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Older Homeowners Invest in Accessibility Upgrades Amid Housing Market Challenges


As the housing market remains challenging, many older homeowners are focusing on making their current homes more accessible. According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, a vast majority of adults over age 50 prefer to stay in their own homes as long as possible. However, the ability to stay put is becoming more difficult. Baby boomers and older Generation X members are often locked into low mortgage rates that are too favorable to abandon, and skyrocketing housing prices further complicate the decision to move.


Despite these challenges, some older adults have the financial means to invest in home upgrades that enhance accessibility and enjoyment. This trend has boosted business for home improvement chains, contractors, designers, and architects. Demand is high for subtle safety features like inconspicuous grab bars, lower sinks, and residential elevators.


Home Improvement Chains Respond to Demand

Home Depot, the largest home improvement chain in the U.S., is updating its Glacier Bay brand to include sleek grab bars and user-friendly faucets. Lowe's, another major competitor, launched a one-stop shop in 2021 that offers products such as wheelchair ramps, teak shower benches, and taller toilets aimed at older boomers.

Monica Reese, Lowe's Trend and Style Director, noted, "Our target customers aspire for bathrooms that exude beauty and elegance, with essential accessibility features seamlessly integrated."


Luxury and Practicality in Home Upgrades

Toto USA, a subsidiary of a Japanese company known for its luxury bidet toilet seats, markets these fixtures to older adults by highlighting benefits like the prevention of urinary tract infections and reduced caregiver burden. Toto USA's research indicated a 20 percentage point increase in ownership of their Washlet seats among consumers ages 46-55 from early 2020 to the end of last year. This suggests that customers are planning for future needs.

"The growing older demographic is more knowledgeable about renovations and planning for their future needs, especially as they prepare to age in place," said Jarrett Oakley, Toto USA's Director of Marketing. "They're looking to future-proof their homes thoughtfully and with a focus on luxury."


The Future of Home Accessibility

The need for age-proof properties is expected to grow significantly. By 2034, people aged 65 and older will outnumber those under 18 for the first time in U.S. history, according to a U.S. Census report. However, there is a notable divide between wealthier and lower-income boomers regarding their ability to safely remain in their homes. A 2023 analysis by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that less than 4% of U.S. homes have features like single-floor living, no-step entry, and wide halls and doorways.

The analysis also revealed that 20% of survey respondents aged 80 and above with incomes below $30,000 reported accessibility challenges, compared to 11% of those with incomes of $75,000 or more. As retailers address the cultural discomfort with aging in the U.S., Nancy Berlinger, a senior research scholar at the Hastings Center in Garrison, New York, encourages renovators to stay open-minded.


"We've all learned to love OXO Good Grips utensils and other simple, practical designs that work, so we can learn to love grab bars, too," she said.

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