Searching for a house to accommodate a wheelchair isn’t as easy as it sounds. While today’s builders are making an effort to design homes that are more attractive to those of us with mobility issues, not all properties have been updated to accommodate disabled persons. The struggle is made even harder by agents who don’t understand how one home is better than another. If you are just starting your home hunt, in Charleston sit your real estate agent down before the process and let them know what you need.
1. You need a home that requires minimal modifications.
Just like anyone else, when you buy a new home, you want to be able to use it as soon as you move in. Give your agent a list of immediate requirements that are non-negotiable. If you need a zero-step entry, for example, tell them. Your agent may get so caught up in the search that they tell themselves it won’t be that hard to change a specified issue, and maybe you’d really like the house enough to overlook its flaws.
Another issue to be very clear about with your buyer’s agent is budget. Give them a range, and request not to see homes above the highest dollar amount. This is crucial if you think you’ll still need to pay for home modifications (and you most likely will). HomeAdvisor offers information on alternative funding options for people with disabilities. The American Red Cross, the Veterans Administration, and the Gary Sinise RISE program are just a few examples that offer grants available for people with disabilities.
2. You’ll need to hire pros before moving in.
You should ask your Realtor for recommendations of various professional services that will meet your needs before moving in. For example, you’ll need a reputable moving company that won’t
damage any of your items in the packing and shipping processes. Also, you may want to consider hiring a cleaning crew so your new home can be move-in ready. Ask about a contractor as well so that they can point out any necessary modifications you may have overlooked. You’ll also want to ask about locksmiths in your area. After the closing date, you’ll want to make your home secure by having the locks rekeyed or new ones installed. Expect to pay between $96 and $210 for locksmith services.
3. Stairs are not necessarily out of the question.
If you have the extra money for a stair lift (the average cost for one is $3,000 - $4,000), let your Realtor know that information as well. While most wheelchair users would prefer a single story home, some markets simply don’t have an inventory of ranch-style dwellings.
4. Inches matter in the kitchen.
The kitchen is one room where accessibility really can’t be negotiated. If you are the primary cook in your family, for example, tell your agent. Explain to them that a standard countertop height — usually 36 inches — is too high. Ask them to prioritize kitchen accessibility.
EasterSealsTech.com notes there are many things to consider in the kitchen. While appliances are a fairly easy fix, lowering the cabinets and ensuring there is space to roll in under the sink are much more cost-prohibitive. If necessary, have your agent take you into a home with a non- modified kitchen so they can get a better idea of the issues you face.
5. No matter how thin you are, you’ll need wide doorways.
Doorways are rarely installed with a wheelchair user in mind. As mobility products provider Karman explains, 32 inches is the minimum width necessary to be a comfortable passage. Most doors are 27 inches wide. Keep in mind, however, that this is a fairly easy project, one that you can have a friend or family member do without adding significantly to the cost of the home.
6. A small bathroom is a dealbreaker.
A first-floor bathroom is essential and just as important as location is size. The floorspace needed to safely accommodate a wheelchair is 48 inches by 30 inches. While this may not sound like a lot, if you’re looking at a smaller home, every effort will be made to fit as many features into the space as possible. This often means sacrificing floorspace.
Unless your agent is also in a wheelchair, he or she may not understand the issues you face. Clear up any questions ahead of time and you’ll save yourself and your realtor time, money, and hassle. Searching for a house isn’t easy for anyone, but knowing your needs now will make the process much less intimidating.
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