Housing is one of the greatest challenges faced by people with disabilities. While new houses are being built every day, people with disabilities continue to struggle to find housing that meets their needs. If you are in the market for an accessible home, here is what you need to know.
Your Rights as a Disabled Home Buyer
If you have rented a home or apartment, you know that you cannot be denied housing because of your disability and that a landlord must make reasonable accommodations to enable your use of a rental unit and common areas. However, if you are a first-time home buyer, you may not realize similar protections extend to purchasing a home of your own.
You cannot be denied credit or the option to purchase a home on the basis of your disability, and income received through assistance programs like SSDI cannot be considered any differently than wages when qualifying for a loan. You can learn more about the rules that protect home buyers with disabilities and programs to assist disabled home buyers here.
Your Financing Options
Home buyers have a variety of loan opportunities to choose from; home buyers who are disabled have even more. Depending on your income level and your disability, you may be eligible for grants or special types of financing offered through the government of private organizations. If you’re a veteran, you’re also eligible for grants through the government, purchasing a home through Homes for Our Troops or even a VA loan. The beauty of a VA loan is there are no down payment or private mortgage insurance requirements. When surveying loan options, be sure to explore all the opportunities available to you to get the most funding or right financing for your situation.
What to Look for in a Home
While you have the right to purchase any home you choose, it is wise to shop for homes that accommodate your disability. When you purchase a home that offers a basic level of accessibility, you spend less time and money adapting the home to make it livable. Search terms such as “accessible,” “universal design,” and “aging in place” can help you locate accessible homes through online listings. There are many sites that specialize in accessible homes. However, review listings to see if the home offers the features you need. Features that buyers with disabilities should consider include:
● Access to public transportation
● Proximity to frequently used healthcare services
● Wide, level driveway or garage parking
● Low-maintenance, accessible landscaping
● Step-free entrances
● Single-story homes or homes with elevators
● Open floor plans with clear lines of sight
● Wide doorways and hallways
● Low, rounded thresholds
● Hard flooring and/or low-pile carpeting
● Raised power outlets and lowered light switches
● Curbless showers
This list does not t include every feature that makes a home accessible. Additionally, not every buyer with disabilities requires all of these features. However, because these 12 features are expensive and sometimes impossible to change after construction is complete, they are worth prioritizing as you shop for a home. Once you’ve done your research homework, bring your findings to your realtor, and they can help you get started on your home search.
What to Modify in a Home
It is difficult to find a home that meets every accessibility need, especially because each disability is different. However, if you find a home with a location and structural elements that suit your needs, it is possible to modify the home to be fully accessible. These are common features that disabled home buyers must add to their home:
● Lever-style door handles
● Grab bars in bathrooms
● Raised toilet seats
● Adjustable-height kitchen counters
● Lowered kitchen cabinets with looped pulls
● Knee clearance under counters and sinks
● Front-access appliance controls
● Side-by-side or drawer-style refrigerator/freezer
● Drawer-style dishwasher
As you make modifications, keep your home's resale value in mind. Buyers without disabilities may be turned away by homes with an institutional appearance, but by employing the principles of universal design, you can incorporate accessibility without sacrificing design. Think design choices like under-sink knee clearance concealed by cabinet doors, bathroom grab bars that pull double duty as towel racks, and a low-profile entry ramp that's integrated with the landscaping. You can learn more and see examples at Abilities.com.
When shopping for an accessible home, a knowledgeable real estate agent is an invaluable resource. However, it is equally important to understand your rights and needs as a disabled home buyer. While the options for move-in ready accessible housing may be limited, it is possible to find a house that requires minimal changes to transform into an accessible, enabling home.
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