There is a tremendous and growing interest in aging in place – staying in one’s present home forever without the need to consider moving from it. So, doesn’t it seem like builders and remodelers would create or redefine homes so that they would be considered as aging in place homes? Doesn’t it seem like the time might be right to build homes that could be claimed by people wanting to find their forever homes and move into them?
It might seem like builders could do this. After all, what is so hard about designing and building homes that could serve people for many years? Turns out, plenty. When one understands what aging in place really is, we see that this really isn’t possible. Builders can create a home that largely is accessible, but they can’t anticipate the needs of any person who might want to live in that home – now or twenty years from now.
Builders can create visitable homes and incorporate many universal design aspects into their new homes. This helps with aging in place, but it only goes so far. Because aging in place is totally an individual experience, there is no way a builder can design for the needs of a single person unless it is a custom home. Unless we have a contract with a builder to create a home just for us, and only for us, they can’t know what we will want in the home. Building a home and hoping that someone like us will come along and fall in love with it is not good business because that home may sit there empty for quite a while until we (or someone like us) comes along.
Each aging in place experience is going to be different, as are the needs of people seeking those homes. Rather than creating new homes for people to find and then decide to move into them, people are remaining in the homes they already have and aging in place in those dwellings. While we expect that people buying homes today – largely for reasons they like or for features that appeal to them now – will not how much they like the location of that home, the general layout of it, the features included in it, or the general economic benefits that accrue to them until they have lived in that home for several years.
After a period of time of living in a home and finding that it generally checks all of the boxes for them as far as what they are looking for or need in a long-term home, that dwelling can be thought of as a forever or permanent home. Now, the occupants have an aging in place home, but they didn’t purchase it with this designation – it grew into or became that over time.
The point is that as strong as new homes might be in generally meeting the needs of someone who finds them attractive and desirable, there is no way to know how that how a particular home will age over time with someone who purchases it. It could be the ideal home that seems to meet a person’s needs when they purchase it, and it could continue that way rather indefinitely. Thus, it could have been purchased as a potentially aging in place home – that turned out to be just that – but neither the builder nor the purchaser would have known that at the outset. It took time to make this a reality.
Homes can’t be built to accommodate the changing needs of people. While someone might find a new construction or existing home that seems to meet their needs as they know them at this point in their lives, those needs can be quite different in a few years. Homes evolve over time just as the people who live in them do. What seemed spacious, accessible, or convenient at one time can seem more challenging later as people’s physical and sensory needs change. Reach, range of motion, balance, coordination, stamina, and general mobility can make areas of the home that previously seemed alright to them quite difficult to use. Cabinets, steps, the bathtub or shower, and other common usage areas can make the home seem less desirable or perfect for them. This is when it’s time to consider renovations or modifications.
Such modifications can return the home to its former “good fit” for the owners or make it an even better fit for the way they are today. These are aging in place renovations done to address a person’s current needs that could not have been known or anticipated when the home originally was purchased. This is why it takes time for a home to become something we deem aging in place and why it can’t be created that way from the beginning.