Like most countries, the combination of low birth rates and longer life expectancy means that Australia’s population is ageing. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics1, in 2019 15.9% of the population was over the age of 65. This cohort will increase at a faster rate over the next decade as more and more baby boomers reach this milestone. The percentage of over 65-year-olds still in the workforce has also increased slightly by around 5% over the past 15 years. Which means that most over 65-year olds are enjoying retirement.

Home Modifications Australia says that ageing Australian’s are a large and vocal group advocating for the right to ‘age in place’, i.e. in their own homes. This trend seems to be in part driven by the rising costs of long-term care and the sheer number of baby boomers who are enjoying a more active and vibrant lifestyle than previous generations. While technology and a wider range of services available today might make it easier for older people to stay in their own homes, there needs to be a proactive and coordinated approach involving not only service providers but other family members to make it happen.

With the benefit of hindsight, we should have designed our homes to cater for these changes in the first place, but that generally hasn’t been the case. So does it make sense for property owners to renovate their homes with greater accessibility and the benefits of ageing in place front of mind? What sort of changes can be made in the home to make it safer and more functional as we age? Does it make sense for children to make changes in their homes to allow aging parents to live with them?
There is clearly a cost to these changes and it is important to seek advice on whether they add to the value of your home if you want to sell the property in the longer term. Speaking to a mortgage broker can also help you determine whether refinancing may be an appropriate way to finance any changes.

Here are a range of things to consider when planning for ageing in place.

Have a plan

  • Know your finances and set a budget! We all get over-excited when it comes to house renovations but they can get out of control very quickly. A number of surveys indicate that around 44% of home renovations go over budget, with areas like plumbing, electrical work, bathrooms and kitchen appliances contributing to the overruns.
  • Find a builder who has done this type of renovation work before and ask to see references or examples of previous work.
  • Identify things you don’t need and think about selling them to help fund the renovations.
  • Before making any changes do an assessment. Go through every room in the house and look at potential problem areas like trip or slip hazards, or any areas that are hard to access like those really tall cupboards. But also look for opportunities to make rooms modular or multipurpose. This is particularly important if there are multigenerational family members living together.

General considerations

  • Talk to an accessibility expert who can talk you through different fittings and fixtures that will make the home safer and more age-friendly. Simple things like lever taps, push open cupboards, sensor lights and heating can make a big difference.
  • You will also need to think about steps and the entry to the home, bathroom etc. Do you need to reconfigure the living space in order to avoid indoor staircases - would a lift be appropriate?
  • Think about the lighting in the house, everyone’s eyesight gets worse as we age. Consider the width of doors and entrances if someone needs a walking frame or some other form of mobility aid.

The bathroom

  • Is the bathtub going to work in future? If so, how do you make it easier to get into and out of it?
  • Grab rails are key and need to be placed and installed correctly.
  • All accessibility experts indicate that raised toilets are important for those with mobility issues or joint pain.
  • The layout of storage is usually the last thing we consider, but being able to access things when you need them is pretty important. While open cupboards are easier to access, they may not provide the aesthetic appeal you want for you home.
  • The height and depth of them is the other key consideration.
  • What about the need to allow for shower chairs in the shower, does this mean the size of the shower needs to change?

The kitchen

  • Look at the kitchen layout and see how easy cabinets and drawers are to access. Should you consider pull out shelves or even just simply changing handles so they are easier to grab. 
  • There are so many choices of safe kitchen stoves and ovens today that prevent direct exposure to heat – do you have the most suitable appliances in your kitchen?
  • Think about the flooring. As you get older, standing for long periods of time can get hard on your legs so do you need to think of something that is a bit more cushioned like vinyl or bamboo

The list of what can be done to help achieve living in place is endless and the costs can follow suit, so it is important to know your options for funding them. Whether it is through your savings, line of credit or refinancing your mortgage, you need to understand the implications for your future income and the potential value add to your property.

With the recent Royal Commission into Financial Services and the overall tightening of lending conditions, it’s important to seek financial advice. The friendly team at ActonAdviceGroup can discuss your options with you.

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 3101.0 - Australian Demographic Statistics, Jun 2019