During the homebuying process, most shoppers expect they’ll have to compromise on some of their wants. Whether it’s the neighborhood, home price or the number of bathrooms, buyers know they may not get everything on their wish list.
But for shoppers whose needs include having an accessible home — due to age or disability — giving up safety and function isn’t an option. For those homebuyers, the compromise lies in how best to get the home features they need.
Should you opt for new construction?
The majority of homes on the market do not have accessibility features. For this reason, some homeowners in need of accessible homes consider buying newer or newly-constructed homes. Studies show that homes built after 2000 are more likely to have multiple accessibility features. And of course, brand-new construction gives homeowners the ability to customize the home.
While purchasing new may be the best way buyers can get the exact accessibility features they need, it’s not necessarily the cheapest option. Generally speaking, new construction can cost significantly more than purchasing an existing home — in some cases, as much as 40% more.
When deciding whether to buy new, buyers must consider multiple factors, including the exact features they need, their location and how they plan to finance the home. Depending on the specific housing market, it may be more cost-effective to modify a preexisting property. Some buyers may be able to finance 100% of the renovation costs with a home improvement loan.
When buying a preexisting home, look for ways you can modify it to your needs
Only a third of homes on the market can be adapted to accommodate accessibility features, according to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) study. This means the home has some structural features for accessibility — such as a stepless entry — but could not accommodate a person with mobility difficulties without further changes. If you are buying an existing home, you’ll need to shop with an eye on properties that can be modified to integrate the features you need.
As with purchasing a new-construction property, consider how you will finance a home purchase and necessary renovations. A report from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) shows that most homeowners who make alterations for aging-related reasons pay for them out-of-pocket. Homeowners who cannot cash flow such upgrades or don’t qualify for assistance might pursue other financing options. For example, borrowers can fund modifications with personal loans ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 or more.
When searching for properties, consider both your immediate and long-term needs. Here are some things to look for when deciding if a home can accommodate accessible modifications. We’ve included some price estimates where available, but be sure to research remodeling costs based on your location.
Ample front yard. A home with sufficient space in the front, side or backyard can provide room to install a wheelchair ramp. The cost of putting in a permanent ramp ranges from $400 to $4,000, or $100 to $400 for a portable ramp.
Ranch home. Single-floor living automatically provides some safety advantages over multi-level homes, eliminating the need for some modifications. And 90% of homeowners in their 80s who relocate do so to a home with one floor. Ranch homes and some bungalows provide single-level living.
Bathrooms and bedrooms on the ground floor. An alternative to a home with a single-level floor plan is one where bedrooms and at least one bathroom are on the entry level. For example, a Cape-Cod style home often has bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground level. Alternatively, look for a home that can accommodate relocating or adding those rooms to the entry level.
Accessible entryways and hallways. Keep an eye on entryways that can be modified to eliminate stepping up or down. Also, consider the width of the hallways and doors, as some medical devices, like wheelchairs, may require more room. Look for wide doors or ones that can be widened, which costs between $700 and $1,200 per entry.
Walk-in or roll-in shower. When looking at bathrooms, check for space and the ability to convert a traditional bathtub or shower to a curb-free walk-in or roll-in shower. This modification can range from $5,000 to $6,000. A complete bathroom remodel including putting in a higher toilet, installing nonslip flooring and other accessible features averages $9,000.
Space to install grab bars, handrails or a stairlift. If a home has a staircase, make sure it can accommodate a handrail on both sides. Additionally, see if the bathrooms have space to install grab bars and grips. These improvements typically cost less than $1,000. If a stairlift is needed, the cost can range from $3,000 to $12,000.
How to make the most of your home search
As the number of people living with disabilities increase as they get older, the need for accessible living is growing rapidly. Much must be done to sufficiently meet that need, but both the real estate and building industries are taking steps towards addressing it. Here are some things to keep in mind to make your home search successful.
Find an agent that understands your needs
One of the best ways to ensure a smooth buying process is to seek a real estate professional familiar with your particular needs. Look for an agent who has experience buying or selling accessible homes and has worked with buyers with disabilities. An agent with prior history will be aware of your specific needs and will be able to connect you with contractors, service providers and other resources.
Home Access Programs offers a directory of real estate agents familiar with accessibility needs.
Know the terminology
Accessible housing or accessible design is a broad term that encompasses various levels of accessibility. As you conduct your home search, be familiar with the different terms to best address your needs.
Visitability. This refers to a basic level of accessibility. Features allow a resident to function at a fundamental level should they become disabled and can accommodate disabled visitors.
Universal Design. Homes based on this concept have features that accommodate people of all abilities.
Adaptable Design. This refers to homes with features that can be easily added or modified to meet accessibility needs.
Use community resources and programs
Many organizations and programs specifically serve the needs of older adults and individuals living with disabilities. Available support includes home repairs, financial assistance, referral services and more. Additionally, your local HUD office may also be a source of information for loans, grants and state and local programs.
A few resources include:
Administration for Community Living (ACL): As a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ACL promotes and supports community-based organizations that assist older adults and people of all ages with disabilities.
National Resource Center on Home Modifications: Available resources include consumer education, a directory of funding services, programs and home modification providers by state.
National Institute on Aging: Access consumer information and resources for aging in place.
Focus your search
Websites such as barrierfreehome.com and accessibleproperties.net provide national listings of accessible properties. You can further target your search by looking online specifically for accessible homes in your area.