Color & Control:

Home Improvements

Will you move or improve? Based on your needs, the decision may differ.


By Pat M. Irwin

Owning a home is a major responsibility and a considerable asset. It’s no surprise then that, regardless of their age, homeowners want to protect their investment, reduce any risks, and live comfortably and safely. However, older adults often have more to think about than those who are middle-aged or new homebuyers when it comes to ongoing home maintenance and repairs, as well as the potential need for modifications. What are the best investments to make in your home when you’re 65 or older? Is it all about resale, or should you be thinking about being able to live safely and comfortably in your home for as long as possible? What are the options and what are others considering? Let’s have a look.

Home improvement (img 1)Donna and Brian:

Cashing out They have lived on their street for 45 years—and suddenly it’s the latest hot neighbourhood! They want to cash out and use the funds to winterize their cottage so that they can retire up north. Instead of renovating, they’ve decided to focus on their home’s curb appeal and stick to cosmetic upgrades, such as a new paint job and landscaping. Their realtor has advised them to list the house “as is,” meaning they don’t have to guarantee the home’s condition. They also hire a surveyor to inspect the house, and provide the report with the listing.

If Donna and Brian had chosen to invest in improvements that enhanced safety and livability as well as their home’s value, here’s what they might had done. Outside: Do outdoor porches, pathways and decks have step-free entrances, good lighting, rails and non-slip surfaces? Can the mailbox be accessed safely and easily, and is the walkway wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair? Is the house number clearly visible from the street and well lit at night? Inside: Are rooms and hallways well lit, with light switches conveniently located and illuminated? Are bathrooms accessible, with grab bars, non-slip mats and an easy-to-access shower or tub? If the home is more than 40 years old, has an accredited electrician inspected and updated the wiring, fuse box, electrical cords and appliances?

Home improvement (img 2)Catherine and Roy:

Aging in place They are prepared to do whatever it takes to make “aging in place” easy. They’re never leaving their home, and invite an occupational therapist into their house to make recommendations. After all, they know that the normal aging process often means declining vision, hearing, sense of touch or smell and bone density, all of which can increase the risk of falls or injury. Together they research and install slip-resistant flooring to limit the risk of falling, and install a few more electrical outlets to avoid tripping over tangles of power-bar extensions. They also purchase a stacked, front-opening washer–dryer at kitchen level to reduce trips up and down the basement stairs. In the kitchen, they reorganize storage into the lower cupboards and add sliding shelves to three of the main cupboards for easier access. For the time being they leave the appliances as they are, but reposition small electronics such as toasters and kettle so they aren’t near the stove. The core of the home, they’re told, is its HVAC—heating, ventilation and air conditioning. They renew their annual service and maintenance contract.

Home improvement (img 3)Robert and Mary-Jo:

Renovating and redecorating They have always taken pride in their bungalow and are full of good ideas to renovate it and stay put. Realtors, designers and contractors agree—if you want to renovate or redecorate, go right ahead! If you will enjoy it for the next five to 15 years, do what you want—but don’t count on recouping your investment. Styles change and purchasers can gut and rebuild; and don’t assume that pool for the grandkids will be a selling feature, especially in 15 years. Perhaps Mary-Jo and Robert’s best asset is the fact that their bungalow is all on one level. By incorporating universal design features as part of their retrofit, they will improve their home’s livability, safety and property value in the long-term. Three couples with three very different approaches—who is right and who is wrong? They are all right, of course, because the correct answer depends on the individual’s circumstances, need for liquid assets, and ability to live independently and manage required tasks for as long as possible.

Further reading • The Safe Living Guide—A Guide to Home Safety for Seniors. • Seniors’ Falls in Canada. • Canadian Standards Association (—to verify that appliances are certified as safe for use in Canada. • The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) provides a variety of information resources on the “accessible and adaptable housing” pages of its website, including specific publications on aging in place.

Pat Irwin, BA, AICB, CPCA, is a regular Caregiver Solutions contributor and President of ElderCareCanada.

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