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Give your parents a safer place to age

If your folks have decided to stay in the family home, consider giving them a Christmas present that could ensure their safety while providing you some peace of mind.

Give your parents a custom gift certificate that would offer an “aging in place” evaluation of their home – perhaps the same house in which you were raised that has undergone very few improvements up to now.

The National Association of Home Builders ( now has a designation for aging in place specialists, or CAPS. If family members or loved ones are adamant about living their remaining years in their current residence – and an overwhelming number of seniors would prefer to stay put – perhaps a gift-wrapped evaluation from a confident contractor could be the first step in making their lives more comfortable.

According to AARP, nearly a quarter of Americans age 45 or older say they or someone they live with will have trouble maneuvering around their home in coming years. A survey by the group – the United States’ largest organization for those 50 and older – showed that fewer than 10 percent of the nation’s approximately 100 million housing units have features to make them universally accessible.

The survey also revealed that 90 percent of persons older than 65 would prefer to remain in their homes, but, as they age, accessibility problems can become an issue and make their age-in-place goal unattainable.

To obtain the CAPS designation, builders must participate in a three-day training program. The program provides information about aging-in-place home modifications, including background on the older adult population and its special needs, common aging-in-place remodeling projects, marketing to the aging-in-place market, codes and standards, common barriers and solutions, product ideas, resources and communication techniques.

Projects for the aging-in-place remodeling business range from installation of bath and shower grab bars and adjustment of countertop heights to the creation of multi-functional first-floor master suites and the installation of private elevators. While healthy returns on home improvements are possible, some seniors simply seek comfort and don’t really care if they recoup their investment. Adult children often find the challenge is getting their parents to actually spend the cash to make the changes. (“We’ll be fine, honey. We’ll make do.”)

Others want the peace of mind of knowing that their children might recover a portion of the remodeling costs if or when the house is eventually sold. The impact of any home improvement on the ultimate sales price is not the same in all cases and usually depends on the location and condition of the overall house and on the market demand at the time the home is marketed for sale. Try to get your folks to consider their present comfort rather than your future inheritance.

Take this time to begin a preliminary discussion about home improvement, then move deeper via the evaluation gift. At this time of year, decorations and winter weather combine to create an extremely high-risk period for seniors who are already prone to slips and falls. It’s important to check homes for potential hazards so your parents can spend the holidays in their living room, not in the emergency room.

The Home Safety Council (, an organization focusing on home safety and education, recommends adjustments to homes to reduce common injuries that befall seniors.

A CAPS specialist or trusted contractor can help determine what needs to be done and what adjustments need to be addressed first. A third party can also be the helpful person who determines need versus want.

Tom Kelly is a former real estate editor for the Seattle Times. His book, “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Rent and Profit from Property South of the Border,” was written with Mitch Creekmore of Stewart International.

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