Buying an Accessible House

I don’t think we were quite prepared for how difficult it would be to find a home that is accessible for Mikey.
We had no idea how much designers in the 70s and 80s LOVED a sunken lounge (insert eye roll!). Almost every home we inspected had a sunken lounge or raised dining area. One house we visited we could even fit Mikey down the hallway at the entrance, and his wheelchair is very small!
I thought it might be helpful if I shared a bit about our experience in the hopes of making yours a little bit easier.

Of course the dream for us is to build a purpose built house to cater to Mikey’s needs. This would ensure he can access all spaces and use all facilities like everyone else in the family. While we initially looked into this option, our budget just wouldn’t allow it. Have you seen the price of land in Perth!? It’s important to us that we aren’t too far from his therapy providers so he can continue to receive the services that hep him reach his goals. Therefore moving to the country where land is cheaper isn’t an option. Houses also aren’t cheap! It’s not as simple as choosing a plan and making a few changes, there is a lot to consider – the cost to build an accessible home for a person who uses a wheelchair is significantly more than a standard home.
So enough said. Building is not on the cards for us, yet!

We decided we would prioritise finding an older house with a great spacious layout that we could spend a bit of money on to update. Side note; I don’t recommend buying a home in a housing boom, talk about stressful!

Everyone has different priorities but I thought I would share some of the things we considered.

  • Busy road – I didn’t want the added stress of struggling to pull out of the driveway when I’m running late for an appointment
  • Driveway – Our old house had a VERY steep driveway so we wanted to avoid that this time. We also wanted lots of space out the front to get the car’s wheelchair ramp down without issue.
  • Garage – wasn’t a priority but we wanted not only somewhere to park the car but also somewhere to store Mikey’s equipment. This provides easy access to his trike and walker as we regularly throw them in the car to take them to the park.
  • Single storey – probably quite obvious but we didn’t want to have to add a lift or worry about maintenance of an existing lift.
  • Steps – we wanted to avoid steps anywhere including annoying sunken lounges. Everyone kept telling us, you can just add a ramp. Mikey currently can’t navigate a ramp and we want him to be as independent as possible throughout the house. We couldn’t avoid steps altogether, its pretty rare to have no step at the entrance and backyard. Consider the length a ramp would need to be to suit the step – sometimes its just not an option to add a ramp.
  • Good floor plan – the most important thing for us was having a good floor plan to work with. We wanted lots of open space, or at least the option of removing some walls to make it open plan. More space, more room around furniture means it’s easier for Mikey and his equipment to get around.
  • Hallways/corners – we looked at some properties with very narrow hallways and we could envisage whacking into the walls constantly with Mikey’s equipment. We also tried to avoid too many sharp corners like hallways with bends as it makes it difficult for Mikey to get around and to manoeuvre his equipment.
  • Doorways – We didn’t find any homes with widened doorways however we did consider the location of doorways as to wether we could widen them. We favoured houses that had double doors throughout.
  • Bathrooms – we weren’t expecting to find accessible bathrooms in older homes, however we considered the current layout and size so we could ensure it could be made accessible in future. We also looked at the location of the bathrooms to bedrooms, so we could easily add a ceiling hoist later, directly into Mikey’s bedroom.
  • Bedrooms – it was important to us that there was one bedroom large enough for Mikey. We wanted to comfortably fit his large hospital bed and have room for him to roll in and turn around in his mobility equipment.
  • Kitchen – Mikey loves helping in the kitchen so we wanted to ensure there was enough room to comfortably get him through and around in his activity chair.
  • Flooring – we weren’t too concerned about what was on the floors as we knew we would likely rip it up but it is something you might want to consider. Is it easy to wheel equipment on? Is it easy to keep clean? Is it easy to remove if you do want to change the flooring down the track?
  • Storage – who doesn’t love lots of storage! With disabilities often comes LOTS OF STUFF. We wanted to ensure we had space to put Mikey’s standing frame, activity chair, trike, walker, commode etc. etc. you get the drift!
  • Backyard – we wanted a nice flat yard with lots of space for fun play equipment that the boys could use together such as a swing set. We did not end up with that, but more on that later!

My tips

  • Make a list of your priorities – there are some things we just wouldn’t compromise on.
  • At the beginning go and view as many houses as you can so you can see what you are working with
  • Get on every agents database so you are sent all new houses and off market opportunities.
  • If you want to inspect a house call the agent to ask if there are any steps/sunken areas before you go. We rocked up to multiple houses that had way too many steps and sunken areas that were not pictured online. It was incredibly annoying.
  • If possible take the person with a disability with you to view houses. We found when we were wheeling Mikey through a home the issues became very obvious. If we didn’t have Mikey we would put Finn in his pram and push him through the house. The boys could only tolerate so many open homes in a day, so we quickly became selective about what we would view.
  • Be nice to real estate agents! If you are friendly and polite to agents they will work their magic for you. For example one awesome agent did a flyer drop for us in our preferred area with our specific requirements.
  • Speak to your therapists. They know your child well and have likely seen many people buy, build and renovate for accessibility and will have great advice.
  • Speak to builders that build or renovate for accessibility – they can share pearls of wisdom. We spoke to one who said buying something smaller (less bedrooms than you want) and adding on is a great option rather than trying to make something accessible that isn’t already accessible. But it is expensive!

I hope this info is helpful for your journey of finding the perfect place for your family. As always reach out if you have questions and of course good luck!

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