What Should Seniors Look for In a Home?
Thanks to the availability of state Medicaid programs like Freedomcare in New York state, where loved ones can be paid for caring for a relative, and also the proliferation of technology and smart home equipment, more people are opting to age in place.
Aging in place is a term that means seniors and retirees are deciding to stay in their homes, perhaps with some modifications, even as they age. This is in contrast to the conventional way families often did things, which either meant aging loved ones moved in with family or they moved to an assisted living or nursing facility.
For older people who decide to age in place, there are a lot of benefits. They have independence and autonomy. Seniors who age in place can stay in familiar surroundings, and they can enjoy the home they love.
At the same time, there are possible challenges, and considerations seniors and their families have to keep in mind too.
For example, not every home is going to be well-suited to older residents.
Seniors who want to stay at home but also want to have a space that’s well-equipped for their current and future needs might decide to buy a new house.
The following is a guide to some of the things seniors and their families should know about the home buying process during this point in their lives.
Buying a House When You’re a Senior
When you’re close to or in your retirement years, there are logistical concerns you’re going to think about when buying a home that maybe you didn’t have to consider when you were younger. There are also different financial concerns and implications.
First, before you buy a house, you have to make sure you have the finances for a down payment. You also have enough to cover your monthly mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance, and expenses.
A lot of older people may already have a home that’s fully paid for, and they move because they want to downsize. If that’s the case, you might purchase a new home in cash.
If you’re retired or near retiring, your limited income is going to have to support you for an uncertain amount of time. If you put too much of your set assets towards a house, you’re adding another variable into the equation, which is the housing market.
If you buy a house and it doesn’t appreciate, or you can’t keep up with the mortgage payments, you could end up in a difficult financial situation where you’d have to potentially sell the house to manage your debt.
If you’d have to finance a home in your retirement, you’ll have to think carefully about your income and assets. Getting a mortgage significantly increases your financial risk, and even if you’re someone with a high net worth, you could experience a loss if you borrow too much money and the house you buy doesn’t increase in value.
There’s no maximum age limit to apply for a mortgage, but as an older person, you could find that it’s more challenging to qualify. That’s because you have to show proof of income, and that’s going to look different when you’re retired.
Lenders will have to make sure that you have access to assets you’re going to use as a down payment, so they can’t be locked into a retirement fund. A lender can consider your IRAs and 401(k)s, but they aren’t going to qualify if you’re currently using them as your only income source.
When you buy a house, you also want to think about the standard rule of thumb—if you plan to live there for less than five years, transaction costs might eliminate any appreciation of the property. Be realistic with yourself before buying anything.
Before buying a home as a senior, you want to make sure that you’re choosing a property with the potential for appreciation. You also need to work with a real estate agent who understands your current needs and how those could change as you age.
For example, you want a property that doesn’t need much in the way of repairs and has minimal upkeep and maintenance requirements.
Beyond the financial considerations, then you have to start to think about the features of the home and how those might meet your desire to age in place.
Features Seniors Need in a Home
The following are general things to look for in a home for your retirement and senior years.
- Look for one-floor living. This is perhaps the most important feature if you’re shopping for a home that will allow you to age comfortably and independently. One-floor homes make things safer and easier, and they give you flexibility in the years to come.
- Depending on where you live, you may want to choose a home located near reliable, safe public transportation options. Even if you currently drive, you might not in the future. Senior transport programs could also be available in some communities. Walkable neighborhoods are a good option as well because you can safely get out and about to exercise. A walkable community will have well-lit areas with wide sidewalks and highly visible signage.
- Safety in a neighborhood will give you and your loved ones peace of mind.
- Think about how close quality health care is located to a new home before you buy it. While you might dream of rural living in your retirement years, you have to also weigh the fact that medical care could be located far away.
- Some seniors like to live in a community where nearby recreational opportunities like golf, tennis, or fitness classes are walkable for them. This gives them the chance to stay active and engaged in a convenient way.
- Low-maintenance homes are a priority. You might opt for a new home or a condo. Some communities manage most of the maintenance for the homeowners as part of the HOA, so you might also consider this option.
- You may not want much of a yard, if any. A small outdoor space can be nice, but be cautious about anything that will require too much work.
Even more specific home features to look for are:
- Smaller properties can work well for older homeowners not only because they’re often one level, but they can also be easier to clean and take care of, and the heating and cooling costs can be lower.
- Look for a protected entryway so that you can stay safe and reduce the risk of an accident when it’s snowing or raining.
- Think about what you have in your current home as far as the systems and appliances, and look for something similar in a new home, so it feels familiar to you.
- Choose a home with plenty of good lighting and few shadows. Dark areas can be hazardous.
- A smaller kitchen can be a good thing when you’re older because you can make meals more easily and reduce your walking. You, at the same time, want to make sure you have plenty of counter space.
- Homes with a lot of storage are a good way to keep your space uncluttered so that you can reduce the risk of tripping and falling. The storage solutions should be easy to open and access and not too high off the ground.
- If you could need live-in care in the future, you might want a home that has an extra bedroom or space for someone to live in who would serve as your caretaker.
Even if a home doesn’t have every feature that you might need to age in place, if you find one that checks enough of the boxes, you can also make your own changes.
When you make changes to a home to facilitate aging in place, you don’t have to do them all at once.
If you’re thinking about buying a home now, you might still be very mobile, in which case, you just want to make sure any needed changes could be easily facilitated in the property you’re considering.
For example, could you easily make the bathrooms safer and more accessible if you needed to? Is there level ground and landscaping outside the home that could support a wheelchair ramp if needed?
There are so many reasons that, as a senior, you might want to stay in your current home or downsize to the perfect home that will facilitate aging in place. It’s overwhelmingly the preferred option by most seniors today, who are very active and living long, full lives even after retirement.
When you age in place, you can retain your independence and do things on your terms.
Since the American population is aging, there are even new communities that are geared toward the needs of seniors but aren’t assisted living or technically even retirement communities.
Be honest with yourself and your family about what you want in a home and what you might also need in the future, and you can find something that’s perfect and can evolve along with your changing needs.