their cubicles on a Tuesday afternoon see a house on 20 acres in Indiana with ridiculously beautiful architectural details for 30k, and it’s like what am I doing with my life?” she said.
Everybody Who Is Anybody Loves Cheap Old Houses
Even celebrities love Cheap Old Houses. Finkelstein has lots of notable fans, including Dita Von Teese, and the hosts of “My Favorite Murder” and “Cheap House Love.” But one of her biggest admirers is Jonathan Knight from New Kids on the Block. He often regrams her posts on his own feed.
Psst...There’s a Secret Cheap Old Houses Feed
It costs two dollars per month, but in return subscribers receive one additional cheap old house posting each day that only they can see. For those looking to nab a reasonably priced property — and support Finkelstein’s endeavor in the process — it’s a great deal.
You Can Follow the Befores and the Afters
Fans can keep up with the Cheap Old Houses that have been saved by following #cheapoldhousessaved. Finkelstein also points out that many of the buyers of her listings have started their own Instagram accounts to showcase the progress of their renovations.
She Doesn’t Live in a Cheap Old House
However, it’s only due to location and timing. The couple lives right outside of New York City where there are few (if any) inexpensive houses. Plus, when they bought their house (not pictured) Finkelstein was 34 weeks pregnant with their son, and knew she wouldn’t be able to handle a massive renovation.
When asked about her own dream cheap old house, Finkelstein says she’s torn between city living and country living. On the one hand, she loves the community that cities offer, specifically the brownstone stoop culture, but she dreams of having a big farmhouse someday.
“It should be in the Hudson Valley, with proximity to both the city and a cute little town, and there should be a swimming hole,” she said.
As for her parents, they eventually sold their House...and moved right next door. Their current house was built in the 1960s, but they renovated it (natch) and made it look like a classic Saltbox. As Finkelstein said, “I’m never going to retire to a condo in Florida, and my parents are the same way.”
Some Parting Advice
For anyone looking to buy one of her finds, Finkelstein has some wisdom. “To do a fixer-upper you need either a lot of time, because you’re going to do it yourself, or a lot of money, because you’re going to pay someone to do it,” she said. “If you have neither of those things, it doesn’t make sense.”