Q: My partner and I love our home in North Seattle and adore our neighborhood. Both of us are approaching retirement age and would like to stay put. What can we do to make sure our home stays accessible as we age?
A: When it comes to choosing to age in place, you’re not alone. According to the AARP, 87% of adults ages 65 and older and 71 percent between 50–64 want to stay in their current home and community as they age. There is no time like the present to evaluate whether your current home can serve you or your family’s needs now and in the future.
Adaptability is key. One of the definitions of adaptability is the “capacity to be modified for a new use or purpose.” Every home has its own unique capacity. Not just a capacity to serve you now, but also its potential to serve you in the future with modifications. Can your home be effectively remodeled to deliver the functionality you really need? That’s its adaptability.
Barry Long, real estate broker with Marketplace Sotheby’s International Realty and an accessibility consultant, says assessing adaptability comes down to questions about your desired quality of life in the future.
“There are four key requirements I look at when I’m showing potential homes to clients: location, safety, cost to make the home accessible, and then timing or phasing,” he says.
Your location is obviously taken care of if you want to stay in your home, but what about the other three requirements? They all follow from your quality of life needs.
When assessing requirements, Long suggests considering “mobility needs, not only today but in five to 10 years.”
It’s not the easiest thing to consider, but you’ll need to think about it seriously if you plan on living in your home for as long as possible. For example, when you’re in your 70s, stairs may no longer be a safe, feasible or desirable option. Knowing that now is essential in planning your future.
First, look at the entrances, rooms and spaces in your home analytically. How many stairs do you have on your doorstep, if any? Can a ramp be easily added to at least one entrance to your main living area? Is there a full bathroom on the first floor? I not, can a powder room be transformed into a full bath? In the kitchen, would pull-out drawers for all your lower cabinets make it easier to get to your pots and pans without crouching down or getting on your knees?
Second, look outside. Will maintenance of a large yard or garden overwhelm you in 10 years? Even if you’ve lived and enjoyed most of your adult life creating and nurturing that space, there may come a time when maintenance will feel more like work than a joy. These may not be the most pleasant considerations, but thinking about them now will make your life easier and more enjoyable later.
Paul Kocharhook is the owner of Pathway Design & Construction and a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBAKS’s nearly 2,800 members, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.