real estate

Home upgrades with appeal for retirees

If you plan to live out your retirement years in your own home, adding universal design features will make aging in place safer and more comfortable. And if you should later sell the house, you'll find that buyers appreciate how these upgrades anticipate their future needs.

Unlike home improvements designed to make an immediate impression, universal design additions with the most sales appeal are those that go unnoticed until you point them out.

"The beauty of universal design is when you're able to incorporate something that looks great and doesn't jump out at you," says Paul Sullivan, a remodeling contractor in Newton, Mass.

In other words, says Armand Christopher, a Realtor who is designated a Seniors Real Estate Specialist: "You don't put in hospital-grade grab bars in a bathroom when you are remodeling."

Fortunately, you don't have to settle for the institutional look. From ergonomically designed faucet handles to skid-free flooring, today's universal design products are stylish and subtle. Financing options include home equity loans and reverse mortgages.

The best time to add aging-in-place upgrades to your home is before you need them, says Pat Rowen, an interior designer and Certified Aging in Place Specialist in Hillsdale, Mich. Rowen had to tackle a rush job when a client in his 80s fell and broke his hip just before Christmas, and she scrambled to track down materials and workers to do the needed remodel. She says the experience underscored the importance of planning ahead.

"If you have to do it under the gun at Christmastime, and you know that your husband is coming home in two weeks and you have a bathtub that he can't get into -- that's not the time to do the remodeling," Rowen says.

Here are nine ideas that can boost the value of your home and the quality of life you enjoy while you're living in it.

Make it easier to get around

Create zero-step entries. If your home has a basement, Rowen suggests grading the landscape to create a new entry at the lower level. If you're thinking of building a ramp to an existing entry, consider placing it inside your garage instead of at the front door.

Make your doors easier to open. Sullivan recently installed several doors with levers instead of knobs for one of his clients. "It's for a young, single woman, but she loves it because if she's coming in with groceries in her arms, she can elbow the door handle and get through the door," he says.


Create clear 3-foot passageways to make it easier to accommodate a wheelchair or walker. This might mean widening your interior doorways as well as rearranging and de-cluttering rooms. "As people get older, they have a lot of stuff," Rowen says. "They need to think in terms of 'How can I get to and from everything I do without any furniture or clutter?'"


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