Very similar to getting one’s financial house in order, figuring out housing for the later years is best done intentionally over an extended timeframe rather than reactively during an emergency. But while financial advisors focus on the financial aspects of retirement planning, they don’t tend to engage clients enough regarding home planning for their later years.
“Home Planning for Your Later Years” is actually the title of one of the first and best books on the subject. It was written in 1996 by my dear friend and mentor Bill Wasch. Bill, who died in 2021, was one of the friendliest, most giving, gracious, generous and wisest people from whom I have had the privilege to learn. A lot of superlatives … all well deserved.
You might say the book was ahead of its time, now that the public is giving more thought to aging in place. Actually, the book was right on time, but unfortunately it didn’t receive more widespread attention when it was published nearly 30 years ago.
If more families and homebuilders had taken advantage of the wisdom between the book’s covers, there would have been fewer falls and other injuries, shorter rehab stays and, most importantly, fewer people forced from their homes by predictable health incidents.
In short, there would be more dignity, joy and choice in those lives. Isn’t that the goal of financial planning as well?
So how can a financial advisor incorporate home preparedness into planning with clients? The best advice is to start early, to budget home-safety factors into broader household budgets, and to make it an ongoing process. There are two particular points where this can become a regular practice.
The first point is as clients plan how to best enjoy their home and discuss what’s happening in their lives. Retirement, the empty nest, etc. are typical triggers for remodeling and redecorating.
The financial advisor can reasonably encourage clients to consider home safety and accessibility updates when they’re tackling lifestyle or décor upgrades. Discussions should include basic or even more substantial modifications. A few examples include no-step entries, easy-to-operate entry doors, curbless showers, and sturdily-mounted grab bars and handrails.
Fixing a disconnect
The intention to age in place, whether or not vocalized, is often a rationale for substantial spending. However, too often, especially if not explicitly discussed or without really good advice, aging in place features are not included. A study from Home Advisor shows that few homeowners select the right projects or details during this elective investment.
Though there is more attention to aging in place, recent attempts to build the market by Lowes and others have met little success. Energy at Lowes’ 2021 splash and partnership with AARP has already dissipated. Consumers aren’t there yet. But as an advisor, you can encourage clients to think about these important points.
Home maintenance is another good point for advisors to bring up with their clients. Not only does It provides a great opportunity to educate them regarding basic safety upgrades, it critical for the reasons cited below:
- Older homeowners who have been maintaining their homes by themselves, and even enjoying the work, may have to rethink this approach. Although they may think they are still capable, they should consider how much more dangerous, debilitating and long-lasting injuries can be. Falling a few feet off a ladder may not be a problem at age 35 but can have devastating effects at 70.
- Budget-conscious homeowners living on a fixed income (from Social Security, a pension and their savings) may assign a low priority to home-maintenance issues. That is a mistake. Putting off home maintenance can lead to leaks or failures in their plumbing or heating systems. This is not just inconvenient: Repairs are often much more expensive than maintenance.
- System failures often demand immediate research, decision-making and management. Health problems, routines, other commitments or even travel plans may leave little bandwidth for home-maintenance headaches. Quick decisions are never a good idea.
- Deferring maintenance may impact property values. For example, the time, energy and money required to catch up on repairs to get a home on the market often comes when these resources are already stretched thin. Furthermore, homeowners may not have time to patiently wait for a sale if they need the funds elsewhere. This can compromise the sales price and, in turn, hit a savings portfolio hard. Unfortunately, these problems occur in emotionally-charged circumstances.
Financial advisors may not want to learn the specifics or details that should be included in modifying a home for lifelong living, but they should be prepared to provide clients with referrals to knowledgeable and experienced designers and remodelers.
Advisors can provide special value to their clients by not only helping them maintain the asset value of their homes but also by incorporating their homes into their plans for successful aging.
Louis Tenenbaum is a recognized authority for aging in place. A speaker, consultant and advocate, he brings together consumers, businesses, nonprofits and policy stakeholders to drive policy and investments to increase the nation’s aging-in-place capacity. Louis founded the HomesRenewed Coalition, which in 2022 led the introduction of HR-7676, the Home Modifications for Accessibility Act. This legislation aims to provide incentives to homeowners who make safety updates to their homes. Louis partners with financial advisors to help their clients age in place. He can be reached at [email protected].