We can talk about universal design and show picture upon picture of upscale new products designed for aging-in-place, but the fact that the question, “Won’t accessibility modifications decrease the value of my home?” continues to be asked, tells me that we’re not yet done with the conversation.
Simply put, accessibility modifications that are poorly done will definitely decrease the value of your home. On the other hand, accessibility modifications grounded in good design will increase its value. Like all home renovations, if a project is done well it will appeal to others. If not, it will become a negative when you try to sell your home. The determination of a home’s value is not a science but rather an art that combines an objective comparison of size and features to other homes in the neighborhood, with a subjective evaluation of any extra amenities that might set your home apart from the others.
So why are modifications directed at making a home safer and more comfortable for its occupants given such a bum rap? I think that part of the problem is the perception that accessibility modifications will look institutional. Until quite recently, most people’s exposure to walk-in showers, grab bars, and ramps came through visits to family in nursing homes or hospitals. Certainly the majority of builders have not included these features in their model homes, nor do we see interior design magazines focusing on ways to handle accessibility modifications. We’re left thinking that anything other than the current trend in home design is a negative. It’s ridiculous, really, that we’re forced to modify our homes to accommodate aging rather than have our homes built with a view to the long term. If architects and builders had given any thought to an aging population, they might not have designed and built so many step down showers, step up entrances, 28” doorways or 5’ x 8’ bathrooms – all features that are difficult to maneuver as we age and become more infirm.
We can probably all agree that updated kitchens and baths add value to a home so let’s look at some common accessibility modifications to those two rooms to assess how these modifications might affect home value.
Since most adults encounter problems maneuvering into a bathtub as they get older, the most common accessibility modification for those who want to age in place is to replace the tub with a shower, preferably one that is “curb-less”. A curb-less shower has no step or curb separating it from the rest of the bathroom floor but rather is at the exact same level as the rest of the bathroom. The shower floor is imperceptibly pitched to a center drain and often additional trench drains are set along the edge of the shower floor to deter any water from the shower running into the bathroom. When consideration is given to the design of a curb-less shower, it becomes an enhancement to any bathroom and a pleasure for everyone to use.
The kitchen is another area of the home often requiring modification for accessibility as most standard kitchens are not well designed for someone in a wheelchair or using a walker. To allow for everyone to use a kitchen comfortably, there should be counters of varying heights, easy to reach top shelves and pull out bottom shelves, front control appliances that can be used while seated, non-slip flooring, and contrasting edged counters. Below is a picture of a kitchen specifically designed for all ages and abilities (universal design). There is nothing in this kitchen to detract from home value. In fact, it's just the opposite - most people see a very functional yet beautifully renovated kitchen.
The important thing to note is that while accessibility modifications are done to accommodate those with disabilities, when well thought out and well designed the results are attractive and usable for all. When
you think about it, if you design a home that everyone can use comfortably, no matter their abilities or disabilities, you’ve opened up the market of those who would be interested in purchasing your home. And there’s nothing negative about that.