For boomers reframing aging, age-proofing a home won’t come cheap

For boomers reframing aging, age-proofing a home won’t come cheap


AUSTIN, Texas - Dennis and Chris Cavner, in their early 70s, get ready to move two blocks away to a 2,720-square-foot ranch-style house they bought this year. First, however, they have to renovate the 45-year-old property back to its studs. When the renovation is finished, these baby boomers will be ready to move into their new home in which they can spend the rest of their life.

"We wanted to find a home where we could literally live for the rest of our lives," said Dennis Cavner. "We specifically looked for a one-story house that has a flat lot, to grow old in."

Throughout most of American history, people have moved in with relatives or gone to care facilities to spend their final years of life. Baby boomers are not interested in both of them, and those with resources have generally come up with the modern idea of adjusting their age to lifestyle and retrofitting their homes to suit the aging process. Design and construction companies develop security features that look good too. Think of it as the age-defying home.

Aging in place is a serious financial commitment that may conflict with the plans of older people who have retired to downsize their lives and budgets and squirrel away cash in anticipation of rising care health costs. The Cavners convert this house - which was estimated at the time of sale with 700,000 US dollars - from a shell. The remodel could easily cost $300,000 on the hot Austin market.

The Cavners leave nothing to chance and pay for a number of changes they may never need. For example, neither one of them uses a wheelchair, but the contractors make all doors 3 feet wide - just in case. The flat and rimless roll-in shower of the master bathroom offers room for maneuver. In the kitchen, drawers instead of cabinets allow easy access in wheelchairs.

The Cavners are watching the details of the renovation, but this dramatic late-life relocation was not a difficult decision they had to make.

For some seniors, aging on the spot can lead to simple changes, such as adding grab bars for the shower or replacing a standard toilet for one that sits taller. However, many seniors expect a financial crisis as they seek to plan their future with a fixed income and are not sure how much their savings and retirement funds will extend.

A report released last week by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies may inspire these concerns. It points to the growing income gap between older Americans in the aftermath of the Great Recession and emphasizes that "ensuring financial and housing security in retirement will be difficult."

Home modifications

For adults over 65 it said: "the number of households with housing costs has reached an all-time high. By the year 2050, according to the census, nearly a quarter of Americans will be 65 or older. Surveys conducted over the last decade show that older adults tend to age mostly in their homes.

Yet many homes are not suitable for "aging in place," said Abbe Will, associate project director of the Remodeling Futures program at Harvard.

"Currently, many people do not live in a single floor - especially in certain parts of the country. There are many stairs and multi-story houses when land is more valuable, "she said. "Many homeowners may not have the resources to do aging in place."

House modifications and costs vary greatly, from the simple safety features in the bathroom or the lever handles throughout the house, to more extensive changes such as widening doorways or lowering the light switches to wheelchair height. Will said that simple retrofits like handholds could cost "several hundred dollars," but "rebuilding the entire bathroom would cost thousands or tens of thousands."

In a recent California-based nonprofit SCAN (formerly Senior Care Action Network) survey of 1,000 people over 65s, 80% of respondents were concerned about their ability to age in place. The driver appears to be financial: Around 60% said they had saved less than $ 10,000 (including investment and retirement savings).
"We do not know what to expect as we grow older," said sociologist Deborah Thorne of the University of Idaho, lead author of a study that found a rapid bankruptcy rate among 65-year-olds and older.

The recent study published in the journal Sociological Inquiry found that the proportion of older Americans filing for bankruptcy has never been so high. "And bankrupt households are more likely than ever to be run by a senior citizen, and the percent of older bankrupt filers has increased almost 500 percent since 1991,’’ the study found.

The Harvard report also cited the debt burden of the 65- to 79-year-olds, with nearly half of the homeowners carrying a mortgage in 2016. In addition, much more students loan and credit card debt is carried into retirement.

James Gaines, an economist at Texas A & M University's Real Estate Center, attributes the increase to the job market, job losses and putting older people first. It can force older people to retire, whether they are ready or not. Retirement income may not be enough to pay off their debts and they do not have enough savings."

What kind of options should communities offer?

"The leading edge of baby boomers has not reached 75 yet," said Jennifer Molinsky, lead author of the Harvard report. "If you think of the next five, ten, or fifteen years when they are over eighty, the needs will really change."

Molinsky said that exactly what seniors who are financially challenged should do about housing is "a good and a difficult question." Many states offer loan and grant programs for home alterations if individuals have a proven disability, she said. "But we need more programs that will help you do this before you need it."

According to Molinsky, communities near city centers need to create housing so that seniors do not have to drive. And in the suburbs, communities need to offer more multifamily options, like condos and apartments for sale and rent.

"We only need options," she said. "It's important to think about housing options that help people stay in this community, people who have low income need affordable housing. Some people want to trade their house for a condo, others want to re-estimate their money, and sell their home for a rental. Not everyone wants the same."

Don and Lynn Dille, both 75, built their home in Austin and intended to stay there for a long period of time. After living in Texas, California and Virginia, they moved to Austin in 2012 and within a year began working with an architect to create energy-efficient home to age in place. Their home was featured this summer as part of Austin's annual Cool House Tour for its design to make the most of natural light, cross-ventilation and solar panels, as well as doors wider than normal and level floors for wheelchair use.

An essential feature of the design is that they may need live-in help in order to avoid long-term nursing care. Just as the Cavners could turn a bedroom and bathroom into a nursing home on the opposite side of their new home, the Dilles built a second floor above their detached garage that could be turned into living space.

"We believe that having a separate apartment in which we could have a caretaker or part-time support to maintain our property will allow us to stay where we want to be and be independent," said Don Dille, who retired from the federal government.

The renovations are designed to meet very personal needs, but that does not mean they do not appeal to others and even increase the resale value.

Cavner, an investment advisor and co-founder of a new startup in the healthcare industry, believes that spending on house renovation over the coming years will prove to be a solid investment: "The changes we make will not make it less desirable. It will feel more spacious."

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Petar Jangelovski
Petar Jangelovski

Petar Jangelovski A former ESL teacher who enjoys reading books and going out with friends. Experienced and creative translator, and once upon a time a poet, who wrote Shakespearean-like sonnets.

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