Most Americans over age 50 prefer to remain in their current home and community as they get older, according to AARP — but to do that, many will need to increase the accessibility of their home by making home modifications.
The best aging-in-place home modifications align with “universal design,” an architectural term for features that are easy for all to use and adaptable as needs dictate. This includes additions and changes to the exterior and interior of a home.
Examples of exterior and interior modifications
- Automatic push-button doors
- Doorway ramps
- Well-lit and widened doorways, hallways and stairways
- Porch or stair lifts
- First-level master suite
- Accessible light switches and outlets
- Removal of trip hazards such as carpeting or molding
Bath and kitchen modifications
- Cabinet pull-out shelves
- Lower countertops
- Touchless faucets
- Grab bars and railings
- Roll-or walk-in shower or tub
- Shower bench
Keep in mind that certain home modifications are well within the skills of DIYers, while others will require a professional. Simple home modifications can be done one by one, over a period of time, by yourself or with help from a handy friend or relative:
- Adding easy-grip knobs and pulls
- Installing adjustable handheld showerheads
- Rearranging furniture for better passage
For bigger modifications, such as those that involve electrical work or heavy lifting, it’s
best to work with a professional contractor. These may include:
- Installing handrails
- Adding automatic lighting outdoors
- Smoothing out flooring
Home improvements vs. home modifications
Like home improvements, home modifications can increase the functionality of the property. A modification, however, may also be tax-deductible as a medical expense if it is made to accommodate the disabilities of someone who lives in the home, according to the IRS. By contrast, home improvements that are made for aesthetic reasons or to increase the home’s value are generally not tax-deductible.
What counts as a home modification for tax purposes? As the IRS outlines, capital expenditures for installing special medical equipment or reasonable home modifications made for medical reasons are sometimes fully tax-deductible, as long as they don’t add to the property value. Permanent home improvements that do increase the value of your property may still be partially deductible as a medical expense — the cost of the improvement minus the increase in the property value is the amount that can be considered.
As with all tax-related considerations, it’s important to consult with a tax professional about your eligibility for this deduction to continue living in the home. One of the most common kinds is a home equity conversion mortgage (HECM).
State housing finance agency loans – Lastly, state housing finance agencies (HFAs) provide loans for many purposes, including developing supportive housing for seniors and people with disabilities. Check for an HFA in your area to learn your options.
When should I make home modifications?
Getting older is a process, so it’s likely you’ll need to adapt your home more than once as your needs change. You can add home modifications gradually or all at once, if finances allow. Sometimes it’s cost-effective to add aging-in-place home modifications as part of other planned renovations, such as building an addition or remodeling a kitchen.
Then again, since new assistive technologies hit the market year after year, further home modifications may be necessary. The more you’re able to anticipate your evolving needs, the more you can plan ahead for home modifications that you’re likely to need in the future.