No matter how much TLC you’ve given your home over the years, almost every house can benefit from a little tweaking to make it more livable for your retirement lifestyle. “It’s common sense to plan ahead,” says Judy Mozen, president of Handcrafted Homes, Inc. in the Greater Atlanta area and chair of the board, National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “You will have different needs in retirement than you did when you were working or had kids at home.”
Simple modifications can make your space more comfortable, and completing big ticket repairs now, such replacing a roof or upgrading ancient appliances (buh -bye avocado green!), means you won’t be forced to deal with huge expenses when you’re living on a fixed income. “Certainly, it’s generally easier to finance repairs while you’re still working,” says Mozen.
Here are fixes -- big and small -- to consider:
1. Assess the home’s major systems. Check the state of your roof and repair or replace if necessary (signs of leaks are brownish spots on the ceiling indoors). Evaluate dampness in the basement (signs include a musty smell or white powdery substance on walls). “Water can create costly structural damage so it’s not something with which you should take a wait-and-see approach,” says Paul Shane, co-founder of handyguys.com. Consider upgrading an inefficient furnace or adding AC to an older home to improve your comfort level in hot, humid summers. You’ll not miss hauling window units in and out twice a year!
2. Make entryways more accessible. Replace sinking entryway steps with a walk that gently slopes up to the front door. Repair uneven concrete walkways, which are tripping hazards. Add handrails to stairways coming in from the garage or patio. “Even something as simple as adding a garage door opener can make life easier,” says Brian Peppel, co-founder of handyguys.com. “It’s one of those things you may have lived so long without that it doesn’t occur to you to add it.”
3. Improve lighting. Our eyes become more sensitive to glare and require higher illumination levels to see details as we get older so more light is needed to compensate. Upgrade or add lighting in areas where falls are common such as at the tops of stairways or walkways between the parking area and the front door, says Shane. Add exterior motion sensors or dawn-to-dusk lights that automatically turn on and off. And change indoor incandescent fixtures to brighter LEDs. Bonus: LEDs emit little heat and last 25 times longer than traditional bulbs -- so no more climbing ladders to change bulbs.
4. Modify kitchen and bath features. Even if you can’t afford a complete reno, there’s plenty you can do to make these rooms more user-friendly, says Mozen. Swap out your old commode for a comfort-height model, which is two inches taller, so sitting and rising is less awkward. Replace dated bath vanities with taller kitchen-height ones that require less bending over. Change knobs on cabinets to pulls, which are easier to grasp. Swap kitchen and bath faucets that have two separate knobs to lever-style handles, which don’t require as much hand strength.
5. Reduce outdoor maintenance. Remove overgrown or maintenance-heavy plants such as boxwood that need frequent shearing, suggests Peppel. Decrease watering needs by planting native perennials and shrubs. Perennials also are more cost-effective because you don’t replant every year. Update rickety decks with hardscape, such as a paver patio which requires almost zero maintenance.
Bottom line: The goal is to get the big tasks done now so you’ll have fewer chores and more freedom when you do retire.