How important is it for you to remain living in your home for as long as possible?
Against a backdrop of record home equity in the US, it seems like paying for improvements like no-barrier entryways and grab bars in bathrooms should be easy. For many, worry about high interest rates and debt has turned them away from HELOCs, cash-out refinances, and reverse mortgages. For others who are living on a fixed income, strict qualification requirements can put these products out of reach. Without enough cash on hand, many seniors have no solid plan for how to get their homes ready.
What do their homes need?
Only 17.8 percent of homeowners said their home was completely ready for them to age in place. More than one-third said their home is not at all ready for them to age in place. The most common features they reported already having were bathrooms, bedrooms and laundry rooms on the main floor.
Is your home ready for you to age in place? By this, we mean adding features like grab bars in bathrooms, barrier-free (no steps) exterior entry, nonslip flooring, wheelchair accessible doorways and kitchen features, etc.
What accessibility features do you currently have in your home? Choose all that apply.
Much is still needed by the majority of people who want to age in place. A barrier-free entry was the most common big-ticket item homeowners said they still needed, with 41 percent saying they need to add that feature to their home. Grab bars in bathrooms and shower benches were also common needs.
What accessibility features do you need to add to your home?
How much will it cost?
We dug deeper with the 83.2 percent of people who want to age in place, but who still need to add features to their homes to make that possible. We found many are not prepared to make those changes — with only 12.8 percent saying they are “very prepared” to update their homes.
How prepared are you to update your home with features to allow you to age in place?
Our results also raise the question of how realistic homeowners are being about the features they need. For example, 42.7 percent said they already have doorways wide enough to let a wheelchair circulate, but only 25.9 percent said they still needed them. That means nearly one-third of homeowners don’t have that feature, and don’t intend to add it.
The vast majority of homeowners expect to spend somewhere between $1,000 and $20,000 on improvements – although a notable 15 percent think they’ll need to spend between $20,000 and $50,000.
How much do you think it will cost to prepare your home for aging in place?
How will they pay for it?
Almost one-third of homeowners who want to age in place said they don’t know how they will pay for necessary improvements, despite anticipating thousands of dollars in costs. The good news is, another one-third says they already have enough cash on hand to get their homes ready. An additional 17 percent says they’ll save enough.
Notably, more homeowners said they would seek a Home Equity Investment than a reverse mortgage. Home Equity Investments (which are offered by Point) are a growing way for people to tap their home equity without monthly payments and interest.
How will you pay for updates to your home that are necessary to age in place? (asked of respondents who said their home is somewhat or not at all ready for aging in place).
We also asked homeowners who don’t want a reverse mortgage, HELOC or cash-out refinance why they are avoiding those loans. Avoiding debt was the most common answer, followed closely by having enough cash and concern about interest rates.
What is the primary reason you won't use a loan (like a reverse mortgage, cash-out refinance or a home equity line of credit) to pay for your updates?
Tips for homeowners
Like with most financial planning, preparedness is key. Whether you’re 50 or 80, if you know you want to remain in your home, it’s never too early to make plans. Here’s where to start:
First, be realistic about what physical features you need — or don’t know if you’ll need. In our survey, we saw a delta between people who have features like wheelchair-accessible doorways and those who say they need them. That may be ok, as long as you have a plan and the means to add those features if they’re needed — but you should create that plan now. The AARP has a great checklist for aging in place here.
Once you know what you’ll need (and when you want to make those improvements), talk to a contractor. Prices on materials and labor have risen tremendously in the past several years, so it’s smart to get a handle on how much you’ll need to spend. Even if you don’t intend to do the work now, this knowledge will help you plan.
When it comes to paying for the improvements, think about what’s important to you. Do you want to minimize monthly payments in retirement? Do you want to conserve equity for future generations? Generally, you can look at options in several buckets:
- If avoiding monthly payments is important, cash would be an obvious answer. But that’s not an option for many, so home equity investments and reverse mortgages are both smart options to consider. Neither of those comes with a monthly payment, but as we mentioned earlier, today’s higher interest rates on reverse mortgages have some homeowners opting for other options.
- If you are ok with monthly payments — maybe you’re still working and could pay off a loan quickly — HELOCs and cash-out refinances may be options. Home equity investments are also an option here, because you can buy back equity at any time, when you are able.
- If conserving equity is the most important factor, but you can’t make payments, cash will be king. Consider that you can control how much equity you tap in any of the other options.
The data for this survey was collected using SurveyMonkey Audience.
Information on how respondents are recruited to SurveyMonkey is available here: www.surveymonkey.com/mp/audience.
1035 homeowners ages 50-80 were surveyed on Mar. 2, 2023.
Appendix: Costs of features
Home Improvement: Estimated Cost
- Widen Hallways w/structural changes: $30,000
- Widen Hallways w/o structural changes: $1,400
- Grab bar installation: $300
- Curbless shower: $9,000
- Ramp installation: $3,000
- Elevator installation: $35,000 - 45,000
- Stairlift installation: $4,000 - 8,000
- Home Automation: Up to $10,000
- Non slip flooring in a bathroom: $8,000