If you are embarking upon a rehab project and already making a number of changes, how about considering Universal Design in your approach?
In a building or house with universal design, the spaces are readily available and accessible to nearly everyone. Though it would seem a close cousin to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the ADA is about minimum access for those with disabilities while universal design is meant to appeal to as broad a group as possible. In fact, universal design is less visible — think no-step entryways as opposed to ramps.
According to the National Association of Realtors, universal design is defined as the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
“The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
NAR points out that, rather than being simply wheelchair-accessible, for example, the principles “make spaces welcoming and easy to use for elderly people, young children, parents pushing strollers and others.”
Or as an article on the University of Buffalo’s website explains, curb cuts and power-assisted doors are necessary for access for people with mobility impairments. But they also benefit those who are transporting items in a cart, someone pushing a stroller or a wheeled briefcase, and the person attempting to carry a bulky item out the front door.
For the real estate investor, there’s more than altruism to consider. You can distinguish yourself from the competition if you rehab a house with universal design in mind and your property can potentially appeal to a much broader buyer pool.
Consider the millions of Baby Boomers who prefer to age in place. As they downsize or simply look for a more accessible home, their options are limited. With Universal Design, you’ve dramatically reduced the competition … and the beauty of it is that young families and others will find a lot of the features appealing as well.
The principles of Universal Design
According to Whole Building Design Guide (wbdg.org), “The Principles of Universal Design” were developed in the 1990s by a team of U.S. experts organized by the Center on Universal Design at NC State University.
The principles included ideals like equitable use, low physical effort, tolerance for error, and simple and intuitive. Then those principles were expanded upon and updated with the eight goals of Universal Design.
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The eight goals of Universal Design include:
- Body fit. Accommodating a wide range of body sizes and abilities
- Comfort. Keeping demands within desirable limits of body function
- Awareness. Insuring that critical information for use is easily perceived
- Understanding. Making methods of operation and use intuitive, clear, and unambiguous
- Wellness. Contributing to health promotion, avoidance of disease, and prevention of injury
- Social integration. Treating all groups with dignity and respect
- Personalization. Incorporating opportunities for choice and the expression of individual preferences
- Cultural appropriateness. Respecting and reinforcing cultural values and the social, economic and environmental context of any design project.
Practical uses of Universal Design for real estate investors
While the principles and goals of universal design may sound admirable, the bottom line also needs to make sense for any investor. With some planning and foresight, it’s possible to incorporate many of the concepts into your next rehab.
Consider a no-step entry into the house, better lighting, non-slip flooring, and at least one bedroom on the first level.
A number of features that appeal to the aging-in-place demographic can also appeal to families with young children or anyone who enjoys more open spaces. In fact, universal design typically makes a property feel more spacious, not to mention intuitive.
In the kitchen, consider installing pulls instead of knobs on cabinets and drawers. If you are able, vary the countertop height to accommodate users of differing ages and abilities. Lower countertops with enough space for a wheelchair are also useful for children, while countertops that are somewhat higher can help people limit bending.
Good lighting is an important element — and again, one that appeals to everyone, not only those with aging eyes. Look at under-cabinet lighting, task lighting, and lighting over work areas. Install rocker switches in place of standard light switches; they look nice and are easier to use.
Pay attention to floor height and keep it consistent throughout; make sure thresholds are low to non-existent. Once again, this feature appeals not only to those with mobility issues, but the population at large.
Install a walk-in shower and save the bathtub for another area (like an upstairs bathroom). A majority of people take showers rather than baths, and including a walk-in shower on the main floor, along with a bedroom, is a design that will appeal to Baby Boomers in particular. Ditto with the laundry area.
That no-step entry won’t be of much use if the walkway is tough or involves stairs. Look for ways to lead smoothly into the house. Folks in wheelchairs and people carrying bags of groceries or a sleeping child will all appreciate it.
This goes even further, but if you’re gutting a house anyway, re-evaluate your hallways and doorways. Wider spaces are a feature that won’t deter buyers but surely will attract new ones. Check on specifics, but ADA compliance for doorways is a minimum of 32 inches when the door is open 90 degrees, and a maximum of 48 inches.
You have hundreds of ways to improve the design and flow of your next rehab, with only your budget and imagination as limits.
You can design the entire property with universal design, or incorporate it into some key areas of the property. Either way, if you keep your eyes open for the potential to expand the ease and accessibility of the house while keeping it stylish, you’ll likely expand your pool of buyers.