retirement

6 Things You Must Know About Aging in Place

Planning to stay put in retirement? Get your home ready now.

1. It pays to retrofit.

Basic design and structural modifications to a one-story home cost an average of $9,000 to $12,000, according to The MetLife Report on Aging in Place 2.0. Contrast that expense to the cost of assisted living, which averaged $3,600 per month in 2014, according to Genworth Financial, or $43,000 a year.

2. Think small.

Start with replacement hardware, such as lever-handled doorknobs and sturdy handrails along stairs. Install grab bars, single-handled faucets and "comfort height" toilets in the bathrooms. Upgrade your kitchen by adding rollout shelves and better undercabinet lighting. (For a comprehensive to-do list, see the "Aging-in-Place Remodeling Checklist" at www.nahb.org.)

3. Make it accessible.

Other modifications will cost more, and you may want to consult an expert. Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) -- who have completed a program developed by the National Association of Home Builders in collaboration with AARP -- can create a prioritized to-do list suited to your budget and resources (to search by zip code, visit the NAHB Web site at www.nahb.org and search for "CAPS Directory"). If, for example, your home has entry steps, consider installing a ramp; it will run $1,200 to $2,500, according to www.costowl.com. A curbless modular shower will cost $2,000 to $3,000 to install; a custom-tiled one could run $5,000 to $15,000, depending on the level of finish materials, fixtures and fittings, says Vince Butler, a builder in Clifton, Va., and a CAPS program instructor.

4. Consider the big picture.

Structural changes may include widening doorways and corridors and eliminating walls to accommodate wheelchairs and scooters, or even creating space in a multistory home to add an elevator later. The perfect time to make such adjustments is when you're updating or remodeling your home, when they'll add an average of 5% to your job cost, says Butler.

5. Tap your equity.

If you have substantial equity in your home, you have multiple ways to pay for improvements, such as a cash-out refinance of your mortgage, a home-equity loan or line of credit, or a reverse mortgage. For more information on reverse mortgages, visit the Web sites of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (search for "reverse mortgage") and the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. Veterans may be eligible for a grant to construct or retrofit their homes (see www.benefits.va.gov/homeloans/adaptedhousing.asp).

6. R2-D2 to the rescue.

Voice-activated robot helpers are on the way. Meanwhile, existing tech tools can help you stay in touch with family, caregivers and community, as well as monitor your health and provide for security, says Laurie Orlov, founder of the Aging in Place Technology Watch. For example, the BeClose system ($499 for equipment plus $99 a month) will alert your emergency contacts if you diverge from your usual activity pattern. Lively ($50 for the system plus $28 to $35 a month) is a "safety watch" that combines an emergency alert system with a fitness band. It will also remind you to take your medications.

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