Moving in or Modifying: Options for Disabled Homebuyers


Everyone enters the housing market with their own set of criteria representing their needs and wants. It can, however, be very difficult to find a good match for your criteria. Imagine how hard it can be for someone who requires disability-accessible housing to find a home that meets all their requirements and desires. They might find a single-level home that lacks level thresholds or an entrance wheelchair ramp. Another might have grab rails in the bathroom but with halls and doorways too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair or some other assistive device. It’s a laborious process, and there aren’t as many resources available to help as you might think.

Finding an Accessible Home
Usually, the internet is an inexhaustible source of information for house hunters, but there are surprisingly few places to turn for people with disabilities. Before beginning your search, write down your preferences and needs, and keep a close eye on listings in your area. Barrier Free Home and Accessible Properties are two sites that allow buyers to set criteria within a given area and provide information on your rights as a home buyer and a disabled individual. Zillow also lists some handicapped-accessible homes.

However, your best option will probably be to find a realtor with some experience working with accessible housing or, at least, someone who is well-versed in your area and understands the importance of finding a home with key accessibility features. They’ll be delighted that you’ve developed your own criteria and can discuss them with you in detail. Remember that the individual you engage has to be an advisor, not just a salesperson. And while they probably won’t be disabled themselves, they should be sensitive to the issues of disabled housing. And of course, their office should be easily accessible to you.

Modifying a Home
Many disabled home buyers have to settle for a house that comes closest to meeting their criteria, then go about the business of modifying it to meet their needs. That can mean a lot of work just to maneuver freely around your own home. You must be able to get in and out with no problem, to traverse hallways, and use the bathroom and kitchen with minimal difficulty.

Your front and back doors should be easily accessible, which means thresholds need to be level with doors wide enough to move through freely. If there are stairs leading to a porch and the front door, you may need to have a wheelchair ramp installed (the average cost of a new ramp is about $1,500). There should also be sufficient lighting in both front and back.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, doorways should be from 32 to 48 inches wide — that goes for exterior as well as interior doorways — it may be necessary to consult a contractor if your doors do not measure up. Door knobs should be replaced with levers, which are usually easier for a disabled individual to use easily. In many cases, pocket doors are preferable because they are simply slid into the wall.

Bathroom Accessibility
Bathroom modifications are essential. The bathtub or shower should be level with the floor with no-slip strips or mats and grab rails installed. The toilet should be modified similarly, with grab rails alongside and a toilet bowl that’s 17 to 19 inches off the floor. Be sure to have a no-slip surface placed in front of both the sink and toilet.

Your home search should be based on accessibility needs, as well as what kind of home you can afford. Bear in mind that due to the difficulty of finding accessible houses, it may be necessary to find one that can be readily modified. Find a realtor who is knowledgeable, experienced, and has a sensitivity to disability issues.

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