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For seniors who are aging in place, it can be tempting to consider making quick changes to your home that enhance your mobility and the usability of your space. But, transitioning from a fix-to-permanent-fixture mindset is likely to enhance the resale value of your homes, say experts.
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Rather than investing in anything that in all likelihood will involve a construction project to remove—like winding ramps that can detract from curb appeal or expensive stair lifts—these experts share better ways to invest in updates that can enhance day-to-day living for current and future occupants.
1. Keep ramps and railings temporary
Dan Bawden, president of Legal Eagle Contractors in Texas, says there’s typically no need for a permanent exterior ramp. Bawden, who is also a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), says many of the seniors he advises only need ramps temporarily, like when recuperating after surgery.
Temporary ramps can often be rented on a monthly basis for less money than they’d cost to install. And, adding landscaping, like shrubs, to partially obscure metal or treated wood goes a long way to enhance aesthetics, he advises.
CAPS-certified Tammy Kaplan, owner of Images in Design in Cranford, N.J., says she favors a universal design approach when advising seniors. For her, this means adding in hand-rails along a home’s walkways to enhance the safety of anyone, at whatever age, entering and exiting.
2. Choose one-floor living over navigating stairs
Rather than installing an expensive stair lift to upper floors that will have to be removed by new homeowners, Liz Goodwin, a real estate agent with Commonwealth Properties in Melrose, Massachusetts, urges seniors to consider a different option.
Goodwin recommends, “I would spend that money putting an addition onto the first floor so they get more one-level living.” This investment has positive longterm implications: increased resale value.
Architect and interior design consultant Diane Miller says she often adds first-floor master suites as additional projects with Miller Design, located in Belmont, Massachusetts. You can also rethink existing square footage to be more efficient.
“Converting less-frequently used first-floor spaces into master suites is a great home renovation that can be a game-changer in terms of aging in place, and is also super-attractive for resale value,” she says.
3. Add a bathroom smartly
Many houses in New England were built with only one bathroom—and on the second floor, at that, says Goodwin. Making sure any first-floor addition includes a bathroom is one of the highest return-on-investment home improvement projects that can be made.
However, Goodwin cautions against installing anything for a specific user that would need to be removed. “I’ve seen so many shower seats permanently mounted into showers. There’s usually no way to rip it out without damaging the walls—which is another project,” she says.
One installation that is a value-add? Grab bars, says Kaplan. “My motto is ‘Live safely, in style.’ The options these days look really good, they’re decorative, and you’d never know that they are grab bars.”
Another one of Kaplan’s favorite bathroom projects is a zero-threshold shower, which not only looks modern but reduces tripping and slipping no matter what the homeowner’s age.
Miller’s other design suggestions include textured tile without shiny surfaces; larger, no-slip grout; and voice-activated shower (or tub) controls.
4. Consider the perks of an in-law apartment
Those with a plot of land to play with may want to consider adding more than just a bedroom or a bathroom. Not only will an entire in-law apartment add tens of thousands of dollars onto resale value, but it opens up possibilities for relatives to live on-site and assist seniors if need be.
“In-law apartments add such great resale value and are flexible spaces that could also be used by a young family looking for an au pair or by young adult children who want to move back home for awhile after college [and] have their own independence,” says Miller. “The space could even be used as a home office, now that we’re in a work-from-home era and many people are unlikely to go back to an office five days a week.”
5. Add low, accessible surfaces and storage in the kitchen
For most people, there’s likely no need for an expensive kitchen overhaul. Adding a spot for a drawer microwave that’s below countertops will not only save counter space but also make it easier for those with limited mobility, says Kaplan. (Plus, grandkids can even make their own popcorn that way.)
Kaplan also suggests adding an island as a good way to add another surface that’s lower for those who may need a mobility aid.
Bawden recommends the convenience of pull-out drawers in kitchens, so homeowners don’t have to bend and crouch. “Drawers, drawers, drawers—the more the better,” he says. “The better you can see what’s in the back, the less likely you are stuck on your knees digging out that matching Tupperware lid.”
6. Install purposeful lighting and make the most of natural light
Lighting is one of the most important projects that can not only enhance safety but the appeal of one’s space, agree Bawden and Kaplan.
Bawden says adding LED lights into cabinetry is useful and adds on minimal costs. Kaplan advises a neutral coat of paint or two will make spaces look more contemporary and brighten areas—and moods—for aging-in-place seniors who need it.
Kaplan says, “As we get older, our eyesight worsens, so with darker colors it can be hard to see.”
Taking down heavy drapery will also help modernize homes and enhance natural lighting.
7. Declutter by tossing or donating mobility devices that you no longer need
Don’t forget about messy storage areas that make people want to offer less for a property, says Goodwin. Seniors should dispose of mobility devices they no longer need on trash day, instead of letting it pile up in basements or closets.
“I’ve seen all sorts of stuff in cellars—walkers, wheelchairs, shower chairs,” she says. “It just leaves an impression with people that they’ll need to get rid of it and do more work to make the space their own.”
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