Demand for housing that fits the needs of an aging population is on the rise, and along with it, the need for resources to help facilitate seniors’ transition to accessible living quarters.
A growing number of local professionals are acquiring the skills necessary to help older adults through whatever that change entails.
According to the Administration on Aging’s “A Profile of Older Americans: 2012,” there were 41.4 million Americans age 65 and over in 2011 — an 18 percent increase since 2000.
In local counties including Schenectady, Saratoga, Montgomery, Fulton and Schoharie, the proportion of residents age 65 and older topped New York state’s average of 13.7 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Many people wait too long to make changes in their housing situation, noted Laurie Bacheldor, manager of the Schenectady County Department of Senior and Long Term Care Services.
If seniors wait for a crisis to occur, their options become much more limited, she said.
Bacheldor recommended downsizing in phases, starting with things that can make an existing home more manageable, like hiring someone to clean the house or mow the lawn.
When a more drastic change is necessary, a real estate agent often comes into play.
About five years ago, Yvonne Matthews, an associate broker with Purdy Realty in Burnt Hills, obtained a Seniors Real Estate Specialist certification through the National Association of Realtors to help better serve her older clients.
“Around here there’s a huge population of older resident homeowners on a fixed income with the taxes going up, so they really need good advice,” she said.
Offered by the NAR since 2007, the SRES certification course has seen increased enrollment over the past two years. Currently there are about 15,000 real estate professionals in the U.S. and Canada who hold the certification, according to Heidi Henning, managing director of the SRES Council.
The course covers topics ranging from marketing a home to aging in place.
The needs of Matthews’ older clients vary greatly. Some want to downsize to a condo, some are in search of a smaller single-family home, and others want to modify their existing home to meet their changing needs.
“A couple of my clients have gone into their children’s homes and then they have used the income of their [home’s] sale to build a wing onto their children’s home,” she noted.
Patience is important when working with older clients, Matthews said.
“You can’t just see them as a transaction because sometimes you’re just going to be advising them, like [suggesting] builders’ names. It might not even be a sale for you,” she said.
Seniors Real Estate Specialist Reisa Farber of RealtyUSA in Schenectady said she’s found that many people who migrate to warmer climes after retirement wind up moving back to the area to be close to family.
The Capital Region is starting to offer more housing options for seniors, she noted.
“One of the things that has proven to be a wonderful asset is that we now have homes with first floor [master bedrooms] even if they’re not ranches,” she said.
But many homes in the region, especially older ones, were not built with disabled access in mind. That’s a major issue for seniors because the majority of them don’t want to move out of their home, said Will Stoner, associate state director for livable communities for AARP.
“Whenever we do a survey, whether it’s a national survey, statewide survey or community-level survey, more than 89 percent respond that they want to age in place in their own home,” he said.
Stoner stressed that home accessibility is something people should think about well before they reach senior status.
“Accessibility for someone who is in a wheelchair or has a walker is the same accessibility for the mother or father pushing a baby stroller. We try to get our younger members to realize this is not about being 90 years old; this is about buying a home that will meet your needs throughout your entire lifespan,” he said.
The National Association of Home Builders and AARP developed a training program that builders can take to become Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists. In New York, the program started in 2006.
The New York State Builders Association provides the training, which teaches construction professionals how to build accessible homes and how to make modifications to existing homes to enhance accessibility.
According to the association’s website, there are close to 20 Certified Age-in-Place Specialists in the Capital Region, seven of whom work at Schrader and Company in Burnt Hills.
Schrader and Company is doing work for a growing number of customers who are looking to make their homes easier to live in as they age, according to office manager Rose Kenyon.
The most popular request is bathroom remodeling, she noted.
“What they are doing is taking the bathtub out and putting in nice shower units with seats in them and all kinds of grab-bars,” she said.
Comfort-height toilets with nearby grab-bars are typically part of the job as well.
The company has also made entire homes wheelchair accessible by widening doorways, smoothing thresholds and building outdoor ramps, she said.
Not only do homes have to be accessible, but communities as well, Stoner pointed out.
AARP is in communication with Albany, Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs about the possibility of becoming part of the Age-Friendly Cities and Communities program created by the World Health Organization, he said.
The program includes a global network of cities that have agreed to become more accessible to seniors in an effort to help them live in security, enjoy good health and continue to participate fully in society.