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Cheap Old Houses Book by Elizabeth + Ethan Finkelstein

Building With Community: Meet Elizabeth Finkelstein Host of HGTV’s Cheap Old Houses

By inside + out | July 11, 2023

Inside+Out Upstate NY is pleased to present a series of exclusive interviews in support of Kingston Design Connection and Ulster Habitat For Humanity’s Building With Community Program. Last month we introduced Megan Offner of New York Heartwood. Today, we’re super excited to introduce Elizabeth Finkelstein, who has turned her long-held passion for the beauty and character of old homes, into a full-time gig of restoring historic properties. And she has catapulted her brand, Cheap Old Houses into an Instagram rockstar with over 2.4 million followers.

Elizabeth Finkelstein is the co-founder of Cheap Old Houses, which started in 2016 as an Instagram feed that showcases beautiful, character-filled homes for sale across America for under $100k. Since then, she and her husband Ethan, have grown the brand into an HGTV series, a book, a popular subscription newsletter service curating attainable fixer-uppers for sale, and a list of fabulous old houses on the market. Simply put, Elizabeth and Ethan have created a movement helping thousands of people find and restore (and ultimately save) historical homes. If you’re a fan of old homes and have a knack and interest for restoring them, be sure to follow Elizabeth on Instagram to discover gems like this:

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Elizabeth Finklestein is the featured guest speaker at the next Building With Community event this Tuesday July 18th, at Ulster Habitat Restore in Kingston, NY. Stop by to learn all about saving and restoring old homes with designs that celebrate historical styles and eras. Here are the details:

July 18 /  5-6:30 PM
Ulster Habitat ReStore
406 NY-28, Kingston, NY
Ticket: $10 per person. Includes preview of new ReStore items before general public


And now, lets get to know Elizabeth Finklestein…

INSIDE+OUT: Where are you originally from and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley as your home base?

Elizabeth Finkelstein: I’m from Upstate NY, so coming to this area was a return home. We ended up returning here when we fell in love with an 18th-century farmhouse that needed someone with vision to save it from the wrecking ball! We’re very happy to be back in this area. There’s no other place like it on Earth! The variety in the architecture, the seasons, the history, the landscape… it’s my favorite place in the world.

Tell us how Cheap Old Houses got its start and how you find listings. What is it about old things, home in this case, that you love so much?

Gosh, I could go on and on about the merits of saving old things. Lately, for me, what really resonates is disgust with the disposability of everything we’re sold today. I like the idea of fixing things, rather than replacing them. As a society, we really seem to have lost the ability to think that way. So our landfills are overflowing. And the design industry plays a huge role in that. With old house restoration, you’re always thinking first about how to repair, not replace. I love that. And the good thing is that old houses were built using natural materials like wood that can be patched and repaired. House parts built using modern, synthetic materials – vinyl windows, for instance – cannot be repaired once they break and will inevitably end up in a landfill in 10-20 years. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Cheap Old Houses with Elizabeth Finkelstein

What has been your favorite project to date?

I love bringing our own cheap old farmhouse back to life. It had been gutted and torn apart when we purchased it. We’re salvaging everything to try to bring it back to the way it may have looked in the late 1700s. It’s our labor of love! I also loved writing our book, Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home (available now for preorder). I was able to get deep into the stories of these homes and their owners in ways that I’m not able to do on Instagram or TV. The slow, curl-up-with-a-cozy-drink nature of the book really suits me. It’s like a giant hug!

Are you on the road all the time?

Nope! Most of my job is digital, except when we are restoring homes in our immediate area. I get to work and play here in upstate New York – my favorite place! I have a family and I’ve worked really hard to shape I that way so that I get to see them as much as possible. I don’t think a life on the road would suit my homebody spirit, anyway!

What inspired your interest in old houses, and what was your personal journey?

I was raised in a cheap old house from the 1850s that my parents restored themselves. As an adult, I eventually went on to earn a graduate degree in historic preservation. While the diploma gave me a nice token of credibility in the field, I have known since I was born that old houses are magical. The nooks and crannies, and stories attached to my childhood home fueled my imagination growing up. It was a great gift that my parents gave me.

What is one question you’re constantly asked or the biggest misconception about your business or what you do?

Haha, probably that I just sit around and post on Instagram all day. Running a business is a round-the-clock, more than a full-time job and it requires constant shifting, adapting and re-evaluating.

Who is your ideal client?

Anyone, who can see the potential in things that others cannot! Outside-the-box thinkers, and people who know that old house restoration is a marathon, not a sprint.

Cheap Old Houses saved by Dave and Brittany

You have an HGTV series! Tell us more.

Yes! Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House? is scheduled to debut on HGTV in Spring 2024. We’re in the process of filming now. We’re thrilled that not only do we get to help homeowners in the local area get started on the restorations of their cheap old houses, but we also get to demonstrate to a national audience that it’s possible to restore these homes without gutting them and stripping them of their character. It’s very exciting!

Who’s Afraid Of A Cheap Old House
What is it about the Hudson Valley that makes it unique to live + work here?

The creativity around every corner!

What impact does your business strive to have on your community?

I want people to feel as if homeownership is possible, despite all of the obstacles that make it a pipe dream for so many today. You might have to think outside the box of traditional financing, but it is possible.

What local businesses do you rely on to be successful?

We rely on the many artisans and craftspeople that keep the traditional building arts alive and kicking.

What is missing in the area that you wish we had?

More affordable housing!

Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to know.

I’m a total introvert, so being in the public eye doesn’t come naturally at all.

What is your current state of mind?

I’m focusing on balance right now, doing the best I can in a field I care deeply about, while also realizing that I can’t do everything and I certainly can’t do everything perfectly. That’s truly where I’m at!

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BUILDING WITH COMMUNITY: A Home Improvement Speaker Series
Meet Elizabeth and hear her discussion on the beauty of saving and restoring old homes with designs that celebrate historical styles and eras

July 18 /  5-6:30 PM
Ulster Habitat ReStore
406 NY-28, Kingston, NY
Ticket: $10 per person. Includes preview of new ReStore items before general public


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Follow Elizabeth Finkelstein and Cheap Old Houses via
Her Website | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok | HGTV | Buy her book HERE

Elizabeth holds a master’s degree in historic preservation from Pratt University in Brooklyn. For her work with Ethan “making restoration cool again,” in 2022 the couple received the prestigious Pillar of New York Award from the Preservation League of New York State. They’ve been featured widely in such publications as New York Magazine, Architectural Digest, The Financial Times, Forbes, Daily Mail, and Business Insider, and have been guests on Entertainment Tonight and The Drew Barrymore Show. They live with their son in upstate New York, where they are also restoring their own cheap old farmhouse.


See the full lineup of guest speakers from the ongoing series “Building With Community
Meet Furniture Designer Megan Offner of New York Heartwoods



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