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Finding the House of Your Dreams: A Tip List for Buyers Seeking Accessible Homes

Empty wheelchair in an empty room

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was a major step forward in the struggle for the rights of disabled persons. The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability and mandates that reasonable accommodations must be made for government employees with disabilities. It also imposes accessibility requirements on public buildings. Thus, in one stroke, the 101st U.S. Congress undid generations of injustice against disabled Americans. However, the housing market still hasn’t quite caught up yet with improvements made at the public/government level.

Homebuyers with mobility and accessibility issues have to search carefully for accessible homes that make day-to-day living seamless and convenient. Narrow doorways, raised thresholds, and inadequate square footage are common problems that disabled homebuyers frequently run up against in their searches. It takes some extra work and research (and patience), but it can be done. Take the time to research online first to see the accessible homes available in your area and to find out how they are priced. The good news is that the availability of such homes has risen in recent years. The average listing price for an accessible home in Berkeley, California, is $1.2 million. Here are some tips that can help you focus your search in any market.

Help Is Available

It wasn’t that long ago that people seeking accessible housing were on their own. Put simply, there just weren’t many real estate agents who specialized in those kinds of houses. But after the ADA drew attention to the need, realtors came to realize that this was a niche that represented a sizeable housing market group. Consequently, agents started specializing in accessible homes, much like some agents specialize in distressed or fixer-upper homes, another large niche group.

In fact, large-scale realty companies have developed special agent training programs to prepare their system agents with the knowledge and skills needed to help disabled people find homes with very specific features. The objective is to help buyers locate the most functional and accessible houses for people with disabilities. Agents trained in this particular market are savvy enough to teach their clients things like “the spin test,” meaning are doorways, bathrooms, and hallways in a house large enough for people in a wheelchair to spin around in. Before engaging an agent, find out if they are willing to prescreen homes for accessibility criteria so that you don’t waste time looking at homes that couldn’t possibly meet your requirements.

External Criteria

You should be able to tell pretty quickly if a house meets your needs on the outside. If you aren’t able to get into the house, there’s little point going any further unless your intention is to have an access ramp installed after you move in. If so, be certain that there’s enough room to construct an access ramp, whether in the front or back. Other important exterior features would include proximity to public transport or some other readily accessible means of transportation. Is the property’s landscape flat or nearly so? Does it have doors that close safely? Is the driveway large enough to accommodate a van or other vehicle with a wheelchair lift? These are features that an agent who’s experienced in finding such homes should know to look for.

Internal Criteria

It will become clear quickly enough whether a home is equipped to accommodate a disabled individual with special mobility needs. Any home you’re considering should have an open floor plan with plenty of flow-through and room to turn around. Bathrooms are another important place to check. There should be enough room to maneuver comfortably in each one. Each room in the house should have light switches placed low enough to be easily reachable for someone using a mobility assistive device. The kitchen should have countertops low enough to be accessible for food preparation.

Take the time to detail what exactly you need from a new house. Use a checklist that helps you determine whether a given property meets those needs. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you need and want in a home. It’s your agent’s job to help you find the home of your dreams.

 

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