What do Baby Boomers Want in Accessible Rentals?
By Kerry Curry, Contributing Writer
A significant number of baby boomers want to move into rental properties as they age. Housing that is accessible for aging or disabled baby boomers will be a key factor in their decisions about where to live.
One story single-family properties, multifamily properties with elevators, accessible entries, and hard-surface floors to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers are just a few of the amenities aging Americans will seek in their housing for retirement — whether it is a place that they rent or buy.
As baby boomers age into their 70s, 80s and 90s, these accessibility issues will bubble to the forefront and become an important consideration in their housing decisions.
Freddie Mac, in a recent survey of homeowners age 55 or more, noted these older homeowners control almost two-thirds or $8 trillion of the nation’s home equity, and their actions — to rent, buy or stay put — could shape the housing market for years to come.
Rental demand from older Americans robust
The good news for residential rental property investors is that a sizable number of baby boomers are renting already. They already comprise about a third of the rental population, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
From 2005 to 2015, the largest share of the nation’s rental growth — 55 percent — was among households age 50 and older — the baby boomer and older generations — while 34 percent was among households age 30-49 (Gen-X), and 11 percent was among households under age 30 (Millennials), according to JCHS. To attract this older cohort, rental property investors must be ready to provide accessible rentals.
Here are a few things to think about:
- Exterior doors: Can someone in a wheelchair or walker get into and out of your rental property with relative ease? If there are stairs at the front door, is there at least one other separate entry either through the garage or back door without steps? Inside, can someone move about in a wheelchair or walker with relative ease?
- Can interior doors accommodate a wheelchair? Direct-access doors (with no turn required) need to be 32 inches wide to accommodate a straight-in approach from a wheelchair. Doors along a hallway that require a turn, need to be 36 inches, according to Adaptive Access, which sells products to make homes and businesses accessible to the physically disabled. Doors to bathrooms and closets often are narrower than that.
- Bathroom accessibility: The bathroom can be the most dangerous room of the house for an aging resident, says Access Home America, which sells accessibility products. Consider adding grab bars to the shower, tub and near the toilet as well as installing a 19-inch-high toilet. A fold-down seat in the shower or a shower bench is helpful. Are shower and tub controls reachable, easy to use and do they require little strength?
- Floors: Are floors in the rental property made of nonslip surfaces, especially in the bathroom?
- Laundry: Are the washer/dryer available on the main floor of the rental property?
- Doorknobs, faucets and handles: Lever-style faucets and doorknobs are easier for older adults to use. Handles on cabinets, rather than knobs, are also easier for seniors to use.
Investors with newer, open-concept rentals will likely find that making their rental properties accessible to the disabled and the aging will require fewer modifications than older homes with closed-off rooms, narrow hallways and stairways.
Making your rental property attractive to the aging population should not require a complete and expensive overhaul and can be a process that takes place over time. Given the demand, investors should certainly consider modifying their properties to accommodate older adults, especially as the population ages and baby boomers show an interest in renting.
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