Debbie Swanson is a Boston-area freelance writer who frequently covers real estate, construction, and other topics.
Help Clients Find a Home for Life
An increasing number of buyers are thinking ahead to ensure they are able to age in place. Are you ready to be the trusted advisor in their housing search?
December 14, 2015
Baby boomers and other forward-thinking buyers are embracing the trend of “aging in place” — planning ahead and making adjustments that will allow them to remain in their home throughout their senior years. Usually, some remodeling is required for a property to support independent living for older adults. Understanding your client’s goals and their intended lifestyle is key to helping them find a property that will accommodate their needs.
Here are some of the main points of discussion to introduce when helping a client find a home for life.
Stair-free living is a common requirement, but you don’t necessarily have to limit your showings to single-story homes. Instead, let your client’s lifestyle and remodeling budget dictate the type of properties to consider. Some clients may seek the convenience and amenities of an elevator-accessible condo, while others prefer a private home that’s been adapted to remove dependence on stairs.
Tyler Owen, owner of Aging in Place Remodeling in San Diego, has helped many home owners remain in multilevel homes. “We’ve installed stair lifts or elevators or added a master suite to the first floor,” he says.
For clients with mobility limitations, even one or two steps can pose a barrier. Identify one entryway that supports ease of entry, such as a spacious foyer and wide front door, leading to an outdoor area that will accommodate a ramp.
Ramps can be premade or custom built for the property, says Owen. “Premade is easy to install [and can be done] in less than a day. A custom ramp is more expensive and requires more time, but it also looks better and can add value to the home.”
Proper lighting improves home safety and well-being for any demographic, but it’s particularly important to prevent chronic straining in aging eyes. Look for plenty of natural sources, as well as installed fixtures. Help clients look for homes with focused task lighting in kitchen work areas, shower stalls, closets, and laundry rooms.
Some improvements can be made without an electrician. You may want to suggest your clients place touch-controlled lamps or motion lights in foyers, hallways, or bathrooms.
Remodeling the bathroom can be key to independent living, says Katy Dodd, vice president of business development of LifeWise Renovations in Kansas, a company that specializes in creating a safe and comfortable home throughout the aging process.
A common upgrade is the addition of a “zero-entry” bathing area — a curbless, walk-in tub or shower. Dodd says that, unless the original bathroom is quite small, the space should easily accommodate such a change: “In most cases, if the original bathroom fits a traditional tub, it will fit a zero-entry shower.”
Other desirable features include adequate lower-level storage and lighting and switches that are reachable from a seated position, adds Cannon Christian, president of Renovation Realty in San Diego, who regularly finds homes for clients planning for their senior years. “Take notice of wall space if the home owner needs to add stability bars,” he adds.
Traditional doorways can be too narrow to navigate with mobility equipment. While 28 to 32 inches is the typical width for such areas, the National Association of Home Builders suggests ensuring that at least 32 inches of clear width are available.
“Widening a doorway is a common request and takes just a few hours,” says Dodd, pointing to ranch and single-story homes as the best candidates for such changes. “They pose fewer structural issues. Other dwellings contain traditional framing and structural components that require alteration … translating to more time and cost.”
Whether your client will be cooking for one or hosting large holiday gatherings, an accommodating kitchen is a necessity. Be on the hunt for excellent lighting and easy transitions between the cooking area, refrigerator, and sink.
Lower-level storage is also helpful, says Dodd, who suggests looking for “reachable cabinets, extension drawers, or pullout shelves.”
Make sure your clients factor in the cost of replacing dated appliances with newer models. For example, Dodd notes, “the old-style refrigerator [with a] freezer on top isn’t as accessible as a café style or a side-by-side.”
Floors can present two hazards: tripping and slipping.
Transitions — the areas where two types of flooring meet — can create a tripping hazard or wheelchair barrier. Advise clients to consider integrating the leveling-out of such barriers into any existing plans for new flooring. “We’ve leveled transitions without installing new floors, but it does require altering the existing floor,” says Owen.
For more slip-resistant surfaces, look at the size of the tile. “We like to use unglazed floor tile that is 2 inches by 2 inches or smaller — it is actually the grout lines that are helping to grab your foot and give traction,” says Owen.
Most baby boomers are active, healthy, and ready to embrace the next phase of life, so consider the surrounding area. Michelle Sagatov, real estate agent with Michelle Sagatov Realty Group at McEnearney Associates, says many of her senior clients “want to be close to the action, in a lively neighborhood, with access to walkable places and great restaurants.”
Outdoor interests vary widely; a maintenance-free condo may be a dream to clients eager to wash their hands of yardwork. But other clients enjoy tending to their landscape. For these, ensure easy access to a garden area or patio, and be vigilant for mobility hazards such as uneven sidewalks or pavers.
Planning for the future is difficult, but becoming familiar with common solutions and understanding your client’s lifestyle are your best strategies for helping them find the perfect home.