Multifamily owners are always anticipating the needs of our changing demographics. Whether it’s swimming pools for families, gyms for millennials, or dog parks for pet owners, we always want to be one step ahead. Unfortunately, these groups are always changing. Families move to the suburbs, millennials grow up and want different things, and even pet owners—who will almost always own a pet—don’t necessarily want to be renting forever. There’s only one demographic in which a large number of people will always want rented accommodation in the same area, and it’s often an overlooked group: seniors. In areas like Riverside County that have significant senior populations, multifamily owners need to consider how to renovate and appeal to this demographic.
With LA’s senior population expected to surge in the next 15 years to 40% of the population as baby boomers hit 65, renovating your multifamily with the elderly in mind could mean high occupancy rates, impressive, stable income, and an end to second-guessing the next on-trend amenities only to see them wane in popularity as different varieties of residents come and go.
Take Inspiration From The Fair Housing Act
Attracting senior residents means making your multifamily as accessible as possible. You might have stunning landscape gardens where residents can while away the hours, but if they don’t feel safe getting into and around the building, then they won’t be interested. While it probably isn’t applicable to most multifamilies, you may want to take a look at the Fair Housing Act for recommendations that include:
- Accessible lights, thermostats, and other environmental controls
- A wheelchair accessible route through the unit
- Reinforced bathroom walls to accommodate grab bars
- Kitchens and bathrooms that are usable by wheelchair-bound individuals
These guidelines are merely a start, however. If you want to make your property a safe and comfortable place for senior residents, consider the following renovation options.
In and Around the Property
First things first—look at the journey your residents have to take from the sidewalk, through the grounds, inside your property, and to their front door. Is the building easy for seniors to approach? Can they get inside easily? Is it safe and convenient for them to walk along corridors and reach their apartments? This all might sound very straightforward and obvious, but it’s easy to miss something small that can make a significant difference, especially for someone who may have mobility issues.
Entering the property
Make sure there is a stepless entry from the sidewalk to the front door of your apartment block. If there are currently a few steps that need to be climbed to access the entrance, consider installing a ramp for those in wheelchairs. If there isn’t enough room for a ramp or the ramp risks being too steep, consider a chair lift instead. But getting to the doorstep is only the first factor to consider—you must also ensure that your front doors are wide enough. Ideally, all doors throughout your multifamily should be 36 inches or wider to allow for wheelchair access.
On the Grounds
A landscaped garden can help set you apart from competitors, but not if it’s inaccessible. Common dangers here are paths that are too thin or unsuitable for wheelchairs, or both. Lighting is also important; seniors with vision issues need more light to see, so ensuring that your garden is well lit at night is crucial for their safety. An abundance of light will also help seniors to feel more secure about their surroundings.
Inside the Apartments
While getting the communal areas of the property right is important, the real difference (and benefit) of a multifamily designed for seniors will be experienced in the apartments themselves.
In the Bathroom
This is the most important space in the apartment to remodel for seniors, as serious injuries can arise from slips and falls on hard surfaces. Almost every aspect of the bathroom can and should be renovated to improve safety and accessibility. Consider the following:
- Install a curbless shower system with a bench and removable shower head so that seniors can wash themselves sitting down if they wish.
- Raise the height of the sink and leave open space underneath. As a result, seniors won’t have to bend down to wash their hands, and those in wheelchairs can position themselves directly under the sink without having to lean over to reach the basin and tap.
- Raise the height of the toilet, as well, and install safety railings on the surrounding wall space.
- Surface the bathroom in a non-slip material to prevent falls.
Never skimp on safety measures. Traditional bathrooms are the most inaccessible part of the house for seniors, and they require the most renovation work, but knowing they have been designed with safety at the forefront will give both you and your senior residents peace of mind.
In the Kitchen
Focusing on bathroom safety doesn’t mean that other parts of the house can’t also be made a tad more accessible. Take the kitchen for instance. The main issues here are reaching up for cupboards (tricky for most, impossible if you’re in a wheelchair) and bending down to use the oven, dishwasher and washing machine. Undercounter cabinets are an excellent way to make your kitchen friendly to seniors, whether they are in or out of wheelchairs. So are sinks with shallow basins. To avoid difficulties using the oven and other appliances typically placed on the floor, position them higher than you would normally. What’s more, if your tabletops are particularly high, you may want to consider lowering them to increase general accessibility, as well as wheelchair accessibility.
On the Floor
When it comes to flooring, there are two different schools of thought. The first recommends vinyl or laminate flooring to make it easy for wheelchairs to maneuver. These types of flooring provide an even surface without any bumps or loose threads that could get stuck in wheels.
The second school of thought recommends carpet. The belief here is that carpet can still be relatively flat, but it also provides warmth (both underfoot and through insulation) and a soft surface in case residents have a fall. Regardless of which side of the coin you fall on, remove rugs and anything else on the floor that can be viewed as a tripping hazard, including electrical wiring.
Bear in mind when finalizing renovation plans that, while added safety and accessibility are the primary goals, the aim shouldn’t be to turn apartments into hospital wards. You don’t have to forgo aesthetic design choices; the apartment should still feel like a home and should be one that the resident can live in comfortably and safely in for many years to come.
The Senior Boom is On Its Way
As baby boomers continue to get older, they’ll continue to need accessible housing options, and renovating to appeal to their particular needs is a wise choice. Make a start on these renovations now so you’re already seen as a reputable and sought-after multifamily as this demographic continues to age. Our consultants are on-hand to discuss your renovations today. Just pick up the phone or leave them a message below to get in touch.
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