Thursday, August 21, 2014

Older Homeowners Want to Age in Place but Aren't Focused on Accessibility

by Abbe Will
Research Analyst
With many baby boomers reaching retirement age this decade, a major shift in the age distribution of U.S. households is underway. According to recent Joint Center projections, the number of householders age 65 and over is set to increase by 9 million from 2010 to 2020. Many of these older adults will choose to remain in their current homes and “age in place” while others will look to move into homes that are better suited to their changing needs. New survey data from The Demand Institute—a joint venture between The Conference Board and Nielsen—sheds light on homeowner attitudes toward aging in place and accessibility needs, including major motivations for upcoming remodeling projects. This extensive survey, fielded in the summer of 2013, asked households about their housing attitudes, household finances, major household purchases, community and commuting, future moving intentions, housing and neighborhood needs, and home improvement plans and motivations.

A preliminary analysis of the Demand Institute’s consumer housing survey data indicates that older homeowners do not consider aging in place and home accessibility as going hand in hand. Although the vast majority of homeowners age 50 and over report that being able stay in their home as they age is very important (88 percent ranked this statement 8, 9, or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is extremely important), less than 35 percent of older owners place the same level of importance on having a home that is accessible to persons with special health needs or disabilities.

Indeed, 7 out of 10 older homeowners do not have any plans to move in the future, meaning they intend to age in place. But even among those who do plan to move at some time in their later years, only 36 percent cite accessibility as an important characteristic of their next home. This is a meaningful statistic given that the 2011 American Housing Survey estimates that almost 30 percent of older homeowners have a disability or significant difficulties doing typical activities around the home without assistance, which would indicate some need for home accessibility features. The share of homeowners with disability or impairments rises dramatically with age to 46.4 percent of homeowners age 70 or older.

Unfortunately, older homeowners are largely not focused on accessibility needs as part of aging in place. While 45 percent of older owners report being somewhat or very likely to do a major remodeling project (costing $2,000 or more) on their primary home in the next three years, few of them are likely to list “accommodating health needs” or “making the home easier to live in as they age” as major reasons for their next renovations. Only 8.0 percent of homeowners age 50 and over who plan to do a major remodeling project in the next three years plan to do so to accommodate the health needs of someone in the household, and only 15.3 percent want to renovate specifically to make their home easier to live in as they age. Even those older owners reporting that accessibility is important to them are not much more likely to cite accessibility (16.0 percent) and aging in place (23.4 percent) as major reasons for upcoming remodels.

Notes: Major renovations are defined here as costing $2,000 or more.  Homeowners placing high importance on accessibility ranked having a home that is accessible for people with special health needs or disabilities as 8, 9, or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is “extremely important.” Source: JCHS tabulations of the Demand Institute’s 2013 consumer housing survey data.

Certainly as the number and share of older households increase significantly in the coming decades, the demand for homes with accessibility features for safely aging in place will also grow substantially. Yet, given the attitudes of today’s older homeowners, the remodeling industry will need to bridge a significant gap between owners wanting to age in place and being able to do so safely with appropriate accessibility features.

On Tuesday, September 2, the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and AARP Foundation will release a new report, Housing America's Older Adults—Meeting the Needs of An Aging Population, which will look at these and other issues affecting America's aging population.

Join us for the live webcast at 11:00 a.m. (Eastern) on September 2, and follow the conversation on Twitter with #housing50.

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