- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

More aging homeowners are choosing to alter their current homes in an effort to accommodate their changing needs. They simply want to grow older in comfortable and familiar surroundings. Trade organizations, along with the homebuilding and remodeling industry, are taking notice of what aging homeowners want.

The aging-in-place movement has become big with 89 percent of people older than age 50 wanting to remain in their own homes indefinitely, according to a recent AARP survey.

“As baby boomers prepare for retirement, they want to stay in the community they’ve lived in for many years,” said Kelly Mack, communications manager for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers. “They know the community well and the people in the community who help them and support them.”

NAHB, in partnership with AARP, developed the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) program to teach professionals (such as builders, remodelers, architects and designers) how to modify homes for people to age comfortably in their homes. According to NAHB, the CAPS program has become one of their fastest-growing education efforts.

Darryl Hicks, vice president of communications and government affairs with the National Aging in Place Council, said his organization was incorporated in 2004 and has members who represent a wide spectrum of professions. The organization works with professionals and corporations to promote aging in place and encourages senior citizens, retirees and baby boomers to be proactive in planning for their future housing needs.

Regardless of age or functional abilities, experts say that homeowners who want to make their house their home for a lifetime look to make specialized modifications to their homes instead of moving into a retirement community or nursing (assisted living) center.

Creating fully functional living quarters on a main level and doing bathroom and kitchen modifications rank among the most popular upgrades when seniors remodel their homes.

Ms. Mack said that there are a lot of different factors to consider when modifying a home to age in place but that some of the most important rooms to pay attention to are the kitchen and bathroom. “These are the most difficult rooms to navigate,” she said. “It’s importation to make the floors less slippery, have better lighting and add lever handles.”

Louis Tenenbaum of Potomac was a remodeler for years before becoming a special design consultant. He now writes, lectures and trains professionals on all aspects of aging in place, universal design and home modifications.

“One of the issues with older clients is getting into and out of a house,” Mr. Tenenbaum said. “There are a number of ways to achieve the no-step entry, including integrating a lift into the landscaping.

Mr. Tenenbaum said it’s a team effort to achieve a design that works for each homeowner and that he often works with builders, developers, architects, designers, social workers and families on the design and product selection.

The universal design concept calls for making homes and furnishings that work for people of all ages. Last summer, AARP unveiled a universal design show home in the District. The remodeled, two-story brick house was built for six elderly residents to illustrate the concept of making spaces that are both accessible and comfortable.

In the kitchen, some of the features included pull-out shelves to allow users to reach items in the back of cabinets. Toe space was added around appliances such as the stove and dishwasher to allow wheelchair users easy access. The kitchen sink had easy-to-operate sink handles.

Other suggestions from NAHB and AARP include having a low- or no-threshold entrance to the home with an overhang, no changes in levels on the main floor, nonslip flooring at the entryway, wider halls and doorways, handrails at all steps, controls and handles that are easy to use and conveniently located and raised electrical outlets.

CAPS-trained professionals use techniques such as lighting from multiple directions to reduce glares and shadows, light sockets with more than one bulb (in case one burns out), contrasting colors for depth perception and a convenience shelf at an entryway to place grocery bags while looking for the keys.

Mr. Tenenbaum said the bathroom can become a scary place for elderly people because it often is wet and has hard surfaces. He said such features as a no-step shower and tub and toilet grab handles are important.

Chuck Riley, a Realtor with RE/MAX Allegiance in the District, has the Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation that qualifies him to better meet the needs of maturing clients when selling or buying.

He agreed that bathrooms are important considerations for seniors when looking for a home. “Bathrooms are important; kitchens - not so much. Younger people are more concerned about the kitchen,” said Mr. Riley.

When remodeling is not a viable option, seniors may find themselves looking for a more accommodating place to live. Mr. Riley works with a lot of seniors who are scaling down and selling their homes to move to one-story condominiums or apartments.

Mr. Riley said that by working with a real estate agent who has the SRES designation, older clients benefit from having someone who is knowledgeable about their needs show them prospective homes that fit their lifestyles. He also talks slower and uses fewer acronyms with his older buyers and sellers.

“Many older sellers bought their homes 40 or 50 years ago, and I have to explain to them what selling a home entails and how it affects them,” Mr. Riley said.

He added that although there are not a lot of senior developments in the District, his clients prefer to stay in the District and look for ground-floor units. He said they are familiar with the different communities and often have a church family in the area.

Industry experts believe the trend to age in place is here to stay. NAHB reported that 63 percent of upscale builders and 56 percent of average home builders believe they’ll see a growing trend toward universal design during the next decade as baby boomers age and face more health concerns.

Winchester Homes Inc. is one of several builders in the area that has built houses in suburban Virginia and Maryland with universal design elements such as wider doorways, an easy roll-in, no-step access between the garage and the main floor of the home, and a camera over the front door that allows the occupant to see who is ringing the doorbell.

Mr. Tenenbaum said aging in place empowers older citizens with choice, control and dignity.

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