Sep 19, 2007

Universal Design a Mother-in-Law Could Love

I probably wouldn't have thought twice about Jay Romano's recent New York Times column on universal design--that is, home design that's adapted for age and disability--if it weren't for my mother-in-law's recent visit. She had difficulty opening the knobless drawers of the modern bureau in our guest room, turning on the high-tech clock-radio-CD player in the kitchen, maneuvering our dark hallway during nighttime bathroom visits, and so on.

Universal design pictureLeaving aside the rant on who designed these things in the first place, we could, without having invested too much time or money, made our house more accessible before she got here--had we realized. (Sorry, Mom-in-law.) It probably would have cost less than I spent on babyproofing the home when my kids were young. I'll be prepared next time an older relative comes to visit, and I'll certainly make sure that the next house we buy meets universal design criteria--both for our comfortable and safe living as we get older, and to enhance home resale value. (With the Baby Boom population aging, such features are more and more in demand.)

If you're buying a house or prepping one for sale, you too might benefit by looking look into universal design criteria. The AARP website has some useful checklists to help you figure out whether your bathroom, kitchen, and other areas of a house make the grade. While the term "universal design" doesn't have quite the cachet of "going green" or "staging," it may prove to have even more of a personal and financial payoff for homebuyers and sellers.

And, to learn more about what features homebuyers should pay close attention to, check out Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, & Marcia Stewart (Nolo), containing expert advice about selecting your first (or newest!) home.

Marcia Stewart