Only 1 in 4 Retirees Achieve their Housing Goal of Aging in Place
Multiple studies reveal that 80-90% of retirees prefer to remain in their homes throughout retirement, i.e. Age in Place, however only about 20% succeed. This failure rate spans every socioeconomic segment of society. For such a wise and experienced demographic, with years to plan their retirement, it’s a very concerning statistic with consequences for the individuals, their families and their communities.
Why do so many fail? There are several compounding factors, but a few rise to the top as recurring issues.
Peter Pan Houses:
Nationwide, commercial contractors have been designing to ADA accessibility standards for over 25 years, but their residential counterparts are still building homes to layout specifications going back 200 years. Fewer than 1% of single family houses in the northeast US have any accessibility features, while at the same time, home buyers in Florida recognize and choose accessibility featured home designs without hesitation.
New construction in the northeast almost always calls for multiple steps at every entry and doorways. Even large new homes, well in excess of 2,000 square feet are found to have only 26 inch bathroom doorway clearances. That’s the absolute minimum for a walker, but too restrictive for maneuvering inside most bathrooms, and certainly too small for wheelchair access, where 36 inch openings are needed.
Unrealistic Home Plans:
In spite of a lifetime of experiences and decades of retirement savings planning, home planning for retirement is often largely based on unrealistic assumptions. Most retirees regard “home planning” as location and the amenities associated with quality of life, but have a hard time realistically assessing their future limitations. In just ten or twenty years, odds are good that they will have encountered at least one serious health event and almost certainly, decreased mobility and vision. Most of these same homeowners have an outdated stigma attached to multigenerational designs, and fear them as institutional.
Thanks to Universal Design concepts, developed over recent decades, barrier-free designs are now common to custom homes for their architectural and functional superiority. In fact, these designs now rank highest in appeal in today’s homes.
The state of acting against one’s better judgement, is termed “akrasia”, and It speaks to the underlying challenge noted above. People know they are going to age, in fact that is precisely their goal. They look around and see that the aging process reduces mobility and vision for a number of reasons, but have a very hard time envisioning themselves in that state, so they decide to wait to do anything tangible until they “have to”. The unfortunate reality is that taking on renovations in the midst of a serious health event, or loss of a partner, is usually entirely unrealistic at any point in life, and even more unrealistic in later years. Having failed to prepare the home in advance, they are forced into a crisis decision, often settling for less and paying more. The irony is that the homeowners knew this all along, and realized it would have protected their interests, yet chose to deny taking appropriate measures – “akrasia”. Dr. Patrick Joseph Roden, aginginplace.com has some excellent articles on this, and several related topics.
This barely touches the issues at play, but thankfully the control rests with homeowners. Even if it isn’t the destiny they envisioned, they are the ones in control and in a position to influence their own outcomes. Trends are moving toward more committed aging in place modifications, and signs are that this will continue to grow sharply. Government is showing no signs of mandating residential building codes based on ADA specifications, but eventually the cost of inaction will be too unpalatable to bear as these homeowners look to their state/community to provide crisis housing.