Aging in place is the preference of more than three quarters of Americans over the age of 50. Older Americans typically feel tied to their community and want to remain in their homes for as long as they can.
Unfortunately, home repairs become more difficult to perform as homeowners age. Climbing a ladder might pose a challenge for an older person who lives with knee pain. Declining strength and poor eyesight can impair the ability to perform repairs that a homeowner once regarded as routine.
Home Maintenance Challenges
A 2011 study “explored the issues that older adults have with maintaining their home.” The researchers found that tasks such as cleaning gutters, painting, and maintaining heating and air conditioning systems were most often identified as challenging by study participants. Researchers have also discovered that the inability to maintain a home is a source of stress and anxiety for older homeowners.
Home repairs are even more challenging than routine maintenance chores. Most homeowners hire contractors when shingles are damaged, pipes break, or stair treads crack. Seniors who live on a fixed income and a tight budget may find it difficult to pay for necessary repairs. They sometimes allow minor problems to become major problems by postponing repairs when the problem first arises.
Sources of Home Repair Assistance for Seniors
Seniors with limited incomes who cannot obtain affordable credit may qualify for a loan or grant from the federal government. Funds must be used to pay for home repairs and improvements or to eliminate health or safety hazards.
State and local governments might also be able to help. Many California communities, including Richmond, offer senior citizen home repair assistance programs. Jamestown, New York is contemplating a program that would use federal stimulus money to help senior citizens fix their homes. Check a city’s website or contact its department of community development to determine whether a local program is available.
Volunteer organizations are often the best bet for older people who need help with home repairs. Rebuilding Together assists low-income seniors through its local affiliates. Habitat for Humanity sometimes tasks volunteers with home repairs for senior citizens through its home preservation program.
Choosing a Contractor
Some contractors offer discounts for seniors. However, price should not be the only factor that guides the decision to hire a contractor.
Friends and family are usually the best source of referrals for a contractor. Satisfied customers are the best evidence that a contractor will meet a homeowner’s expectations.
Good contractors have good reputations. Look for one who has good reviews on sites like Homestars. Ask the local Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce whether the contractor has a history of complaints.
The contractor should provide a written estimate in a contract that describes the exact task to be completed. Make sure the contract specifies a completion date.
Down payments should be a small percentage of the estimated total cost. A high down payment creates a risk that the contractor will take the money and run.
Finally, make sure the contractor is licensed and bonded. You should also make sure that the contractor is insured. If a roof leaks and causes water damage after a contractor replaces broken shingles, you need to be assured that funds will be available to repair the damage.