As a Realtor who is in a wheelchair myself, helping others in wheelchairs find accessible homes has been one of the highlights of my career. That said, it’s probably the most challenging type of home to find.

Why is it so hard?

There are very few accessible homes on the market at any given time. Add to that that every person who has accessible needs has needs that are different from other disabled people, and you have a difficult combination. Here are seven keys to finding a home that meets your accessibility needs.

Don’t try to find the perfect house
If you go into your search for an accessible home with the mindset that you will only buy when you find a home that’s perfect for your specific needs, you will never buy a home. Look for homes that you can adapt for your needs.
Consider homes with no accessible features
Finding a home that can be easily modified should be your main focus, even if it means looking at homes with zero of the accessible features you need. Finding a home in the area you want that can be modified to your needs will be much easier than finding a home with accessible features already put in.

The two main things you want to focus on when looking at these types of homes are:

•    Layout – Will the layout of this home allow you to add the features you need? Does it already have wide hallways and doors? Is there a spare bedroom sharing a wall with the master that you could remove or add a door to and then turn that spare bedroom into a large accessible bathroom with all the features you need? Does the entry have enough space for a ramp?

•    Condition – Has the home been well-maintained? You will most likely be spending a decent chunk of money adding accessible features. You don’t want to have to spend more money on making repairs.

Budget for the cost of adding accessible features
Figure out how much the features you need are going to cost and have that money available after you close on the home. Always budget higher because problems will pop up. You don’t want to buy a house and then run out of money adding the accessible features you need, leaving you with a home you can’t live in!
Plan on living in the house a long time
Adding accessible features is expensive and the money you spend making modifications will not add value to your home, in most cases. Do not think you’re going to live in a house for five years and be able to sell it and get a return on the money you spent. In fact, a lot of accessible features decrease a home’s value because very few potential buyers would need these same features. Try to find something you’ll be happy in for the long-term.
Consider new construction
The easiest way to get exactly what you want is to build it from the ground up. Having gone through many remodels myself and with clients, I have come to realize they usually take longer than expected and cost more than if you would have just built the house new. Remodeling and moving walls or plumbing gets expensive quickly. If a house was designed with those features already in the house, it would cost much less.

Another pro of new construction is that you don’t have to rely on an inspection to determine the condition the home is in. It’s brand new and you will have a builder’s warranty that will allow you to fix any items that happen to break prematurely.

Building new is always the best bet for accessible homes if you can afford it.

Make sure to have an agent help you with searches
If you have been searching for an accessible home, you will learn very quickly that all the big name real estate sites like Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin have no accessible features filter.

As a Realtor, I have access to these types of filters through the MLS. I’m able to set up searches that will update you when homes with roll-in showers, ramps, elevators, etc. come on the market. Make sure whoever you’re working with sets up one of these searches for your unique needs.

Now, don’t think that this is going to be a perfect search. The search is only as good as the agents who are entering the details of their listings.  Most agents have no idea what most of these accessible features are. For example, I have seen where a home has a steep ramp up to the door, and the agent checked the box for a wheelchair accessible ramp. Most wheelchair users know that an ADA-legal ramp has to have a foot of ramp for every inch of elevation change. Agents don’t usually know these things though, so don’t be surprised when the accessible features listed in a home are not actually there. The listing photos should give you some indication as to the accuracy of the listing details, so be sure to check those out.

Utilize a second pair of accessible eyes
Searching for a home can be overwhelming. There are so many decisions to make – location, how much to put down, what community features you want, and so on. Add in trying to ensure that you can make the accessible home modifications you need and you might start pulling your hair out.
Having another person who understands accessibility and can really point out accessibility options is huge. That’s where I come in. I have personally been in a ton of homes that have been modified and have ideas of how to make things accessible without looking tacky or taking up more space than is necessary.

I can help you envision yourself and your family in a home that has all the accessible features you need to live a comfortable and enjoyable life. I’m familiar with common (and some not-so-common) modifications and can point out what may or may not work within a given house. I can also assist you with talking to builders’ agents to see what customization can be made to the floor plans you like. Having that second set of “accessible eyes” can go a long way in making the buying process smoother and faster.

If you live in the Portland Metro area, contact me today to start your wheelchair accessible home search!