Managing Multi-Level Homes as We Age

Photo credit: digidreamgrafix,

As we grow older, both mentally and physically, our bodies might need a little lift here and there for support and ease. It’s important for us to recognize that receiving help does not make us more dependent. Our capacity to choose to receive support is what embodies our spirit of independence; we choose to be comfortable and to be at ease.

Consider that as we age, moving and maneuvering around the house might be more difficult, especially if we live in a multi-level home. Do we want to walk up and down stairs all day? Or do we want to avoid arduous climbs within the walls of our own home? For those of us in a multi-level home who are looking to simplify our lives and simplify the movability within our own home, consider the following options.

Find A Home that Fits Your Needs

Downsizing or right-sizing may be the solution for people who want a more comfortable home. If your two-story home has become bigger than your current situation needs, it might be time to find a new home. There are an endless variety of home designs and layouts. Find one that best fits what you need and want. Look for a one-story home that has a stairless entry or a ramp that leads to the front door. Maybe you want a floor plan with a large open kitchen and family room area but fewer bedrooms.  This would allow space for the family to gather when they come visit (but not move in). Are you thinking about installing handrails? Then look for hallways with plenty of width to make your daily life easier and more convenient.

Downsizing is not about giving up a big home for a small home. Downsizing is about finding the home that perfectly fits your needs. It is about choosing to live life more comfortably.

Making your Home Fit Your Needs

If you’re not wanting to move, there are options to make your current home more livable. One of the most challenging issues we face as we age are stairs. If your home has stairs throughout, start with the fewest number of stairs first. Consider replacing entry or hallway stairs with a ramp. Install handrails throughout the house for ease and support.

Installing a stair lift on a large staircase within your home can be a solution to staying in your home. Stair lifts are metal devices that are set on a track fit to the height and width of your stairs. The devices are often battery operated and have charging stations at both ends of the track so you do not have to worry about long cords or the battery dying while you are on the middle of the stairs

Stair lifts cost anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000 depending on the type you get and the difficulty of installation. Consider asking your health insurance provider if they would cover any of the costs, and if not, look into getting a used one.

Whether you choose to move to a home that’s more suitable to your changing needs or to adapt your current home to be more comfortable, remember that you have the independence to choose how you want to live. According to a recent article in the Senior Citizens Journal, “Seniors live more healthy lives when they can be as independent as possible.” Exert your independence by choosing how comfortably and easily you want to live in your home.

Is it Time to Downsize or Right-size?

The other day I received a call from a friend who said she and her husband were thinking of downsizing. Most of their children have moved out (they have seven), and their youngest son starts high school this fall.

They currently live in a two-story, seven-bedroom home on a small corner lot. Their goal: sell their current home, which they own free and clear, and downsize to something “smaller” with the proceeds of the sell.

Their wish list

At first I thought buying a new place without having to finance the purchase would be possible, but as my friends started to explain their dreams for their new home, I started to worry.


Here’s their wish list:

  • Rambler style home with a basement
  • Master bedroom on the main floor (Their master bedroom is currently on the second floor and their knees are starting to ache when they go up and down the stairs)
  • Office on the main floor
  • Big kitchen that is open to a large dining area and large family room (it has to fit the kids and grandkids when they come over)
  • Laundry on main floor
  • Three bedrooms in the basement and another family room
  • A three-car garage, with one bay able to hold their 29-foot long, 13.5–foot tall motor home
  • On a big lot – not smaller than a half-acre
  • Near the high school their son will attend

The bottom line

Trying not to be discouraged, I launched into a market analysis to determine the current value of their home – it came in around $400,000. To sell their home would cost 6% in commissions, or $24,000, and 3% closing costs (split 50/50 with buyer) came to $6,000. The home needed some painting and updating, which I estimated would cost $5,000 to $10,000. My most generous estimate of net profit was $365,000.

New construction

The first challenge – find something near the high school. My friends live in a city that is nearly built out. The few remaining lots cost between $150,000 to $200,000 and all are smaller than a half acre. Most of these lots are builder-owned with set floor plans, which are mostly two-story homes because the homes have to fit on small lots.

I found two builders that would build a rambler on any lot, and described the “downsized” home my friends were after. The builders estimated it would cost $450,000 to $500,000 to build.

An existing home

Well, new construction wasn’t an option. How about an existing home?

I searched the MLS for a home that met every item on their wish list for $365,000 or less. The only homes that came close were 25 miles away – a pretty long drive to their son’s high school.

Downsizing or right-sizing?

I realized two things: 1) finding my friends a retirement home that met all their requirements, mortgage-free, was not going to be possible; and 2) my friends didn’t really want to downsize… what they wanted to do was right-size. They weren’t after a smaller place, they were after a different place that met their diminishing physical abilities and expanding family needs.

What is right-sizing?

As our families, finances, and physical abilities change, so do our housing needs.

The perfect family home with several bedrooms and a big yard becomes a nightmare when we no longer have the capacity or resources to care for it.

Right-sizing does not always equate with smaller and cheaper. As in my friend’s situation, it can be more expensive. Unfortunately, the time to right-size often occurs near retirement – a time when we’re hoping to pay off the mortgage not go into debt.

Tips for right-sizing

Here are a few things to keep in mind as your right-size your situation:

1) Prioritize your needs and determine what’s necessary. My friends wanted a long and tall garage to house their motor home, but after weighing the costs they decided the motor home could sit outside just fine on an RV pad. And if yard work is doing you in, either hire it out or look for a nice 55+ community where yard care is part of the HOA.

2) If your master bedroom is on a second floor and you’re starting to have trouble negotiating the stairs, there are alternatives to moving. My friends met with a builder and decided to remodel their existing home. For $80,000 they are now adding a master suite off the main floor – a less expensive option than building a new home, plus they can stay in near to their son’s high school and near their neighbors they have grown to love. A similar extension could be done to a kitchen or family room to accommodate all the grand-kiddos when they come to visit.

3) What’s your financial situation? If finances are limited, you may need to downsize to help you stay afloat. Lots of people do it and are actually happier because the pressure to meet monthly payments is gone. Plus, it’s amazing how big a smaller space can feel when you get rid of years of accumulated clutter – but that a discussion for another day!