When looking for a new home, it’s important to look beyond the aesthetics and basics to get a sense of how likely it is that this could be your ‘forever home’.

A large part of this is how well your home will support you to stay living there despite your changing needs as you age. 

Choosing a home that is more ‘livable’ can save you the stress and expense of having to move each time your health or independence changes.

This concept is sometimes known as ‘ageing-in-place’, along with ‘universal home design’ or ‘accessible housing’.

This applies whether you are looking at a freestanding house, a strata-title unit, a retirement village, a land lease community or a granny flat.

None of us can really predict what our health and mobility will be in the future but this overview, based on the Livable Housing Australia Guidelines, will highlight some features that could make all the difference between a future move or happily staying put.

The ins and outs

When thinking about ageing-in-place, it’s tempting to only think about the inside of the house. Yet, if the overall access is tricky, then you could be at risk of a fall every time you head out to work, play or visit family and friends.

Your chance of safe access to your home is increased if you have – or can easily create - a safe path from the street and the garage to a door. Ideally, that doorway will also be step-free.

Safe dwelling access is an important feature in an accessible home Photo credit: Livable Housing Australia
Safe dwelling access is an important feature in an accessible home Photo credit: Livable Housing Australia

If a step is unavoidable, having one that is low-rise and with a non-slip surface will help minimise risk, as is having (or having space to install) a stable handrail.

Getting around

Once you’re inside, you’ll benefit from plenty of room to get into your groove. What you’re looking for are wide, uncluttered corridors. And, internal doors without those little steps to catch your toe when moving between rooms.

Flooring is not just about looks. Having non-slip flooring options that are suitable for moving across with a walker or wheelchair can make the difference between safely enjoying your whole home or being restricted to just a room or two.

It’s hard to avoid stairs in double storied and steep block homes.

Your chances of being able to continue to navigate those stairs are increased if they have strong handrails at a good height. The safest stairs are those that are straight (sorry, spiral staircases) and have enclosed risers, slip-resistant flooring, and handrails on both sides.

If you need stairs, stairs with handrails are a must Picture credit: Livable Housing Australia
If you need stairs, stairs with handrails are a must Picture credit: Livable Housing Australia

Bathroom business

One thing you never want from your shower is a bit of lip but even modern showers usually have one.

An ideal shower to support ageing-in-place is a hobless one – with a floor that is continuous with the bathroom floor and simply slopes slightly downhill for drainage. Ideally, one big enough to accommodate a shower chair.

Even though we don’t discuss it much, the toilet is one of the most visited rooms in a house. 

Having a toilet easily accessed at night can make a big difference to your life as you age, as can one in easy access of the front door for those urgent moments on arriving home.

Handrails can be added as needed but only if the walls are strong enough to support their installation (after all, there’s no benefit to grabbing a rail if you bring the wall down with you). Space around the toilet for an over-toilet frame is also worth checking out.

The less obvious

Powerpoints can become a problem when touching your toes is no longer a joy. ‘Livable’ homes place powerpoints higher than 300mm (that’s a ruler length) above the floor. Powerpoint switches, light switches, doorhandles and taps that don’t tax your fingers are also a plus.

You might not think that windows are an element of a home’s liveability as you age but, if you get to a stage where you sit way more than you stand, having windows that can be comfortably looked out of from a chair become invaluable assets to a home.

Being able to look out through windows from a seat is a good idea Picture credit: Livable Housing Australia
Being able to look out through windows from a seat is a good idea Picture credit: Livable Housing Australia

The laundry may not be your favourite room in the house but you’ll enjoy being there far more if you have enough space to move around safely and have bench space to help you work without bending.

Similarly, the layout of a kitchen can make or break whether you will be comfortable and safe to keep using ovens and other equipment as you age.

The layout of a kitchen is important feature of an accessible home Picture credit: Livable Housing Australia
Ensuring a spacious and trip and slip-free layout of a kitchen is an important feature of
an accessible home Picture credit: Livable Housing Australia

It’s true that a lot of these features can be created through renovation but research shows this approach can be the more expensive option and you need to factor in the cost when planning ahead.

Outside affairs

The Livable Housing guidelines only cover the house but we all know how important our gardens are for serenity and good mental health.

A smaller, more manageable garden with safe paths can definitely help you enjoy your outdoor space for longer.

A smaller, level and more manageable garden is a good idea in an accessible home
A smaller, level and more manageable garden is a good idea in an accessible home

Also, consider what access is like to the garden from inside the home.

Fewer stairs, handrails and trip-free doorways (including sliding doors to balconies and verandahs) will help make your garden accessible into the future. 

The neighbourhood and community your house is in can also play a role.

Key questions to consider are whether local shops are walking distance and have accessible parking, as well as whether you have family, friends or other supports nearby.

Summing it up

Though future health and care needs can’t be predicted, if you’re over 50 and are looking to make a move, use this guide to help you get as close to a crystal ball as possible – to see how well your new home is likely to age alongside you.

Comment from our CEO 

Downsizing.com.au CEO Amanda Graham said the good news was that most retirement community dwellings had been carefully designed to have design features which meant they could be continued to be occupied as people aged.

“One of the big benefits of downsizing is that over 50s don’t need to worry about difficult retro-fits of their old home and can move into a ready-made home which has been specifically designed to be safe and hassle-free as they age,” Ms Graham said.

“In addition, this guide will help people when they are looking to move into a new home outside of retirement communities, or updating their existing home.

“It’s important that consumers take a close look at whether their future home has the right design features, given that mandatory accessibility standards are still a policy work in progress across Australia.”

If you are looking to research options for your forever home, you’ve come to the right place. Start your search today