Aging homeowners stay put, seek to remodel places they call home

Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2002

DENVER (AP) -- Alan and Julie Stewart converted their kitchen cabinets into drawers to hold pots and pans. They widened the doorways and eliminated all stairs in the house.

They age-proofed it, not for their grandchildren, but for themselves. The couple are in their 80s and getting around has become more difficult.

''It's fixed up for older, disabled people,'' Alan Stewart said. ''It's a lot safer. It's a lot less tense for us not having to watch for steps.''

This type of home modification is referred to as remodeling for ''aging-in-place,'' something building industry representatives say is growing as baby boomers mature and seniors look for a more active lifestyle than what is provided in retirement homes.

''People want to maintain that independence,'' said Louis Tenen-baum, an independent living strategist based in Potomac, Md.

''They don't want to move into a home where someone else decides when they will have lunch.''

Tenenbaum, who has advocated aging-in-place at national conferences, supports increased government funding, from such sources as Medicare and Social Security, to help pay for the remodeling.

''The age wave is coming and people are starting to find ways to deal with it,'' he said.

In addition to staying in their homes, aging baby boomers are searching for active adult communities with spas and Internet access.

The fastest-growing segment of the retirement market wants to stay close to home, builders say.

To accommodate the need, homebuilders and remodelers are becoming more creative by designing homes and retrofits that are useful and aesthetic, architect Doug Walter said.

''There's no excuse for clunky-looking or institutional-looking bathrooms,'' he said.

In the Stewarts' home, the shower grab bars match the towel holders and the wider doorways are enclosed with double doors.

They could have moved to a new home with built-in amenities, but they preferred to remain in the home where they've lived for more than 40 years.

They even made plans to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary here with 200 friends in late June.

Walter predicts the remodeling market will surge as baby boomers age.

''The baby boom generation is doing OK in their 50s, but give us another 10 years and a lot more of these accessibility issues will be in the forefront,'' he said.

The National Home Builders' Association launched an aging-in-place certificate in May to train professionals about the skills needed to make home modifications that accommodate seniors.

The association estimates residential remodeling to be a $180 billion industry.

In its latest survey of the remodeling industry, Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies projected that baby boomers will account for the creation of 12 million new households as a result of ''empty nests'' and new single-person households.

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