With many areas of the country now in a down sales cycle, it makes a lot of sense to consider some changes that will make your home more comfortable — for you but not necessarily the next potential owner.

In fact, aging-in-place renovation work is expected to provide one of the bright spots for residential construction as the industry eventually begins gaining ground, according to panelists at the recent National Association of Home Builders’ remodeling show.

If you don’t have to move, brighten and lighten and enjoy your place until the market recovers. Don’t spend all your energy on creating a new room that a potential new buyer might enjoy.

Ninety percent of all remodeling projects take more than one year of appreciation in order to recover the costs of the improvement. And, some projects never even get close to becoming a financial wash. But don’t get carried away with a pet project that you think may draw the eye of a potential home buyer. Make changes that you and your family can enjoy.

In fact, it may be a good time to revisit your long-term housing needs and consider staying right where you are. Some older homeowners are just now beginning to think about ways to tastefully modify their homes to enable them to remain living independently — and more safely and comfortably. Solutions to problems often exist, but people are not always aware of the products.

Home modifications refer to adaptations to homes that can make it easier for someone to carry out daily activities, such as preparing meals, climbing stairs and bathing, as well as changes to the physical structure of a home to improve its overall safety and condition. These project designs have come a long way. They are custom, attractive amenities that no longer sing out "an old person lives here" that can also enhance the resale value of the home. These improvements and alternations can serve all ages, hence the term "universal design."

For example, universal design features, or UD, include installing lever-style doorknobs and faucet handles, providing kitchen counters with different heights, placing electric outlets higher and light switches lower on walls and creating at least one no-step entry into the home.

Minnesota-based Lifease Inc. charges a modest fee for its online questionnaire, LivAbility, which allows homeowners to assess their needs and abilities and then obtain personalized suggestions to improve their living environment. After the questionnaire is completed, the Lifease engine selects solutions based on the input. The resulting report includes ideas and products for safety, convenience, comfort and independence in the home. Low- and no-cost solutions are listed. If the solution is a product, Web sites are given for the supplier with a range of prices. If appropriate, the rationale for listing the product is included.

Another company, Florida-based SAFE Aging Inc., has developed a questionnaire for older adults, which identifies potential risks or hazards that can threaten health, safety or function in the home. The Safety Appraisal For Elders (SAFE) can be completed privately at home, with or without assistance, and is also modestly priced.

Homeowners of all ages have roots in their communities and strong emotional ties to their homes. Few people want to move solely because their house no longer fits their needs. The problems faced by older individuals are compounded by the fact that they live in the oldest housing stock. These homes may have deferred maintenance, with roof or plumbing leaks, heating deficiencies, or dangerous electrical problems in addition to a lack of adequate lighting, railings, storage and other accessibility concerns.

Modification needs often get lost among many other pressing maintenance items, prolonging dangerous arrangements that may lead to falls and subsequent isolation.

The way we live and work has changed dramatically in the past decade and our expectations of our homes have changed, too. If you are dead set about selling your home at some point down the road, don’t gamble that your taste in a new kitchen, den or master suite will match the desires of the potential home buyers that come through your door. Don’t waste your time — or jeopardize your money — by undertaking remodeling projects in an attempt to draw potential home buyers to an open house. It takes too long and you could easily guess wrong.

To get even more valuable advice from Tom, visit his Second Home Center.


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