House hunting is often objective instead of subjective, meaning that people house hunt with their hearts instead of with their minds. You fall in love with a yard, a neighborhood, the number of bedrooms a place has, or maybe even the wall paper pattern in the breakfast nook. Sellers know this and it is not usual for them to hire professionals to “stage” their apartments/houses so that they look really good. The seller is hoping that you will fall in love with what you see instead of what you want or need.
If you are going to the trouble to downsize, you want to be sure that everything is going to be just right. Downsizing is more than just buying a smaller house. This time around you will be looking for a place that will make life easier for you. You don’t have to worry about what school district you will be in or how far you have to drive to work, but other considerations will come into play. Universal design features, location, and transportation systems are a few of the words you will hear mentioned. Some homes today include elements of “universal design”, which means they are designed to improve the lives of people with special needs. These houses are designed to accommodate people with arthritis, older people and people with handicaps. Retirement communities and senior only apartments are often designed with these specifications, but not everyone can afford what they might call a “smart house.”
A small one story house is a good place to start. My husband watches the housing market closely. We are studying what is available versus what we are really looking for. It is not a bad idea to tour open houses in your neighborhood, whether you are in the market or not. Think of it as good practice. Identify what you see and think about whether it is just right or could be renovated to make it just right. Don’t look at the wallpaper, but at whether the house would be a good fit for you. What if you had to use crutches, a walker, or even a wheelchair?
It is unlikely that you will find a house with all of the features that you want, but each one present is a step in the right direction. Start with an open floor plan. If you are thinking about remodeling you don’t want to be dealing with a lot of walls and small spaces. Don’t forget to look at manufactured home floor plans. Whether this kind of housing appeals or not, you will come away with some great ideas. I am amazed at how open and airy they are and am impressed that they looked much larger than the square footage would imply. Some universal design features will be expensive, but others are things that you can implement quickly and inexpensively. If you feel this is above your personal level of expertise, consult an expert. You can find architects and contractors who specialize in accessibility design and renovations. Their input could be priceless. You can have them inspect your existing home, or a prospective home, to see if alterations are feasible and within your budget.
On the other hand, if you have the time and inclination you can do most of this yourself. For example: you can check to make sure there are no steps or stairs, or if the doorways and hallways are wide with low or no thresholds. You probably won’t find grab bars or raised toilet seats in most bathrooms, but does it look like they could be installed? Is there room for a walk in tub or easily accessible shower? Are the counters lower than usual, cabinets with slide out shelves, keyless locking systems or motorized blinds and curtains? These are just a few considerations but you can find a checklist as close as your local library, or get information from your state Division on Aging. Take a few minutes to browse and then take a checklist with you when you tour homes in your neighborhood.