Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Housing Market through a Caregiver’s Lens

Searching for a one story house has proven to be fun, frustrating, disappointing, exciting, exhilarating and exhausting. 

It has also proved to be quite enlightening.

As a caregiver, I tend to see caregiving and caregiving issues everywhere.  Kind of like when a person buys a red sports car and all of a sudden red sports cars are everywhere! 

My house search has been a little like that.  Only, instead of seeing (and driving) a little red sports car, I am driving my grey VW Jetta from house to house to house with Robert tucked in the backseat with his puzzle book, a bottle of water and a chocolate shake.  Richard is the navigator and we either follow our realtor around looking at houses or visit open houses, snagging a cookie or more bottled water as we go. 

After what feels like years of searching for a house, I think I have become somewhat of an expert on the house search.  (Not yet an expert on buying since we’ve yet to land a deal but that’s beside the point.)

What has struck me the most is the amount of people in the market searching for a house without stairs or with enough room for a relative that now needs care. I have run into a friend searching for a larger house so they could accommodate her husband’s mom. They were moving her in because of her declining health.

At another open house, I overheard one couple lamenting how the house description said “one story” yet there were steps everywhere! There was one step into the living room.  Three steps to get to the bedrooms. Several steps down a deck to get to the backyard.  Try maneuvering around that house with a walker or wheelchair!

My favorite question to ask about a house is why the owner is selling.  Many times the answer relates to caregiving: The owner is selling to move to another city to care for her mom.  The owner’s wife died after he spent years caring for her (and remodeling their home to accommodate her wheelchair) and he no longer needs such a large house.

Our own reason for selling our beloved two story house is so Robert can have his own bedroom and Richard doesn’t have to limit his trips up and down the stairs to reduce his back pain. It’s heartbreaking to see Richard climbing the stairs in obvious pain after a long day and nearly impossible to get him upstairs after a surgery or back-related procedure. 

In our small universe I can see how housing needs have changed as people get older or take on caregiving duties or become disabled. When we first bought our house we were excited to expand our living space from a three bedroom apartment to a house where all three kids had their own rooms with plenty of other space for all the dogs, cats, hamsters and turtles who made their way into our hearts. Our house with the generous backyard and two large living spaces was perfect while the kids grew up (although having to share one bathroom during the teen years was, let’s say, a character building experience for them).

There are all kinds of reasons people buy and sell houses but I can see how caregiving duties influence the market perhaps as much as growing families do. 

It surprises me when I don’t see many available one story homes or when I see a two story with one bedroom and bathroom downstairs – and the laundry room upstairs! I suppose that would be helpful with the majority of family residing upstairs but it would be a nightmare for this caregiver who must hold the world-record for Most Loads of Laundry Washed in One Day (or is at least tied with every other caregiver out there). 

My heart skips a beat when I see a house listed with “two master bedrooms.”  What a treat that would be!  I have seen housing developments offer houses with a mother-in-law suite but not near enough from what I can tell.  It makes me wonder if there are any developers who are also caregivers.

I am not self-centered enough to think all housing should match my criteria (a reasonably priced one-story house with a large enough yard for all those animals we still have, in case you're selling). However, it would be nice if there were more one story houses available in the market so there wouldn’t be such a buying frenzy and bidding war with the ones that are available. Maybe other caregivers are holding onto those like the gold they are!

I am confident we will eventually find our house and settle into it, turning it into our “castle” in no time (to quote my friend Denise Brown of

But then I am holding on to it and appreciating it for the treasure it is for a very long time!

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