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Aging in place: how the 7 principles of universal design can help you in retirement

Blog by Susan Brown | June 15th, 2017

Like so many other children of the 1950s, I’m planning on staying put in my own home when I enter those autumn years of my life.

Aging in place has in fact become something of a mantra for us baby boomers, that massive demographic group born between 1946 and 1964. We’re not prepared to be shipped off to retirement homes by our family, nor even move into a retirement community, however luxurious they may be. And instead of the highly structured social calendars or hotel-like facilities (in the best cases, anyway) pushed upon us by very clever marketers, many if us are pushing back and staying put.

Why? Well, aging in place boasts so many positives. In addition to remaining in familiar surroundings with our favourite possessions, there’s the benefit of independence, comfort and continuing to enjoy a community that we most likely have invested a great portion of our lives in.

Seniors Real Estate Specialist

It was my personal preference to age in place when the time comes that in fact led me to want to share the concept with others. To help me on my quest, I’ve spent a good deal of time studying the topic, including becoming a Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES®), a professional designation that lets my customers know of my expertise when it comes to dealing with the needs of home buyers and sellers in the 50-plus age bracket.

Here’s what the National Association of Realtors says of this important qualification, a statement that pretty much sums up my mission as a realtor:

“By earning the SRES® Designation, you have demonstrated the necessary knowledge and expertise to counsel clients age 50+ through major financial and lifestyle transitions in relocating, refinancing, or selling the family home.”

And interestingly, these are principles that I firmly believe apply as much to the buying and selling of a cottage for 50-plussers as it does to the family home.

The need for simple, effective design

A key component of my research and reading into the issue of aging place is that of design, and the importance that those buying or selling real estate – whether a cottage or a home – need to place on this matter. All too often I hear stories of older purchasers who, after thinking they’ve bought the home of their dreams, find themselves frustrated that so many of the features they thought important – that hot tub or the loft master bedroom – ended up proving to be extremely impractical (the better choice, of course, would have been an easy-entry main floor bedroom!).

To help us, some very thoughtful engineers and environmental design researchers came up with the “7 Principles of Universal Design”, a very useful, practical and meaningful set of guidelines aimed at influencing the design of environments (our homes), as well as the products we depend upon in our day-to-day lives.

As you’ll see as you look through the principles, there is certainly a great deal of relevance here when it comes to buying or selling a home (or again, cottage!). Be sure to ask your realtor about them, and take the time to ensure that they truly do have a grasp of these principles in terms of the property’s suitability for aging in place. For example, good questions to ask include:

  • “Will the home / cottage fit my needs as I age?”
  • “Is my home / cottage going to be accessible to those who may have mobility issues, either now or down the road?”
  • “Is this property designed to meet the needs of anyone, regardless of age, size or gender?”

In short, universal design is, quite simply, just good and sensible design.

The 7 Principles of Universal Design

To help you better understand the kind of things you should be thinking about when buying or selling a new home or cottage, I’ve pulled together the following overview ‘The 7 Principles of Universal Design’.

Print it out, memorize it, and be sure to ask your realtor about it!

  • Principle #1 – Equitable Use

Is the design useful and marketable to those with diverse abilities, and does it provide privacy?

  • Principle #2 – Flexibility in Use

Does the design accommodate a variety of individual preferences and abilities?

  • Principle #3 – Simple and Intuitive Use

Is the design easy to understand regardless of the experience, language skills or knowledge of the user?

  • Principle #4 – Perceptible Information

Does the design communicate all-important information effectively to the user, regardless of their sensory abilities or ambient conditions?

  • Principle #5 – Tolerance for Error

 Does the design minimize potential hazards and any possible adverse consequences of an accident or unintended action?

  • Principle #6 – Low Physical effort

 Is it possible to use the design efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue?

  • Principle #7 – Size and Space for Approach and Use

Is appropriate size and space provided for the reach, approach, manipulation and use of any user, whatever their body size, posture or mobility?

To learn more about aging in place, as well as the importance of working with a professional SRES® and how you can apply the ‘7 Principles of Universal Design’ to your own needs, drop me a line at susanbrown@chestnutpark.com. Alternatively, visit my website at www.lakeofbayscottages.com.