Five “Must Haves”

Surveys clearly indicate older adults want to stay in their current home and community as they age.  However, for a variety of reasons, many over-50 households make the decision to either build a new home or purchase another, often smaller, home.  Typically the reasons given for moving are after the children leave the home (empty nesters); the desire to be closer to children and grandchildren and the opportunity to sell and extract equity then downsizing to a smaller home.

One reason not often considered is whether the current home will meet the occupants’ needs and they age.  What happens if health conditions change and they develop mobility issues including the need for walkers or wheelchairs.  When Sharon and I made the decision to leave our two-story Victorian style home in Jacksonville it was the realization that the home simply could not be renovated to provide greater accessibility.  Based upon our experience, I would suggest the following “must haves” you should consider when looking for another home:

  1. Single story – A single story home is not only easier to maintain, but it also provides greater mobility.  If a two-story is the only option, make certain the master bedroom is on the first floor.
  2. Barrier-free entryway – Multiple steps can present a significant barrier to home entry for occupants and visitors alike.  When looking at homes consider what would be required to have at least one no-step access point in the home.  Often a small number of front steps can be rebuilt as a sloping walkway to eliminate steps and provide smooth entry for all – mothers pushing baby carriages to those in wheelchairs.  For each inch of steps a foot of slope is required.  Thus two 6 inch steps would require 12 feet of sloped approach (ramp or concrete).
  3. Wider doors and hallways – Most homes built today have at least the minimum 32 inch entry width, with a 36 inch width optimum.  All doors in the home should meet these dimensions.  Hallways should be at least 36 inches wide with 40 inches or more ideal.
  4. Accessible bathroom – The home should have at least one accessible bathroom for occupants or visitors.  Remodeling a bathroom for access is often one of the most costly renovations.  For a full bath, a 9 foot by 7 foot space would be the minimum size and could be configured to provide a 60 inch by 36 inch open space for maneuverability.   A raised (comfort) height toilet 17 to 19 inches from floor to rim and an “aging-in-place” shower surround should also be included.  Having a pedestal style sink instead of a vanity provides additional floor clearance.  Finally, stylish grab bars are highly recommended and a pocket door or door that opens out would be needed to gain the interior space.
  5. Hand-friendly hardware – Levered door handles (instead of knobs), rocker light switches (instead of toggle) and loop-style or D-shaped cabinet pulls make opening easier for those with arthritic hands.   Easy-open window hardware should also be considered.  A window you can open or close with a closed fist.

There are many other features that will complement the “must haves” listed above including increased lighting, kitchen appliances with controls in front, non-slip floor surfaces, raised washer and dryer and motion-activated light switches.

While buyers may not find all these “must haves” in the home of their choice they can make informed decisions as to how much it would cost to have these features installed.

Incorporating these “must haves” into the home buying equation means you will be getting a home that “lasts a lifetime.”

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