Cheap Old Houses

Leaving the City

Instagram Channel Helps City-Leavers Find Their Dream House in the Countryside

Has this Instagram account Cheap Old Houses sparked a revival of unique, old (and cheap!) houses and saved the American architecture of times gone by?

Instagram account and subscription service Cheap Old Houses lists cheap doer-uppers across the USA, and occasionally abroad, which offer the opportunity to fix up a unique and often grand house of the past. Targeted at millennials and harnessing the aesthetic-focussed power of Instagram, Cheap Old Houses’ listings have been “saved” from total disrepair by ambitious buyers ready to renovate their new house in reward of a unique and historic property.

With images of incredible but neglected (or even abandoned) buildings for as low as $50,000, Cheap Old Houses’ feed certainly catches the eye on social media. They have even used the appeal to exclusivity with their private Instagram account and “secret” listing newsletters. But is it the age of social media driving and the goal of a certain ‘aesthetic’ driving young American home hunters to turn to suburban doer-uppers or is this part of a bigger trend in migration away from the city?

Cheap Old Houses’ properties definitely appeal to many Instagram users in selling the dream of cheap houses in a largely unaffordable housing market. They are described as being in need of being “saved” by a buyer to preserve the history and unique architecture or style showing the potential of the houses to be transformed into something spectacular and interior design blog worthy. And yet, these houses are often outside the city, away from the work and social hubs and — by necessity of the conditions that produce many of these cheap houses — in areas of disinvestment. Is the new American Dream a question of aesthetics or suburban life or is this a new frontier of gentrification?

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Malung, Sweden — Priced a little over what I typically show, but this place is so beautiful I could cry! It’s like stepping into another time. Listed by @anna.s.andersson of @fastighetsbyransalen Price is 1,200,000 Swedish Krona (which I roughly translated to $132,313). "Now it is possible to take over Sandbäcksgården in Hole, one of Malung's finest cultural environments with two residential houses from the beginning of the 20th century and a large plot of about 6000 square meters. The main building was erected in 1915 and the house still breathes the same air as it has for more than 100 years. In the hall, the flowers on the wallpaper that have been carefully washed out during later layers coexist with the winding blue anemones on the tiled stove. The hall's high double doors lead out to the vestibule where both doors and other carpentry have very well-preserved grain painting. At an angle to the older house is a two-storey workshop building with a home upstairs and a leather workshop, office and guest room on the ground floor. The leather workshop is today used as an artist's studio, but is suitable with its space and large windows for many different activities. The houses are surrounded by a large plot where most of it consists of a garden. Roses, perennials and older berry bushes grow here, not to mention all the beautiful lilacs. One July day eight years ago, we stepped through the doors to Sandbäcksgården in Hole for the first time. We immediately understood that this was something completely unique: an environment that has been preserved in almost original condition for a hundred years. It was like gaining access to a time long gone, and when the enchantment was broken, we both realized that this environment is so valuable that it must be saved from too harsh modernization. Our view of Sandbäcksgården certainly differs from many others. Where others see a renovation object, we see a restoration object. We hope that the next manager of the cultural heritage Sandbäcksgården feels the same way."

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It echoes the gentrification of Brownstone Brooklyn — albeit more dispersed and not concentrated in one neighbourhood — with the movement into cheaper areas and the potential to flip properties for profit. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that there seems to be a movement away from cities towards more suburban and even rural areas for a range of reasons and this seems to be another example of a generation of “city-quitters”. These buyers across the USA are choosing to reinvest in old buildings and relocate to small towns rather than the sameness of city centres and gentrified downtown neighbourhoods, non-stop city life and the oversaturated housing and rental market.

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