The best home remodels for aging in place: making modifications to fit your needs as a senior

Many, if not most, Americans prefer to “age in place,” or stay in their own homes as they get older. However, many people will need to make home modifications to make their homes safer and easier to navigate.

Home modification is the official term (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act) for renovations and remodels aimed at the elderly or the disabled. It entails physically altering your home, removing potential hazards, and making it more accessible so that you can continue to live independently in it. Installing anything from a shower bench to an entire ground-floor primary suite eliminates the need to walk up and down stairs.

Home improvements can be costly, ranging from $3,000 to $15,000 on average, with the national average being $9,500, according to Fixr, a cost-quoting site that connects home remodelers with licensed service professionals. However, if the only other option is to move into a facility, it can be a worthwhile investment.

Here’s what you need to know about making the right home modifications for aging in place, whether for yourself or a loved one.

Different kinds of home modifications for aging in place

The best aging-in-place home modifications adhere to “universal design,” an architectural term for features that are simple to use and adaptable to changing needs. This includes additions and changes to a home’s exterior and interior.

Simple home improvements

These are frequently do-it-yourself projects.

— Including easy-grip knobs and pulls, as well as swapping knobs for levers

— Setting up adjustable handheld shower heads

— Rearranging furniture to allow for easier passage

— Get rid of trip hazards like carpeting and floor saddles.

— Putting down mats and nonslip floor coverings

More complex home improvements

Most of these will almost certainly necessitate the services of a professional contractor, especially if you want them done correctly and to code.

— Putting up handrails

— Installing automatic lighting outside

— Setting up automatic push-button doors

— Flooring smoothing

— Putting in doorway ramps

Room-by-room home improvements

— Bathroom: Grab bars and railings, nonslip flooring, curbless shower, roll-in tub, and shower bench

— Kitchen: raised countertops, touchless or lever faucets, cabinet pull-out shelves

— Bedroom: low-profile bed, non-slip floor, walk-in closets, motion-activated lighting

— Outside: ramps, porch or stair lifts, automatic push button doors

— Well-lit and wider hallways and doorways throughout the house, first-floor primary suite, elevators or chair lifts, “smart” window shades/thermostats/lighting, simpler windows

How much do home improvements cost?

Obviously, the costs of aging in place vary greatly depending on the type of modifications required: as little as $20 for a motion-sensor light, up to $20,000 to raise a kitchen counter. While Fixr claims an average cost of $3,000 to $15,000, you could end up spending $50,000 or more if you want to remodel your entire home or make significant structural changes.

According to Fixr, the following are some prices for some of the most common types of aging in place modifications:

— Grab bars range in price from $90 to $300.

— $400 to $600 for open shelves

— More spacious doors: $300 to $2,500

— Wider corridors (no structural changes): $800 to $1,400

— Ramps cost between $1,400 and $3,000

— Cost of a curbless shower: $2,500 to $9,000

— Walk-in tubs range in price from $3,000 to $25,000

$4,000 to $8,000 for a stairlift

Are home improvements tax deductible?

Some home improvements may qualify as medical expenses and thus be deductible on your income tax return (you must itemize deductions). According to the IRS, a home modification may be tax-deductible as a medical expense if it is made to accommodate the disabilities of someone who lives in the home and is preferably documented by a physician or other health care provider.

What qualifies as a home improvement for tax purposes? Capital expenditures for installing special medical equipment or making reasonable home alterations to accommodate a health or medical issue can be fully tax-deductible, according to the IRS, as long as they do not increase the property value.

Permanent home improvements that raise the value of your home may still be partially deductible as a medical expense — the cost of the improvement less the increase in property value is the amount that can be considered.

How do home improvements affect home value?

In terms of increasing property value, home modifications, like home improvements, can improve the functionality of the home and the quality of life for those who live there. It remains to be seen whether they increase its value.

A home modification can sometimes overlap with a trendy home renovation: Nowadays, many homeowners are replacing bathtubs with super-sized, curbless showers, installing remote-controlled window shades, and installing smart security systems. However, in many cases, the changes may not increase property value if they are not permanent — or if they require the new homeowners to make significant changes when they move in.

Overall, aging-in-place remodels can have a positive impact (or at least maintain) home value if the modifications include cutting-edge technology and/or appear stylish — rather than giving off an institutional or medical vibe. Instead of screaming “earmarked for the elderly,” they should appeal to people of all ages. Of course, they should be and appear well-done.

“As our survey data indicates, a cross-section of the population lacks sufficient funding for retirement,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst and Washington bureau chief for Bankrate. “The reality is that assisted living or a retirement community, depending on the level of care provided, if any, can be quite expensive.” And, unlike the one-time expense of home modifications, these costs are ongoing. “The housing component of affordability is just one to be balanced along with caregiving, and the cost of health care, among others,” Hamrick said.

How to Pay for Home Improvements

There are several options for financing home improvements. You can borrow against the equity you’ve built in the property, or you can go with another type of financing.

— Home equity line of credit – If you own a significant portion of your home outright (rather than owing a large amount on a mortgage), you can use it to establish a home equity line of credit (HELOC). HELOC interest rates are typically lower than those of unsecured personal loans because your home serves as collateral for the loan and you can withdraw funds as needed.

— Home equity loan – A home equity loan also involves borrowing funds against the equity you’ve built in your home, but the funds are released in a lump sum that you repay in installments. Home equity loans, like HELOCs, have lower interest rates because your home serves as collateral. According to the IRS, you can deduct the interest on up to $750,000 of a home equity loan or a HELOC if the funds are used to “substantially improve” your home.

— Personal loan – A home improvement loan — a type of personal loan — from a bank, credit union, or online or peer-to-peer lender is best for those with good credit because it does not require a lien to be placed on the home.

— Reverse mortgage – If you’re 62 or older and own your home outright (mortgage paid off), you might be eligible for a reverse mortgage, which converts a portion of your equity to cash while allowing you to stay in your home. You do not make monthly payments; the debt becomes due when you sell or permanently vacate the property.

— State housing finance agency loans – State agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations such as Rebuilding Together, frequently provide financial assistance to seniors. There may also be funds available through the Older Americans Act, which is distributed by Area Agencies on Aging (AAA). There are frequently income restrictions. Look for an HFA in your area to learn more about your options.

When should I make home improvements?

Because aging is a process, you may need to adapt your home more than once as your needs change. If your finances allow, you can make changes gradually or all at once. Adding aging-in-place home modifications as part of other planned renovations, such as building an addition or remodeling a kitchen, can sometimes be more cost-effective.

Keep in mind that as technology advances, you may come across and invest in assistive tools that haven’t even hit the market yet.

The bottom line on aging-in-place remodels

Making home modifications and other accessibility improvements can help seniors and retirees age in place more comfortably and safely. When done professionally in conjunction with general renovation projects, they can also increase property value.

To be sure, aging-in-place remodels can be costly, which is a valid concern for those on or nearing fixed retirement income. However, there are various financing options available, including those that use the homeowners’ equity — something that many seniors and retirees have in abundance. Furthermore, “what not everyone considers is that you can save money by doing the right home modifications,” according to DeDe Jones, a certified financial planner and managing director of Innovative Financial in Lakewood, Colorado. “The longer you can safely live in your home, the less you will need to pay for assisted living care, something that is not cheap.”

Important takeaways

— Home modifications, such as renovations and remodels geared toward seniors, can help people age in place, living independently and safely for longer periods of time.

— Modifications for aging-in-place can range from simple, low-cost upgrades to larger-scale, higher-budget projects that make the home more accessible.

— Seniors’ home equity, personal loans, and public or private housing assistance programs can all be used to finance home modifications.

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