Q. For the past couple of decades I have owned a home located on a steep hill in a semi-rural area, but changes caused by my quadriplegia now make it more difficult for me to travel locally for shopping, recreation and social events. The isolation has been peaceful but not always conducive for travel to work for my personal care attendants, as my home is quite a distance from the nearest transit stop. The steep grade on nearby streets and sidewalks also makes it dangerous to travel in my wheelchair, and impossible when snowy or icy. I have progressed from using a manual wheelchair to needing a power chair and want to move closer to shopping, transit and more level ground so I can use nothing but my wheelchair to shop and socialize.
Such a radical change should also provide me with an opportunity to realize a longstanding dream regarding the type of housing I will be seeking. I have always wanted to live in more spacious surroundings like the open-space loft where Tom Hanks lived in the movie Big. If I had that type of space, it would provide me with all types of options regarding the layout as long as there was an elevator.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to consider such a change and would appreciate some thoughts about the pros and cons of such a move. My home has increased in value so I will have a decent down payment if I decide to purchase instead of rent. Hopefully I can also figure some way to minimize moving costs if I do make that change. Does this sound feasible?
— Seeking level ground
A. You are right — there would be many benefits to living within rolling distance of local businesses, work and friends. But that presents a couple of challenges. The first involves finding another property that would not break the bank when it comes to making it accessible. Since you already have several years’ experience in the wheelchair world, it sounds like you know what types of modifications you would need.
Because building owners and managers have been less than proactive in creating accessible properties, it still takes quite a bit of imagination and pressuring of the owners of multifamily housing in order to find something that is truly accessible.
The second challenge may be finding someone to buy your accessible home. Marketing your current home as a property for “lifetime living” should appeal to buyers who know that their situations are likely to change as they age. They should also understand that it could take a bit longer for you to get relocated, so they may be more flexible when it comes to setting the closing date.
If you don’t find something you like in multifamily housing, it may be time to expand your search. Those lofts like you saw in the movie can be extremely expensive. One bold but potentially gratifying step would be to purchase and modify an old commercial building, firehouse, school building or church located in a convenient location. Check with a mortgage broker or your preferred lender to assure that financing for such properties would be available to you. With a large floor plan there might be room to create separate space for attendants or tenants, thus providing you additional options for income.
Have a commercial realtor start hunting on your behalf, and make this one big adventure. You can explore the areas where you would like to relocate, then check into storefronts or garages that have closed due to the current economy. Be sure the zoning allows live/work or residential housing. Challenging your friends and family to keep their eyes open for potential options near their favorite haunts may result in some surprising and affordable choices that would assure you have more contact with them.
The local affiliate of Rebuilding Together may be willing to construct any necessary ramping or other accessible features at no cost. Just type the organization name into your web browser; their members are usually retired individuals who have worked in the construction trades and want to focus on accessible home modifications.
Being able to have construction or modifications completed before moving is most convenient, but many hotels are accessible and offer long-term rates that are reasonably priced. You might even find a hotel that offers free breakfasts and cocktail hours to help you relieve some of the stress of the relocation.
If finances are tight after the purchase and remodeling, don’t overlook local civic clubs for help with the actual move, using their members and rental trucks. Some reality television shows have focused on unique properties that people have remodeled, including old factories, grain silos, and even service stations. If things go well, perhaps we will see you there one of these days.