Housing & Mortgage
Long-Term Aging-in-Place: Remodeling Projects
If you want to stay put in your home as you age -- as many say they do -- and you’ve made some smaller changes that’ll keep Future You safe, it’s time to up the ante.
A major remodeling project is a big financial step, but if it buys you more time in the home you love, it can be worthwhile. In 2018, the average national monthly cost to live in an assisted living facility was $4,000, a private room in a nursing home $8,000. That can make a $50,000 remodeling project that keeps you at home cheap by comparison.
Before starting, sit down with a financial planner who can help you run the numbers on remodeling costs and discuss whether you can truly afford to stay in the home. Even if the mortgage is paid off, there will always be property tax and maintenance.
If you don’t already work with a pro, certified financial planners who belong to the Garrett Planning Network will work on a project basis for an hourly or set fee. (No endorsement implied. We mention them because they're fiduciaries, meaning they have to put your interests first, and they'll work on an hourly basis.)
If you decide it makes financial sense to remodel for an older you, here are some projects to consider:
Stair-free entry. A steep climb into your home not only makes it harder on you, it can keep friends from visiting. You needn’t overhaul your front door; a side or back entrance with a gentle ramp works. A simple, short ramp might cost $1,000; a more extensive ramp that replaces multiple stairs could cost $6,000 or more.
Stair-free bedroom and bath. Add these to the entry level, so you can more quickly move back home after an injury or illness. Building an addition can run $20,000 to $60,000, according to HomeAdvisor. Converting existing space would be cheaper. If a first-floor en suite isn’t possible, consider a stair lift at some point.
Kitchen for an older you. Remodeling costs vary widely. The national average is about $20,000, Home Advisor says, but can easily be double or triple that. Age-in-place features to consider:
Drawers, not cabinets. For the pots, pans and food you use frequently, drawers no higher than the countertop can be pulled out easily. No reaching into a deep cabinet.
Non-slip flooring. Cork and engineered products give you safety without skimping on style.
Side-by-side fridge and freezer: Keeps you from reaching up or stooping down to get to the freezer.
Safe bathroom. Properly installed grab bars are a must. Other features to consider:
Wide door entry. The standard 30-inch entry makes it hard for a wheelchair or walker; 36 inches is ample. According to Retirement Living, the average cost per door-widening is $800.
Level-entry shower with a built-in bench or space for a stool. A hand-held showerhead can reach to where you’re seated. Retirement Living estimates the cost ranges from $3,000 to $15,000.
Higher toilet. Squat exercises may help an older you sit down and get up with ease, everywhere. Still, a higher toilet seat helps. HomeAdvisor estimates this can cost $150 to $800.
Non-slip floor. And lose the bath mat, a tripping magnet.
Add an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). If you have room in the yard, building a small, self-sufficient living space can make it possible for parents to be close while everyone has their own area. Or the ADU could be for a renter who takes on a few house chores and, perhaps later, where a professional caretaker can live. In AARP’s aging-in-place survey, one-third of participants said they were open to building an ADU, and the #1 reason was space for a loved-one who needs care. Start by checking with your local building department to understand zoning and building code rules. The all-in cost for a detached ADU can be more than $100,000. That’s less than two years of assisted living.
Interested in more projects? The National Association of Home Builders offers a checklist of age-in-place remodeling work that can keep your house safe and enjoyable for an older you.