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Safety, Suites, & Square Feet: Renovating for the Senior Years

Options for an aging population.

As people age, they want to stay in their homes. That’s a generalization, but it’s backed by a 2018 AARP study of adults age 50 and older. Consider also these homes may include more than one generation. In 2016, Pew Research estimated 64 million Americans (20% of the population) lived in multigenerational households — almost twice the number as in 1980. Given these trends, the need to rethink, renovate, and repurpose living space is an increasing reality.

Which home renovations can most benefit aging relatives?

For homeowners advancing in age, the time comes for a realistic assessment of what it will take to function independently.

Expanding your household. Helping an older relative accept the need for additional care for their safety and comfort can be difficult. Though taking in a loved one who’s advancing in age will probably mean changes at home, the outcome can be beneficial for the entire family. And when you compare the cost of a smart renovation with that of an independent or assisted living facility, it may save money, even if you need to pay outside caregivers.

Access & safety upgrades. If a few adjustments to the home could make a world of difference, list out these items to get an idea of cost and time. Upgrades and improvements for this scenario focus on accessibility, efficiency, and hazard mitigation. Non-slip flooring, access ramps, wider doors and hallways, lever faucets, bathroom bars, walk-in showers, and stair lifts are popular upgrades that can help older folks conserve energy and stay safe as they go about their daily routine. Once installed, these modifications can deliver life-changing — and sometimes life-saving — benefits.

Build in. An in-law suite integrated into a son or daughter’s home, or a caregiver suite built into the elderly relative’s home, provide the option of on-site care with the comfort of familiar or friendly surroundings. Often, when the decision to cohabitate is made between parents and grown children, the grandchildren are transitioning out of the house or already living on their own. This may offer the opportunity to combine their old bedrooms and create an expanded living space for mom, dad, or both.

Build out. Though it’s nice to have the option of redesigning an existing floorplan to create an in-law or caregiver suite, sometimes there’s simply not enough square footage to pull it off successfully. Moving your parents into your home might be the final push you need to green light the addition you’ve always dreamed of. Remember not to overbuild for your neighborhood. Ideally, you want to find a balance between comfortable living and your home’s functionality, attractiveness, and resale value.

Planning before refinancing.

Senior couple browsing home financing options for their home renovation

For many homeowners, a home loan refinance is the best way to free up the capital to pay for a renovation project. Before you make the move to refi, however, you’ll want to consult a few key people to make sure the rehab or addition is feasible.

Contractor. A quality homebuilder will give you a good sense of which project elements are possible, which are preferable, and which are potentially disastrous. For instance, the safest and easiest living space for older people is on the first floor, where they can avoid climbing stairs. To offer privacy and independence, a first-floor in-law suite may require another entrance. Is there anywhere to put another door? What will this do to your home’s efficiency? How will it fundamentally alter the floor plan and flow? A contractor can help you answer these questions.

Local authority. It’s essential that you know your area’s building ordinances before breaking ground. For instance, in some towns, single family homes are prohibited from containing two full kitchens without adding another official address to the location. The in-law suite, in this case, may not have an amenity you want. If an addition is on the table, you’ll need to know about zoning regulations and any other regulatory limitations that may affect your decision-making.

Mortgage loan officer. Determining financial feasibility is a critical step for any big project. Refinancing a home depends on same criteria as a home purchase, among them income, debt burden, and creditworthiness. Talk to your CrossCountry Mortgage loan officer about where you stand on these and other factors to give you an idea of your project’s possible scope.

Funding your renovation.

Grant funding and low-interest loans are available to senior homeowners through federal, state, and nonprofit entities to pay for crucial home repairs, better accessibility, and hazard removal. Your local Area Agency on Aging is a good place to start if you are looking for non-mortgage funds. For example, the USDA Section 504 Home Repair program offers grants up to $7,500 and 1% interest loans up to $20,000 for people age 62 and older who meet certain income and area eligibility standards.

There are several home loans to consider for renovations:

  • FHA 203(k) loans are available in both Standard and Limited versions, depending on the amount of money you’ll need.
  • Fannie Mae HomeStyle® and Freddie Mac CHOICERenovation® are conventional renovation loan programs offering financing up to 97% of loan-to-value.
  • A cash-out refinance allows you to pay off your existing mortgage and take out cash (as long as you have sufficient equity in your home).
  • A home equity line of credit (HELOC) allows you to draw money as needed from your home equity instead of as a lump sum. HELOC interest rates are typically lower than credit cards.
  • Senior homeowners who want to age in place may want to consider a reverse mortgage (age 60 and older) or Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM — age 62 and older). These specialized products have specific requirements and consumer protections, including independent counseling.

Your loan originator can help you choose the home financing that makes sense for your renovation project, whether it’s creating a suite from existing space, adding to your home, or making modifications to make life easier for aging. Call us to review your options!