Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home

Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home

Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home

Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home


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From the founders of the HGTV show and Instagram Cheap Old Houses comes a stunning collection of beautiful, affordable homes and inspiration for buying and restoring an historic house.

Welcome to the magical world of Cheap Old Houses, where the new American dream comes with zero mortgage and an affordable lifestyle fit for a storybook. Ethan and Elizabeth Finkelstein have scoured the country to find homes in desperate need of saving—including a $45,000 Victorian in Mississippi, a $25,000 mansion in Indiana, an $82,000 recreational camp in Maine, and more. Cheap Old Houses features the stories of how these homes were acquired and lovingly restored.

Within these pages, you’ll discover sprawling Victorian mansions, Italianate-style farmhouses, off-the-beaten-path cabins, and even old churches turned into residences. You’ll meet a couple who camped out on their back porch while they made their 6,000-square foot manor livable, and homeowners who found a free bungalow and moved it seventy miles to their property. Additionally, Elizabeth, a historical preservationist, gives information on the details to preserve in historic houses, from pocket doors that might be hiding in the walls to badly cracked plaster walls that are worth repairing and butler’s pantries that are once again more desirable for storing dishes and small appliances.

With hundreds of beautiful photographs capturing these homes in all their glory, you’ll be inspired to find “the one”—a fixer upper to rescue that will rescue you right back.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593578766
Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed
Publication date: 10/10/2023
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 63,334
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 10.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Ethan and Elizabeth Finkelstein started the Instagram account Cheap Old Houses in 2016 to uncover the hidden gems across America for under $100,000. They’ve garnered millions of followers and grown their brand into a HGTV show and a newsletter. They’ve been featured widely in such publications as New York magazine, Architectural Digest, The Financial Times, Forbes, Daily Mail, and Business Insider.

Read an Excerpt

The Lost Art of Imperfect Living

“We believe that you’re being sold the wrong American dream.”

This is a story of a counterculture. And a rallying cry to you, dear reader, to fall with us down the rabbit hole of cheap old houses.

There, you’ll meet people who have looked past the commodities we are so often told will make us happier: newer, shinier, more expensive things. They’ve dared to dream differently, and in often unexpected ways, they’ve discovered astonishing purpose by devoting attention to a home that needs love.

The houses featured in this book are from all across our country, were bought (with only a few exceptions) for less than $150,000, and have largely been either restored or kept in their original states. These aren’t fancy landmarks, mind you, but more “typical” homes that truly represent the genuine moments in which previous generations grew up, had families, pursued local careers, and planted deep roots.

What do the owners of cheap old houses know that the rest of us don’t? Well, for one, these old places allow for an entry point into our country’s competitive real estate market, with a financially tenable opportunity toward homeownership. That “location, location, location” doesn’t only apply to a handful of overpriced cities. And that the materials used to build many of these homes are not only beautiful but also have withstood the test of time. With care, these relics of the past can and will outlive us.

As a culture, we’ve quickly been conditioned to desire homes that are perfect and flawless. Homes that are larger than life. Homes that are smart and have amenities to care for all of our needs. Homes that reflect every fleeting design trend. And, for many of us, the trade-off for acquiring these homes is living beyond our means and accepting soul-crushing debt, not to mention contributing to the overabundance of waste that comes from accumulating everything shiny and new.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

As you’ll see from the personal narratives that follow, investing in a cheap old house is about so much more than buying real estate. It’s about investing in ourselves and the future of our communities by looking to the past. It’s about respecting architecture that can continue to outlive us if we allow it, and saving materials through reuse, repair, and salvage. It’s about taking a critical look at the building and design industries, which thrive on a “newer is better” sales model and play a significant role in packing our landfills. And it’s about showing that not all dreams out there look alike—we’ve peppered the book with homes of every style and ilk, and stories of people from all walks of life who forged their own reality of owning a cheap old house by saving their pennies, learning aspects of repair and restoration work, remaining persistent, sourcing atypical financing options, and more.

When we first started sharing cheap old houses with the world, we had no idea that thousands of people would jump through hoops to purchase them, and then turn around and share their stories. These anecdotes have been so personally inspiring to us that finally, after years of helping others find homes, we purchased our own crumbling eighteenth-century farmhouse for $70,000 (page 278) and officially became key-carrying members of the Cheap Old Houses movement.

And what a movement it is, filled with creative, tenacious, resourceful people with an inherent knack for thinking differently. We’ve watched couples like Randi and Dave Howell (page 16) literally camp out on the back porch of their cheap old mansion for months while they shored up rooms inside and made them livable for their growing young family. We’ve seen how Kamaria Gray and Dakarai Carter (page 144) scored not only their dream old home but also outdoor space that they intend to transform into a community garden. We’ve been impressed with how Kristian Berryhill (page 164) and Daniel Kanter (page 133), like many others, have tackled projects solo and with gusto, and how Betsy Sweeny (page 199) and Lise Saint James (page 227) have researched loans specific to old homes in the interest of financial independence. Equally remarkable is how others have worked to transform cheap old nonresidential structures, like churches, schoolhouses, and even a coastal hydropower station (page 264), into charming dwellings.

If there was any doubt that an alternative to the typical American dream exists through cheap old houses, we are here to say it does. Indeed, this book intends to spell out that these particular buildings are more than worth our time and attention, and may just be the answer so many have been looking for: a sense of place, purpose, and possibility.

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