NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Is your home suitable for an older owner?
It’s probably not a top priority if you're in your 30s, 40s or even your 50s. But in today’s market, it’s a factor to consider when you buy or remodel, even if you have many healthy and energetic years ahead of you.
For one thing, the elderly population is growing. So it could pay to have a home that will appeal to those potential buyers.
And, given the uncertainties of today’s housing market, it’s smart to have a home that will suit your own needs for a good long time, so you won’t risk having to sell at a loss if prices go down for a while instead of up.
A recent story in Kiplinger’s magazine points out that a home can be prepared for eventual use by an elderly owner without making it look like a nursing home, which could be a turnoff for buyers who don’t need grab bars and wheelchair ramps.
So, what can you do to assure the place will eventually be appealing to an older owner?
First, think about whether the home and neighborhood are really suitable for an elderly homeowner. A home with four or five bedrooms and lots of stairs probably is not, even with upgrades to improve accessibility. And an older owner might not want a home in an area where getting around by car is essential, where shopping is a hassle, where there are few retired people or there is little for them to do.
But if the neighborhood is suitable and the home can be made friendly to older owners, upgrades can be done piecemeal, by just keeping the older person’s needs in mind.
If you change the landscaping, for example, a gently sloping walkway could be preferable to steps. A garden with lots of perennials would be easier to maintain than one requiring fresh annuals every spring. Planting pachysandra or other ground covers can reduce or eliminate mowing.
Kiplinger’s points out that people with arthritis or other joint and strength problems prefer door handles to doorknobs, and that some shower designs are flush to the floor, allowing easier access to a person in a wheelchair.
Standard wheelchairs are narrow enough to pass though the 30-inch doorways found in most American homes. But anyone who uses a wheelchair or walker, or might someday, will appreciate a layout that can be navigated without tight turns. A kitchen, for example, should not have narrow passages between the island and the walls, counters and appliances. The “work triangle” of sink, stove and refrigerator should be neither too small nor too big.
Many buyers, but especially those with trouble climbing stairs, will prefer to have the washer and dryer on the main or bedroom floors rather than in the basement, and today’s quiet appliances don’t need to be kept at a distance. So it could pay to give up a closet to get these machines into a more convenient place.
Many older people have trouble reaching high and are leery of stepladders. If you are redoing the kitchen, get as much space as possible into the lower cabinets. And if you install or replace ceiling fans, think about getting models with speed and lighting controls in the wall switch, so people don’t have to reach for pull cords. Window latches with long, easy-to-operate levers are better than those old-fashioned turning latches that require strong thumbs.
Preparing a home for an older resident doesn’t have to be a major project, just a consideration as you make routine repairs and upgrades over the years.