Aging in Place or Downsizing? Be Prepared

As I write this, I am approaching the end of another interesting week. Two events left powerful and meaningful impressions on me. The first was a listening to a guest speaker discuss the ins and outs of aging in place. Many of the designs and considerations were not foreign to me. I have written some of my thoughts on this, and communicated them with my clients.

Many of us have heard of walk in tubs, roll in showers, raised toilets, ramps, chair lifts, bedrooms on the first floor, widening doorways, etc. But how many of us have taken the time to do it before we need these modifications and/or devices? If your loved one just had a stroke or someone other medical event that reduces mobility, how quickly can adapt your home? Besides the obvious financial considerations, what about the building permits? In many municipalities, you can’t just make modifications without zoning/planning board approval. Your spouse just had a stroke, how convenient is waiting for permits? (For more from this author, see: How to Plan Financially for a Chronic Illness.)

Adapting a Home

To give you an example of the permitting process, my parents wanted to put up a garage on property they own. There was an existing concrete pad from a garage that used to be on the property before my parents acquired it. The building department didn’t care. Rules are rules. The process took months, even before the first nail was hit with a hammer. My parents had to send certified mail with return receipts to every property owner within a given area. They had to inform them of the proposed structure, and their rights to oppose it. Fortunately, one neighbor spoke up on behalf of my parents. They wanted the building because its location would provide more privacy for their backyard.

How many of you will have neighbors who will speak on your behalf? Now think about this with respect to mobility improvements. How many of you will have the time and energy to go through the building department approval for a ramp and improved access? Now try doing it when you or your partner physically cannot get in or out of your home.

What if you planned before a need? I have seen some beautiful modifications that do not scream loudly: “Hey, look at me! I am a handicapped bathroom! I’m a handicapped accessible bedroom!” But the key is you planned for it. Early. When you had time, and probably money, on your side.

If you don’t have money or time on your side, what’s next? Do you move in with family? Do you sell your home? Do you use home equity? What happens now? Will your financial advisors know what to do? How about your accountant? Your doctor?

Selling a Home

The second was a client who sold her home, and moved into an independent living center. Imagine having to downsize rapidly. The client wasn’t in a rush to move because her health was great, and she could afford the home’s upkeep and taxes. However, her real estate agent sold the house in less than a month. The process was overwhelming - inspections, mortgage approvals, bidding wars, etc. What about all the sentimental possessions? The sensitive information, such as years of tax returns, brokerage statements, etc. Are you, your parents, other loved ones, etc. capable of doing this quickly? Will you have to pay someone to help?

How many advisors are talking about the above with their clients? They helped you accumulate funds (hopefully), but are they prepared for the de-accumulation phase? Are they prepared to counsel you will aging in place and elder issues? Do they know where to help you find help?

If the above answers are none and no, shouldn’t you find professionals who understand your next phase of life? (For more, see: Real Estate Advice for Recent Retirees.)