Homes for every stage of life

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Aging in place is a popular retirement planning catchphrase. It means continuing to live in your own home even as your body gets older and you grow less able to manage the tasks associated with everyday living.

That stage of life is hard to contemplate — let alone spend money on — when you are still hale and hearty. But most of us will get there one day — if we’re lucky. And even if retirement is a long way off, keeping these things in mind when you contemplate purchasing a home could make it easier to resell. Think about this: The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that 1 in 5 Americans will be age 65 or older by 2050.

The American Institute of Architects reported in its annual survey that accessibility — such as entries with no steps, first-floor bedrooms, wider hallways, etc. — is the fastest-growing new home design trend. The group also cites low-maintenance landscaping as another feature that has become highly popular.

The National Association of Home Builders’ survey of What Homebuyers Want, released in May, confirmed this, ranking these accessibility features most desirable:

  • Full bathroom on the main level, 81 percent.
  • Doorways at least 3 feet wide, 79 percent.
  • Hallways at least 4 feet wide, 78 percent.
  • Nonslip floor surfaces, 63 percent.
  • Entrance without steps, 50 percent.
  • Lower kitchen cabinets, 48 percent.
  • Bathroom aids, such as grab bars or seating in shower, 46 percent.

Andrew Scharlach, associate dean and professor at University of California Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, is particularly critical of U.S. housing policy because he says it doesn’t do very much to accommodate the onslaught of aging baby boomers. In his report, Creating Aging-Friendly Communities in the United States, he calls for more federal money to be targeted toward helping older homeowners remodel, so they can stay in their homes safely. He argues that this approach is much less expensive than building more nursing home and senior care facilities.

Scharlach also calls for what he dubs “complete streets,” which not only accommodate automobiles, but also walking, electric wheelchairs, golf carts and bicycles. In my little town, where there are mostly no sidewalks, that would be a huge step forward for me and many other residents.

What would you do to make your town more aging-friendly?