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There’s no place like home — especially as you age.
Most adults ages 50 and up — 77% — want to stay in their homes long term, according to AARP.
Yet many are putting off the necessary improvements and upgrades to their homes to make that possible.
“People might say, ‘I want to age in place as the default plan, because that’s what I’m already doing,'” said Carol Chiang, CEO of Evolving Homes, a company providing personalized consulting for individuals and families who want to age in place.
“But they’re not really considering, ‘Well, what does that mean?'” Chiang said.
Chiang’s clients typically fall into three categories — those who have an urgent need after a first-time fall or other emergency, those who have a neurodegenerative condition such as Parkinson’s disease, and those who are proactive adults planning ahead.
“They’re the ones who know that if they ignore something on the front end, they’re going to pay twice as much on the back end,” Chiang said of the latter category. “And I kind of wish everyone was like that.”
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Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner and physician who helps clients prepare financially for retirement, recently took her own advice when she enlisted Chiang’s help for her own home.
“She made us think through what an aging-friendly bathroom would look like,” said McClanahan, noting that because she and her husband do not have children they wanted to get an early jump on planning for their elder years.
“People are usually remodeling their homes every 10, 15, 20 years,” said McClanahan, a member of CNBC’s FA Council. “So making certain — especially when you hit your 50s and 60s — that you remodel it … does make it easier as you get older to stay home.”
The costs of the upgrades necessary to age in place can vary, experts say. Chiang said she has seen the prices of bathroom upgrades vary within Florida, where her practice is based.
Curt Kiriu, an aging-in-place specialist and president of CK Independent Living Builders in Mililani, Hawaii, also said costs can vary based on location. While Kiriu does most of his work on Oahu, neighboring islands may face some challenges finding cost-effective access to materials and contractors.
A home remodel for aging in place may range from $30,000 on the low end to $80,000, according to Chiang, depending on the scope of the project and where you live.
“At a very, very basic level, thinking about a remodel, you should be planning for at least $70,000,” Chiang said.
The upside is that it is a one-time cost to fix up a home, notes Kiriu. In comparison, the annual national median cost for a private room in a nursing home is around $108,000, according to Genworth.
The upgrades can also significantly increase the value of your home, according to Chiang. Some estimates point to universal design features — such as wide doorways and hallways and no-step entry — adding up to 30% to the value of a home, she said.
“That will probably go up as you get more and more boomers getting older,” Chiang said.
To make sure your home upgrades are successful, experts say it’s wise to keep several things in mind.
Home upgrades to support easier mobility can often be thought of as necessary only for older residents.
But certain circumstances — such as babies with strollers or a child who breaks their leg skiing — can spur an immediate demand for easy accessibility in the home, Chiang noted.
“My recommendation is usually that people should start thinking about aging in place when they buy their first house,” Chiang said.
When making upgrades to a home, think about function, not just design, she advised. Having an access into your house that doesn’t require stairs, or a shower that’s easy to get into, can make your life easier, she said.
Even if you don’t stay in the home, those changes can benefit the next residents.
“You’re helping other people who also might need those kinds of spaces,” Chiang said.
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When people want to make their homes more accessible, the first place they think of is typically the bathroom, according to Kiriu.
“But the truth is, you need an accessible entry first, because if you can’t get in your house, what’s inside doesn’t really matter,” Kiriu said.
To know the specific changes you might need, consider enlisting professional help. That may be from a certified aging-in-place specialist, or CAPS, through the National Association of Home Builders, or an occupational or physical therapist.
Kiriu, who holds the CAPS designation, said he typically conducts an evaluation by watching someone walk in their home to see where they may have difficulty. If there are rub marks where they often touch the wall for support, that is where he may install a grab bar or other support.
“It’s kind of like detective work when you do an assessment on someone’s home, to see where they actually put their hands to stabilize themselves,” Kiriu said.
Removing a bathtub and installing a curbless shower can help provide full access into and out of the shower, he said.
Exactly how much a bathroom or other home upgrade will cost can vary, Kiriu said. For example, when gutting an entire bathroom, you may find water rot or termite damage that can make the work needed more extensive. That also goes for older homes that may need additional work to bring plumbing or electrical wiring up to code.
Even before enlisting professional help, there’s another step homeowners can take to make their homes more accessible and safer: Get rid of excess clutter, said Thomas West, senior partner at Signature Estate and Investment Advisors in Tysons Corner, Virginia.
“Somebody’s going to have to get rid of it sooner or later anyway,” West said.
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Home upgrades are not the only adjustment you need to age in place. You also need a financial plan, experts say.
“I tell people, as soon as you think of it, start planning for it,” said McClanahan. “Make sure you understand the logistics and costs.”
Much of the care expenses and adjustments to your home you will need will depend on your condition.
Because your physical circumstances can change, it also helps to have a contingency plan for when it no longer makes sense to stay in your home, McClanahan said.
There can be break-even points to use as a guide. For example, if you need more than six hours a day in-home care, transferring to an assisted living facility will probably be cheaper, she said.
The costs of care may also vary by location.
Chiang said she advises creating a back-up plan by visiting local care communities in your area and coming up with a list of several you like in the event you need additional care.
“I always tell people you don’t have to have an answer,” Chiang said. “But you have to have a general idea of a plan.”