An Instagram account that posts pictures of ramshackle fixer-upper homes for sale is capturing imaginations across the country, inspiring dreams of a simpler rural life.
Launched in 2016 by real estate maven Elizabeth Finkelstein, 38, Cheap Old Houses offers a generation saddled by student debt a shot at the dream of home ownership – if they are willing to put in some elbow grease.
‘The account was this perfect storm,’ Finkelstein told The Cut. ‘People can’t afford to buy a home; I’m posting affordable homes. People are tired of living on the internet; these houses offer them the chance to do something tactile, to work with their hands.’
‘I think people are buying these houses for the same reason people are quitting their jobs and, you know, making artisanal pickles,’ said Finkelstein. ‘For people who are sick of the city or sick of staring at their computers for ten hours a day, these houses offer a chance to live offline.’
Towanda, Illinois: $150,000
David and Randi Howell were living in Denver when they found this 6,000-square-foot home on Cheap Old Houses in the central Illinois town of Towanda, population 480
The couple has undertaken an ambitious restoration of the manor room by room
The house had no plumbing, heat or electricity when they moved in with an air mattress
The manor was built around the time of 1869 by a livestock dealer named William R. Duncan, who moved to the Towanda area from Clark County Kentucky in late 1863 during the Civil War
David has left behind design work to take local construction jobs, while wife Randi, a fashion designer, has found work as a clerk in the town post office
Renovation cost: $100,000 (so far)
David and Randi Howell were living in Denver when they found this 6,000-square-foot home on Cheap Old Houses.
The home had no heat, plumbing or electricity, and the couple has undertaken extensive renovations.
‘For the first four months, we slept on an air mattress outside, on one of the house’s two balconies,’ the told The Cut.
‘We set up a makeshift kitchen on the other balcony: a fridge, running on temporary electric.’
David, a designer, has taken local work in construction to make ends meet, while his fashion designer wife is working as a clerk in the local post office.
Mount Pulaski, Illinois: $15,000
Contractor Matt Hill, 34, moved from Riverside, California last moth to renovate this massive Victorian home in the small central Illinois town of Mount Pulaski
Abraham Lincoln is rumored to have spent the night in the house at one point in law school
Though hill is an experienced contractor, the home renovation presents a daunting task
The home has no working plumbing, and Hill uses the bathroom at a nearby general store
Hill spent his whole live in California before moving to rural Illinois to buy the home
Renovation cost: $4,000 (so far)
Contractor Matt Hill, 34, had spent his entire life in Riverside, California when he spotted this massive Victorian home on the Cheap Old Houses account in February.
He purchased the home sight unseen, and last month packed up his belongings and drove cross country to the town of 1,500 in central Illinois.
Sleeping on an air mattress in one of the parlors, he gets up at 5am every day and works on the house until the sun goes down.
‘I’d never been to Illinois or anywhere close to there, really. I just wanted the project,’ he told The Cut.
Hill brought some materials and tools donated by his employers in California, but is hoping to raise $10,000 to fund the renovation with a GoFundMe campaign.
Bergton, Virginia: $70,000
Jessica Phillips, a realtor in northern Virginia, was looking for a vacation home when she spotted this home near the West Virginia border
The 1930s cottage sits on four riverfront acres. In addition to using it as a vacation home, Phillips is renting the house out on AirBnb
Phillips spent much of her renovation budget on furnishings to spruce the place up
Renovation cost: $16,000 (so far)
Phillips will use the home for vacations
Jessica Phillips, a realtor in northern Virginia, was looking for a vacation home when she spotted this gem on Cheap Old Houses.
As a child, she had spent time in Bergton, and even discovered a family connection to the home when she learned it was built by the owner of a milking parlor that used to supply her milkman uncle.
‘Buying the house was a pretty easy decision,’ she told The Cut. ‘It had original shiplap and walnut floors harvested from the land, an old cast-iron tub, an old well pump that you have to crank to use — you rarely see working ones anymore.’
Phillips, in addition to using the house for vacations, is renting it out on AirBnB for $225 a night.
Logansport, Indiana: $70,000
Indianapolis resident Missy Price found this home on Instagram and decided to buy it
The home used to belong to the family of War of 1812 hero General John Tipton, later a US Senator from Indiana whom Tipton, Indiana, was named after
Price realized the home would need extensive work but decided to roll up her sleeves
Work is being done to replace the columns of the house, costing about $100,000
Renovation cost: $100,000 (so far)
Indianapolis resident Missy Price found this home about two hours away from her on Cheap Old Houses.
Although it was in poor condition with a leak in the roof, she decided to buy it and fix it up as a retirement home.
‘Everything is more expensive than I thought — by a lot,’ she told The Cut.
‘We’re replacing all the columns on the front of the house, which we thought would be about $30,000. It’s going to be about $100,000, and I’m already about $100,000 in.’
Bristol, Connecticut: $175,000
Ex-lovers Miguel Pantoja and David Farineau decided to get back together to buy this house
Renovations on the house in Bristol, Connecticut are underway
When Farineau sent Pantoja a link to the house on Cheap Old Houses, they decided to get back together and buy the place
Renovation cost: $20,000 (so far)
Miguel Pantoja and David Farineau dated for six years and lived together in Bristol, but broke up when Pantoja moved to Manhattan.
When Farineau sent Pantoja a link to the house on Cheap Old Houses, they decided to get back together and buy the place.
‘We closed on the house in March; last weekend, we moved our things in,’ Pantoja told The Cut.
‘I’m hoping the renovation will cost somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000, but things could, of course, go terribly wrong.’