HGTV stars take on real estate, use housing ‘hack’ to create affordability solution

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The American dream for so many aspiring homeowners has been stifled in recent years amid surging interest rates, steep inflation and low inventory.

However, HGTV stars Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein, hosts of the “Cheap Old Houses” series, cracked the code on overcoming significant market changes through a “house hack” that they share with Americans around the country.

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“There’s the American dream of go get a bigger house, go get a bigger car, go get a bigger television, all that, but there’s also the American dream of pick up your bootstraps and figure it out and get creative, and those are our people,” Elizabeth told Fox News Digital exclusively. “I think that our people are living that American dream of building your own life and figuring it out.”

“There are hacks to the system. If you have that creative American spirit in you, then you are in every bit living the American dream through a cheap old house,” she continued. 

The pair, who started their now-viral Instagram page long before the pandemic, are placing a spotlight on historic homes for record-low costs in hopes of locating an aspiring homeowner who may not have been able to break into the housing market. 

The homes are often priced under $100,000, are more than 100 years old and need restoration work. 

“The housing system is broken. No one can afford our house right now,” Elizabeth said. “Especially the generation that has grown up on social media, which is the generation we’re talking about, which are younger people saddled with so much debt already right out of school, and the idea of homeownership is such a pipe dream.”

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“We love old houses. We grew up in them. To us, a natural solution to this is to take advantage of a house that you can get at a lower price point, come in, fix it up,” she continued. “You’re not only preserving history, but you’re also getting yourself in the door of a market that so many people feel like they can’t access.”

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Home prices and associated costs have followed the same inflationary trend as the rest of the economy since President Biden assumed office in January 2021. Compared to three years ago, the median price for existing-home sales has increased 25%, from $307,400 in January 2021 to $384,500 in February 2024, according to National Association of Realtors (NAR) data. 

Not only are house prices up and supply down — home loan costs have skyrocketed. As of February, the monthly mortgage payment on an existing home was $2,001, according to NAR. That compares to a January 2021 reading of $1,009 and represents a walloping 98% increase. Mortgage rates, which were an average 2.79% in January 2021, are now 6.78%.

Ethan argued, however, the market for cheap old houses is largely insulated from market changes. He cited a consistency in their “house hack” despite COVID-19, inventory changes and other economic woes in recent years. 

As a result, aspiring buyers have been able to secure their investments despite variable market “swings.”

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“I think cheap old houses [have] constantly been insulated from the market of all the swings,” Ethan said. “We’ve seen so many different markets throughout the years. COVID… there was huge price increases. Throughout the lumber crisis, there was all these shortages on what we had as inventory… we were restoring buildings during that time, we didn’t have price spikes because we were fixing what we already had.”

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“Now we have interest rates that are super high,” he continued. “You know how we’re avoiding the interest rates? We’re buying houses that are super affordable and really low-priced to keep the interest rates down. We have friends who have bought cheap old houses, who have moved from renting for $2,000 a month, who are now mortgaging a house for under $600 a month because they bought a $100,000 house. It’s kind of a house hack that we just love.”

“This is not a get-rich-quick scheme,” he said. “This is really a sustainable solution for people to find housing that is affordable, potentially move their location, and live in one of these cheap houses and hack the system.”

The pair detailed how the most rewarding part of their business venture is watching homeowners go step-by-step through their entire journey, witnessing them restore and utilize their very own cheap old house. 

“There’s so much that’s rewarding about what we do,” Elizabeth said. “We love that we’re not contributing to the environmental issue we’re all facing right now, that we’re reusing materials that are already in buildings, that we’re learning how to repair things. I think we have an economy now that’s based on new… new is always better, but we’re learning how to fix things, and people are learning new skills and feeling like they can do this on their own.”

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“I think seeing people’s lives change through these houses has been incredibly rewarding for us,” she continued. “I think [when] we started this, it was so much about the houses and getting the houses in the hands of people as an alternative to this completely ridiculous housing market, and we found that it’s so much about the people.”

The Finkelsteins are set to premiere in their newest series on HGTV, “Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House?” where the duo continue their work with the nation’s historic, hidden gems. In the show, set to premiere in April, they follow homebuyers through the process of purchasing and restoring their renowned masterpieces. 

“We show that you can take the worst house on the block and make it look absolutely beautiful, and it’s worth investing in these homes,” Elizabeth said. 

FOX Business’ Chris Pandolfo contributed to this report. 

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