Most home owners plan to retire in place and remain in their current homes, but they may be more prepared for retirement than their homes.

More than four in five (83 percent) of Americans age 45 and older say they strongly or somewhat agree that they would like to remain in their current home for as long as possible.

However, only 51 percent of them anticipate that they will need to make changes to their home as they age, and even fewer have actually made some of the changes they say are necessary for their comfort as they age, according to "These Four Walls: Americans 45+ Talk About Home and Community," released earlier this year by AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired People).

AARP finds the results both ironic and telling.

Older people typically live in older homes in greater need of maintenance and modifications that help keep older home owners more comfortable and in many cases, safer.

Also, older home owners could be missing out on the added value of home improvements in the eyes of a potential buyer, should the owner ever need to sell or, for that matter, tap equity.

"People tend to be very optimistic that they'll be able to live in their homes forever, but there are disconnects between what people say and what they do -- and the implications are that they aren't being realistic," said Linda Barrett, an AARP research adviser.

For AARP, Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc. interviewed 2,001 Americans aged 45 and older, more than 80 percent of whom were home owners, most of them living in single-family detached homes.

When asked what features will be important to them in their later years and which of those features their home currently featured, home owners' homes often were sufficiently equipped.

For example:

  • A full bath on the main level was important to 88 percent of those surveyed and 85 percent of the homes had the feature.
  • A bedroom on the main level was important to 87 percent and 83 percent of the homes had the feature.
  • User-friendly climate controls were important to 83 percent and more, 86 percent, of the homes had the feature.
  • Garage parking was important to 76 percent and a nearly equal 75 percent of the homes had the feature.

    Just as often, however, other features important to home owners often were not available.

  • Non-slip floor surfaces were important to 80 percent, but only 54 percent of the homes had the feature.
  • Bathroom aids were important to 79 percent, but only 32 percent of the homes had the feature.
  • A personal alert system was important to 79 percent, but only 13 percent of the homes had the feature.
  • An entrance without steps was important to 77 percent, but only 37 percent of the homes had the feature.

    AARP says most of the features are relatively easy to install and affordable, but only about half the respondents had made or anticipate making the modifications.

    "There appears to be some denial here," Barret said. "While only half of homeowners anticipate that they will need to change their home as they age, our gap analysis shows that Americans 45 and older consider some home features important that are not currently available in their home. People are focusing on their needs in the next five years or so rather than what they will need later in life," she said.

    Home improvements mentioned in the study not only serve the needs of aging home owners, but they also help boost normal appreciation rates.

    Given the growing number of baby boomers in the market for smaller and larger housing, second homes and investment properties, improvements to make a home more livable for an older owner are often considered premiums by those who need the features.

    When such improvements incorporate universal design principles, the improvements are valued by an even greater cross section of buyers.

    Harvard University Joint Center For Housing's "Improving America's Housing" likewise says the older the home owner the less he or she spends on remodeling.

    "As a result, a home purchased from an older home owner is unlikely to have been updated as recently as one purchased from a younger seller," the study said.

    That could be a financial liability to older home owners who need to sell in a tight housing market.

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