How to plan to stay in your house as you age

Where do you want to age? To spend your quote-unquote golden years. If you’re like the vast majority of people (and my mother…and Carolyn…and me) home would be your preference, rather than a nursing home or an assisted living facility. My mother informed me during one of our conversations about getting older that she figures she’ll give me some cash to add onto my current home and she’ll live there, which doesn’t sound like a bad plan at all. But one thing I learned from talking to Carolyn, who specializes in outfitting homes so that people can age in place, is that these days you have more options than ever. Here’s a look at some of them.

  • Consider a village. Villages, not-for-profit communities that take members and serve the middle-to-upper middle class, are growing by leaps and bounds. According to Rutgers University, the median membership for villages grew by about 33 percent from January 2011 through January 2012. Generally, these operations rely on volunteers to keep them going as well as a couple of full-time staffers (paid out of the dues from members). These folks help with transportation, home maintenance and other small services members might need. Think of them as a cross between a Home Owners Association and a food coop. If the thought of moving to a place where neighbors are inclined to help each other out appeals, Google “village” for one nearby.
  • Customize your current home. Retirement doesn’t mean moving – nor does it necessarily mean bringing in the contractors to install ramps and other expensive paraphernalia. Perhaps someday, you’ll need that. Meanwhile, some simpler (cheaper) fixes will suffice. For example, if you have throw rugs either pick them up or nail them down. That way you won’t trip and fall on a wayward corner. Install grab bars in bathrooms and anywhere else you feel off where your footing is concerned (and if grab bars make you feel old, look into fire poles and other things you can grab onto that feel a little more up-to-date). And make sure the lights are bright enough for you to see steps, corners and any other obstacles.
  • Add “smart home” touches. The home of the future may be able to cook the chicken you left defrosting on the top shelf of the fridge. You don’t need to be that high tech – but a few safety and communication improvements assure that if something happens when you’re home and alone, you won’t be alone for long. Consider an alarm system that comes with emergency assistance, video cameras, motion detectors and the like. Also, you want to be able to communicate with this system from your mobile devices – you don’t want to have to get across town, or even across the room.
  • Get help if you need it. One reason so many people are so interested in aging in place is to minimize costs. No question, out of home care is expensive. But you also want to be sure that you’re not allowing your wallet to get in the way of your safety. Make sure that someone is coming in at least once, if not more, each week to do a thorough cleaning, that the landscaping is being taken care of, and that you have an up-to-date list of reputable plumbers, electricians, appliance repair and HVAC folks to call on in an emergency. (Service contracts are also a good idea.)
  • Finally, none of this is a good thing to wrap your brain around in a crisis. The worst time to think about aging in place is when there’s been an incident – a broken hip, perhaps, or a bypass – that forces you to think about aging in general. At that point, you’re making decisions because you’re desperate. That is never a good idea. Instead, talk about this when you’re healthy and thinking about the future you want…then make a plan to get there, step-by-step.
Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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