For the vast majority of older Americans, the idea of moving is about as appealing as a tax audit. AARP underscored this sentiment when it reported that 90 percent of those 65 and older say they have no intention of moving as they age.
Yet, only a minority of baby boomers are actually prepping their homes to make “aging in place” a reality, according to HomeAdvisor, an online marketplace that matches homeowners with home improvement contractors.
A home that once served you well will likely need some modifications and upgrades the longer you continue to live in it. For example, those gorgeous, to-die-for tiles you installed in your bathroom a decade ago may now loom as a serious slip hazard. And your marble-clad kitchen island — once the showstopping centerpiece of your home — may now be a space-hogging nuisance you bump into far too often, especially if you need the help of a walker or a wheelchair.
Some fixes, like adding grab bars, a shower seat or better lighting, will be relatively easy and inexpensive to make your home more livable. Others, however, may be more costly, especially if they involve ripping out wiring and plumbing.
To get an idea of what your modifications will run, put together a priority list of projects and total their costs. Then compare the total to other alternative living situations. For example, a one-year stay in a nursing home can run as high as $100,000, depending on location. Assisted living, on the other hand, costs an average of $48,000, according to Genworth Financial.
Of course, it might prove difficult to put a price on what it means to you to stay in your own home and in your own neighborhood, where you have built up so many social ties and connections over the years. If, however, after making all your calculations, you are leaning toward fixing up your home so you can continue to live in it safely and comfortably, a reverse mortgage may make your decision easier.
To qualify for a reverse mortgage, you must be at least 62 years old, own and live in your home as your primary residence, and have substantial equity in it. Although you are still responsible for your property taxes, homeowners insurance, and home maintenance, a reverse mortgage differs from other mortgages in that you do not need to make monthly mortgage payments. In addition, a reverse mortgage can often convert more home equity into cash than is needed to pay off your existing mortgage, allowing you to receive a lump-sum payment, or to receive ongoing monthly payments as an income supplement, or even to open a handy line of credit. As such, a reverse mortgage is a popular tool for seniors to use in funding big purchases such as home remodeling projects in addition to improving cash flow.
Your personal situation, along with your quality-of-life expectations, will largely dictate what projects to tackle first. To help get you started, here are 10 that are at the top of the list for many seniors who believe there’s no place like home:
Kitchens and baths are notorious fall zones for seniors, what with their slippery—albeit attractive—tile constantly getting wet. Falling on these hard surfaces can result in worse injuries than falling on, say, carpeting or cork. In fact, the Centers of Disease Control reports that falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for people 65 and older. One in four people in this cohort report falling every year, the CDC says.
Alternatives like cork provide more cushion than tile or even hardwood floors. Cork ranges between $5 and $14 a square foot, according to HomeAdvisor.
While lighting isn’t a renovation, per se, it’s a vital means of preventing falls and other injuries. Vision changes are part of the aging process and you may now require better lighting to see more clearly and reduce or eliminate harmful glare.
Pay special attention to areas in your home that pose dangers such as dimly lit stairs, entryways, and bathrooms. To further increase your safety, consider upgrading to a hands-free lighting system that uses wireless or voice-activated controls.
Someone relying on a wheelchair or walker may not have enough clearance to go through a standard doorway. Widening them to 32 or 36 inches will allow these mobility devices to pass freely. Even if you aren’t using a wheelchair a walker, wider doorways also decrease the likelihood of hurting yourself by bumping into the door frame. And parents pushing strollers (hello grandchildren) will appreciate the wider space too.
The cost of this renovation often depends on the complexity of the work involved. If your doorway is in a wall with electrical and plumbing versus a simple wall, budget for higher costs.
Grab bars everywhere
Naturally, showers and bathtubs with their slick surfaces are prime spots for grab bars to prevent falls. However, falls can occur in lots of other locations too. Think about adding grab bars near the toilet and near your bed — and pretty much anywhere where you sit down and get up.
When shopping for grab bars, look for ones that can support up to 250 pounds. According to Fixr, which publishes remodeling cost guides, installing up to three grab bars averages $140.
With age, you may find that your kitchen appliances and countertops are no longer in their ideal positions. For example, it might now be hard to bend over to load the dishwasher. One option is raising the dishwasher, a relatively low-cost expense. If you’re design-minded, however, a drawer dishwasher offers a more streamlined approach. Prices range from $750 to $1,500.
Other potential items to tackle in the kitchen are counters and sinks that might now be too high if you’re in a wheelchair. You might consider lowering them or creating seated work areas. There’s also the issue of maneuverability. Many older kitchens don’t allow enough space for mobility devices to pass easily. You may need to change the layout.
It’s hard to put a price tag on a kitchen renovation because it will be determined by the extent of what you have in mind. That said, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2018 Cost vs. Value Report, the midrange national average for a major kitchen remodel is $63,829 while a minor remodel averages $21,198.
The bathroom is rife with potential hazards. First, there is the space itself, which may not be large enough for access if you are using a wheelchair, walker or scooter. Another potential problem area can be the height of the toilet. It may be too low. Swapping it out for a higher, easier-to-use model may cut down on the possibility of falls.
Bathtubs and showers present many of the same challenges. Either can be difficult to enter or exit, depending on your mobility and range of motion, and the dangers can be compounded by wet, slippery surfaces. To make your bathing or showering safer, install anti-slip flooring and secure grab bars.
Remodeling Magazine estimates that changing your bathroom to one that incorporates universal design, a concept that allows for accessibility for people of different abilities, will cost about $16,000.
Traditional tubs require you to step over a ledge, which you may not be able to manage at some point. Walk-in tubs work in a different way because they have a door that opens out. To enter, you walk through the door, close the door and fill the tub.
There are downsides, though. First, you must get into the tub before starting the water and then stay in after your bath until all the water drains. That can be a literally chilling experience. Adding a heating lamp right above the tub can be a good work-around. Another risk is flooding. If the door isn’t latched properly, the weight of the water could cause the door to pop open, unleashing hundreds of gallons of water to flood your bathroom and adjoining rooms.
A simple bath with installation starts at $5,000, though some models with features like jets and quick filling and draining, can cost significantly more. In addition, if your water heater is not able to support a walk-in tub, you’ll need to decide whether or not to replace it.
Anyone using a cane, walker or wheelchair will have trouble negotiating stairs. Even if you live in a one-story dwelling, there are still probably stairs and steps somewhere, such as the front door. A ramp can overcome many of these obstacles.
Consider a permanent ramp, which is more stable than a portable one. The ramp should be sturdy enough to carry the weight of you and one or two other people, plus the weight of a wheelchair.
Costs vary widely, but plan to budget $200 to $400 a linear foot, says RetirementLiving, which publishes buyers’ guides to services and products used by seniors.
Living space on the ground floor and bedrooms on the top is a common home design for a good reason. You can host your guests in public areas while keeping private (read messy) areas out of view. But when your mobility is reduced, stairs aren’t just an inconvenience but an outright barrier. An elevator can allow you to move easily between floors.
While installing an elevator might seem like an extravagance, it could be more cost-effective than building out a master suite on the ground floor. HomeAdvisor reports that the national average for an elevator or chair lift installation is $4,384 (though a model with a hydraulic lift hidden by a wall can cost as much as $75,000). A master suite addition, on the other hand, can run between $123,000 and $256,000.
Smart home tech
Amazon Alexa, the digital assistant or artificial intelligence (AI) that “lives inside” an Amazon smart speaker (Echo), can perform more than 25,000 home-based functions, all activated by voice commands. They go for about $50.
However, many of the hands-free functions, such as turning on the coffee pot or turning off the lights, require the purchase of apps and gadgets that will have to be connected to your Echo or other home automation system.
There are several companies that offer home automation set-ups. Prices are about $500 for basic installations and as much as $10,000 for fully automated homes with monitoring.
Increasingly, privacy experts have raised concerns that smart technology allows Internet companies unfettered access into your home, gaining more data on you and your behaviors. What’s more, any device connected to the Internet in your home could expose you to cybersecurity threats. To offset some of these concerns, use the most up-to-date security protocols to protect yourself.
The range of home improvement options is greater than ever before to support your age-in-place goals. After completing your upgrades and improvements, you’ll find that your safer, healthier home is also a more welcoming place to be enjoyed and celebrated for years to come!