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It’s Time to Change How the U.S. Thinks About Aging in Place

Millions of U.S. homeowners will want live in their homes for as long as possible, but not everyone will accept today’s antiquated concept of what it means to truly “age in place,” according to a recent study.

It’s time to change the conversation on aging in place to better address the personal preferences of today’s older homeowners and what they expect when it comes to their aging needs, says a report released this month by HomeAdvisor, a digital home services marketplace that provides homeowners with resources for their home repair, maintenance and improvement projects.

“We must change the discourse related to housing and aging,” states the report prepared by Marianne Cusato, HomeAdvisor’s housing expert and professor of the practice at the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture. “The dialog must be about adding features that enhance our lives today by offering a return on investment through livability, yet also happen to support the process of aging gracefully.”

One way to start on this path, the report suggests, is by rebranding the phrase “aging in place,” which HomeAdvisor denotes as an activity for old people, and begin a discussion instead about“thriving in place”—a goal for people of all ages.

The report, which is drawn from two recent HomeAdvisor surveys—one of 279 home service professionals and the second of 586 homeowners over the age of 55—arrives in the midst of America’s swelling aging population.

With already 108.7 million people, the population of Americans age 50 and older is expected to grow by another 10 million by 2020, according to AARP data cited in the HomeAdvisor report. Meanwhile, the number of adults age 85 and older is expected to more than triple by 2050.

Discussions about aging in place inevitably include the need for retrofitting the home with certain design elements meant to foster an older person’s ability to continue living in the residence.

As the inhabitant ages and their physical limitations change, installing features like grab bars and wheelchair access ramps are manageable upgrades homeowners can make. But while installing features like these can provide easy fixes to some aging in place issues, these have become elements of last resort for “old” people, HomeAdvisor says.

Today, more cutting-edge solutions such as smart in-home technology are rising to the forefront of aging in place solutions to improve safety and livability. Nearly 70% of homeowners over age 55 believe smart-home tech could help them age in place, yet fewer than 1 in 5 (19%) have actually considered installing it for such purposes. A similarly lacking adoption trend was found even for more conventional home renovation projects.

Although the majority of adults age 50+ plan to remain in their homes for as long as possible, HomeAdvisor found only 22% of homeowners have completed aging in place renovations, while nearly one-third (31%) have never even considered making at least one project.

Among those who haven’t considered any home improvement projects for their aging-related needs, the most common reasons, according to the report, are that homeowners don’t have any physical disabilities that would require such renovations (40%) and they do not consider themselves “old” enough to need them (20%).

There is also a disconnect between the level of preparedness homeowners think they have and what they are actually doing to ready themselves, and their homes, for aging in place.

Most homeowners over age 55 (67%) consider themselves to be proactive about making aging in place renovations, however, roughly 57% of home service professionals surveyed by HomeAdvisor indicated that aging in place projects account for less than 10% of the work requests they receive.

Moreover, only 20% of pros say most homeowners who contact them about aging in place projects reach out proactively, that is, before they have urgent home improvement needs.

Most professionals said the primary reasons homeowners hire them to do aging in place renovations are accessibility (50%) and safety (43%), while only 6% say homeowners hire them to make “ease of living” improvements like lowering countertops or installing low-maintenance landscaping.

When it comes to the timing of these projects, there are several compelling reasons for older homeowners to begin “thriving in place” renovation projects sooner rather than later, says HomeAdvisor’s Chief Economist Brad Hunter.

“If homeowners start early, they can spend sufficient time researching and planning to avoid wasted time and suboptimal solutions,” Hunter says in the report. “And, homeowners can protect, and possibly even raise resale value of the home by making the home more appealing to buyers in all age groups with modifications that have a broad appeal.”

Read the full HomeAdvisor report here.

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