Making a House a Home for Life


Making a House a Home for Life

Practical tips to support aging in place – because there is no place like home – now and in the future.

June 8, 2015

It seems many Americans agree with Dorothy Gale of Kansas: There really is no place like home. We spend years, decades even, creating a space that reflects our families, our lives, our personalities and our comforts. So it is little wonder that home is where the heart is and where we hope to live out the rest of our days.

If you’re among the many who prefer to live at home as long as possible, you’ll want to do what you can to make sure it fits your needs today and for many tomorrows to come. That means considering features that will support your lifestyle at age 50, 60, 70, 80 and beyond. There’s the physical: Are you in the right home? Will you need help to maintain it? Will you need to renovate to accommodate your needs as you age? And, what about the financial aspects? What will it cost to renovate? Can you afford to have in-home help should you need assistance with repairs, maintenance, cleaning or something as simple as changing light bulbs? There’s a lot to think about, but once you lay the foundation, you’ll be able to live better, for longer, in the home of your retirement dreams.

Finding your place

You already know that you want to remain in familiar surroundings, but have you really thought about all that implies? Is your home perfect for raising four kids, but a little too big for just two people or one? Are you tired of shoveling snow off a steep driveway each winter? Would you prefer a community with better sidewalks, more lighting, a gated entrance? Aging in place, a term used for living at home safely, independently and comfortably throughout retirement, doesn’t have to mean staying in your current home. It could mean renting or buying a condo or townhome that meets your needs and is located in an area replete with activities you enjoy.

If you decide to move, be sure to find a community close to people you love so you’ll have a social life and help should you need it. Family and friends are crucial to everyone’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. You’ll also want to look for an area with well-kept roads and seamless and safe transportation options. Remember, you could be in your home for another 10, 20 or even 30 years so you’ll have to account for a wide range of possibilities.

Making it your own

Once you’ve found the right place (and it may be the one you’re in), consider what it takes to live there comfortably as time goes by. For example, you may have beautiful hardwood floors dotted with area rugs or a grand staircase. Great for now, but those rugs can quickly become fall hazards, and those stairs can be challenging if you need a walker. Cords and clutter can present a problem, too; get these things organized and out of your way so you don’t trip.

Proactively create a plan that will support your ability to live happily on your own terms. Think through everything from the safety and convenience of the home to accessibility of services that could make life easier and more enjoyable. If you can’t quite imagine what modifications you may need, consider hiring a home safety inspector to assess whether your home is designed to meet your evolving needs. If it’s not, they can suggest modifications to custom-fit your environment to your anticipated lifestyle. 

They might recommend:

  • Universal design elements, such as levered door handles and faucets
  • An open floor plan with wide doorways and halls
  • Single floor living
  • Front-loading appliances at counter level
  • Bright task lighting and automatic lights
  • Railings or wall support near stairs and in bathrooms
  • Slip-resistant flooring and stair coverings
  • Low-maintenance finishes and materials
  • Easy-to-reach thermostats, outlets and light switches
  • Low thresholds into the home and shower

Of course, these changes come at a cost and will need to be built into your budget. Renovations may be minor, such as $2,000 to equip the bathroom with grab bars, seating and a no-step shower entry, or more substantial, like creating a first-floor master suite. Your financial advisor can help you crunch the numbers to determine if the one-time expenses associated with remodeling make sense when compared to the costs of an independent living community or assisted living facility.

Building for the future

Once you know your budget for improvements, you should seek a contractor who specializes in this type of work. Ask friends, family and neighbors for recommendations or visit to search for a certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS). These professionals have been trained in the unique needs of elder adults; aging-in-place home modifications; common remodeling projects; and solutions to common barriers.

Each CAP specialist will have a different approach, so be sure to find one who understands your desired lifestyle and fits your budget. Before you settle on someone, check them out through your local Better Business Bureau, a consumer protection service or via online reviews; make sure they’re licensed for this type of work and have plenty of experience; and obtain a written estimate with detailed specifications. Then start to phase in some of the changes that could turn your house into a retirement dream home.

More than 80% of people over 45 prefer to stay in their homes even if they need assistance, according to an AARP study.


Lest you think the majority of these kinds of home improvements will be industrial looking or downright ugly, consider that the massive baby boomer generation has inspired the proliferation of both affordable and luxurious components that enhance the beauty and value of your home, as well as your comfort. Today’s universal designs are more subtle and appeal to a wide range of homeowners. It’s simply a matter of finding options that fit your needs and your aesthetic.

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