What do Realtors, Contractors and Seniors Have in Common?

When my 81 year old mother-in-law Elsie moved to join us here in Houston recently, she bought a small home that needed changes to make the place safe and livable.  The bathroom had a tub that was hard to get in and out of.  Installing attractive grab bars on the walls and on the tub itself.  “The bars are a Godsend” declares Elsie, “I can ease myself in and out of the tub with plenty of secure hand-holds.  I feel much safer, even when I’m wet from bathing”.  A non-slip area rug fixed the slippery tile floor outside the tub.

Elsie’s kitchen was also remodeled.  Lots of drawers and pull-out shelves and a raised dishwasher were added. “These are much easier on my back” she says.  I just can’t get on my hands and knees to dig for pots and pans any more”, she says.   “The lever handle faucet and the pull-out hose are so much easier to work when my arthritis flares up.”

These types of changes are typical of a growing movement in home building and remodeling, called “Aging-in-Place” design.  The sad truth is that, even with all the technological marvels in our world today, homes are still being built in a way that creates barriers and dangers as we get older.    A local remodeler, Dan Bawden, owner of Legal Eagle Contractors, Co. helped create a national program called “CAPS” or “Certified Aging in Place Specialist”.  “This is a new program, co-created with the AARP and the National Association of Homebuilders Remodelors Council.  It teaches home builders and remodelers across the nation how to improve home design (new or existing) to incorporate these changes”, says Bawden, adding “The long-term effect should be safer, more livable homes where people can remain in their familiar surroundings as they age.  Most folks do not want to move away to assisted living facilities or be a burden on their children as they get older.  They want to stay in the homes and communities they love…but these changes can make sense for young and old.  For example, a ramped front entry way would work just as well for a young mother pushing a stroller, as someone in a wheelchair.”

The Greater Houston Builders Association (“GHBA”) is one of the only locations in the country offering regular certification classes in Aging-in- Place/Universal Design.  “We designed the CAPS certification for people involved in residential design and construction” says Bawden.  It’s a welcome surprise that the CAPS training classes also bring in realtors, architects, ASID Designers, and occupational therapists.”

“As design-build remodelers, we discuss the wisdom of planning ahead with aging-in-place ideas with all our clients from the beginning – young and old” says Howie Sussman, a Project Manager for Legal Eagle, adding “Things like lever handle faucets, grab bars, raised washers, dryers, and dishwashers are good universal design ideas for everyone, from seniors to grandchildren.  It’s a no-brainer”.

Realtors used to worry that “universal design” or “visitable” home would decrease a home’s value, having a “hospital-like” look.  They are finding out that the opposite is true.  “If attractive, non-institutional products and handsome design ideas are used, the value of that home actually increases”, according to Bawden.   With the numbers of people currently turning 65, there could soon be a waiting list for homes that are “senior friendly”, and perhaps even (wheelchair) accessible.  This fact has not been lost on local remodelers, who are getting their CAPS certifications.  They are poised to meet this growing, inevitable demand.  Not is this change in the wind lost on members of HAR, the Houston Association of Realtors.  They too are preparing to take the CAPS training, to more fully understand what kinds of changes can be/should be made to every room in the house to better accommodate the older population.

Local Information for training in Aging in Place and Universal Home Design, can be obtained by calling the Greater Houston Builders Association, Lyn Foster 281-970-8970 ext. 111  (lfoster@ghba.org). Lynn administers the CAPS certification classes in Houston, Texas.