Aging in Place: Help Clients Protect their Accessibility Renovations

Our homes are a special place, both financially and emotionally. In addition to often ranking as an individual’s largest financial asset, the home holds decades of loving memories of growing up or raising a family for many homeowners.

It makes sense, then, that 72% of homeowners recently told Chubb they want to continue to live in their home as they age—also known as “aging in place.”

But aging in place is often easier said than done, especially as the accessibility limitations associated with aging set in. As a result, homes that were once easy to move around can become limiting—and sometimes even a safety concern for older adults. Fortunately, homeowners can make a number of accessibility renovations today to prepare for tomorrow.

Considering 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 11 years, according to the Pew Research Center, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with accessible design.

A majority 82% of homeowners say they would need to make renovations to their home to comfortably age in place, according to a recent Chubb study. While these renovations range in size and scope, they are all necessary to ensure accessible design. Here are four key areas to focus on:

1) Access and egress: From the moment a client pulls into their driveway, they need to be able to get around. The slope or grade from their driveway to the front door should be level, and the level to the front door should not be more than half an inch from the floor. If there are stairs leading to the front door, consider installing a ramp or lift. Once inside, all doorways should be at least 32 inches wide.

2) Interior design: When renovating for accessibility, use hard-surface flooring and avoid throw rugs. Furniture should also be arranged to allow for maximum turning space and circulation. When picking closets and cabinetry, opt for sliding or pocket doors that are easier to open. Finally, choose hardware, faucets and appliances that can be operated with one hand or limited hand function. Pass on anything that requires pinching or turning to open.

3) Bathroom: The bathroom deserves a category for itself, both because it is a commonly used area of the home and often presents the most accessibility and safety challenges. Start by installing grab bars around the toilet, as well as a toilet riser or raised-height seat. For the shower, grab bars can help, but it can also be a good idea to install a permanent or portable bench. If clients have a bathtub or shower with a step up, replace it with a low-threshold shower and install a hand-held shower head.

4) Electronics: Electrical outlets are easy to overlook and should be relocated to ensure they are within reach and don’t require bending to access. In the event that medical equipment is necessary down the line, adding outlets to the bedroom during a renovation can be a good idea.

In addition to the above areas of focus, it’s also a good idea to understand your clients’ passions and where they like to spend time in their home. For instance, if they enjoy their backyard or garden, consider transitioning the space to make maneuvering easier. If clients enjoy their kitchens, pay attention to reachable areas and meal preparation space.  

After renovations are complete, the hard part for clients is over. But for independent agents and brokers, the work is just getting started. Post-renovation, the most immediate question is how these changes impact the replacement cost value of the home. While some changes are relatively low-cost, such as the installation of grab bars which can cost as little as $200, larger renovations can meaningfully impact replacement value.

For instance, the installation of an exterior ramp to improve access to a home can cost more than $5,000, depending on the materials used, while adding a walk-in shower to the bathroom can run clients close to $6,000.

The cost of renovations can add up quickly. It’s therefore critical that agents and brokers help clients understand the implications, and how replacement value differs from a home’s market value.

Empowered with this information, independent agents and brokers can work with their clients to ensure that their homes are protected and that they can continue to age in place comfortably.

Jennifer Naughton is executive vice president at Chubb Personal Risk Services.