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Making a Brownstone Accessible, Step by Step

Updated: Mar 12, 2020

Good ideas from this article include:

1. At a certain point, downsizing might be beneficial and viable.

2. Consider repurposing a portion of your existing home, if it can be done within your budget, within local zoning restrictions, and the result will let you age with safety and independence.

3. Renting out the remaining portion (See zoning above) can really help with finances.

From a lifelong living perspective, this couple lived in one of the most challenging dwellings imaginable: narrow footprint, multistory row-house with stairs everywhere and widely separated key function areas. Their “move or improve” decision was a high stakes process.

The highly urbanized milieu of Brooklyn certainly helped in some ways. They already rented the bottom floor so I guess renting the top floors instead wasn’t a big stretch. It is likely that a whole range of in-home services is available as well.  I wouldn’t think that it would be necessary to drive a car much.

However, not too many of us can manage a $630,000 renovation without going into debt, which is probably not a good idea at an advanced age. And $9,000/ month rental income is pretty stratospheric in most places. And it isn’t clear that their new apartment checks all the age-in-place boxes. Can they enter from the rear? Is there a step free route to the rear door? Does the new bathroom have a curbless, threshold-less shower? The laundry located in the basement will certainly be a big challenge at some point.

For many of us living in suburban and rural areas, there is less certainty about the availability of in-home assistance and a far greater need to driveway past the time when we can safely do so. If you live in a rural or suburban area, these last two factors might tip the scales towards the “move” option, or perhaps “move then improve” if you can find a home in a better location and can renovate it appropriately.

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