A Community Where Living Is Easier

Posted on 06/3/2014 by | AARP Blog Author | Comments

Linda Broadbent shows developer Charlie Armstrong her EasyLiving Home. Photo by Matt Eich

Linda Broadbent shows developer Charlie Armstrong her EasyLiving Home. Photo by Matt Eich

By Gil Klein

When you walk into Linda Broadbent’s house in Charlottesville, you’re struck by the openness and airiness of this new home. It appears to be a comfortable place to live.

What you don’t notice right away are the accommodations the builder made for her home to be certified as an “EasyLiving Home,” designed to accommodate people in all stages of life.

Broadbent’s house is one of 36 in Charlottesville that make up Virginia’s first EasyLiving Home-certified community. It is a concept that AARP supports to encourage home builders to design residences where people can “age in place” longer because no impediments restrict their access to essential parts of the home.

At 76, Broadbent has been a Charlottesville real estate agent for 22 years, specializing in housing for older people. She realized she could not find a home in town that provided the amenities she would need if she had mobility problems. Certainly her town house with a flight of stairs to the master bedroom wouldn’t work.

So she talked with Frank Baliff, a friend who is president of Southern Development Homes, a local builder. “I had been after Frank for years: ‘When are you going to build something for me?’ ”

That’s when Southern Development Homes began looking seriously at the concept and feasibility of building EasyLiving houses.

“We saw the demand, and it was something that was too obvious to ignore,” said Charlie Armstrong, Southern Development vice president for land development. In a year and a half the company built 36 homes, and by April had sold all but one. Prices range from $370,000 to $600,000.

“We’re going to build these everywhere we can,” Armstrong said.

He expects to build 200 EasyLiving homes in five years, and other Charlottesville developers are eyeing the concept.

$5,000 state tax credit

EasyLiving Home is a Richmond-based private-public nonprofit organization, said Teri Barker-Morgan, vice president of the executive board.

Supported by AARP, the state government and private entities, it has created guidelines that define a home compatible for all people, regardless of age or physical ability: wider doors and hallways, no entry steps, a first-floor master bedroom, open design that eases wheelchair mobility, slightly lower countertops, lower light switches and higher electrical outlets, and the ability to install grab bars in the bathroom.

Houses that meet these criteria can get an EasyLiving Home certificate, similar to a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” Buyers are then eligible for a $5,000 state tax credit.

AARP Virginia offers workshops that focus on how to retrofit existing homes so their residents can age in place. Schedules are available at aarp.org/va. But building new houses with these amenities often can be less expensive.

“Older people want to remain in their homes for as long as possible, so we would encourage builders and remodelers to take these factors into consideration when doing construction,” said Amber Nightingale, AARP Virginia associate state director for community outreach.

Jack Thompson, a vice president of Richmond’s Habitat for Humanity affiliate, said Habitat is starting to build EasyLiving features into its homes so families can stay in them for a lifetime.

Stephen Thomas, a Richmond-area builder who chairs the EasyLiving Home board of directors, said he became interested in the concept after his mother broke her hip and he saw the difficulty she had in her home. He has constructed five EasyLiving homes.

“Once the public realizes they can get a new home built with these features at very little extra cost, it just makes sense,” he said.

Gil Klein is a writer living in Arlington, Va.

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sonjalazear 5pts

I believe my new house qualifies as an Easy Living home.  How do i get certified and how do I get the $5,000 discount?

dm41382003 5pts

I and most seniors like live on a fixed SS income. When is somebody going to build something at a lower price for us?

kk4577946 5pts

I have lived in Northern Virginia (Fairfax and Arlington counties) for 35 years.  I have raised my family here and would love to stay here for the rest of my life. For the past few months, my wife and I have been looking for new homes in the area with main level master bedrooms that would enable us to age in place.  Unfortunately, nobody is building such homes and Fairfax County isn't doing anything to change the zoning codes to allow people to retrofit older homes to meet ADA standards (viz., by expanding an existing structure to enable one-level living).  The current code is restrictive in terms of requiring homes to be set back and to be distanced from adjoining properties, which limits the ability to retrofit most existing homes because they are on small lots.  I wish there was an advocate for people like me to get my county (and Arlington) to do some proactive planning that would enable seniors to remain in the communities where they have lived out most of their adult lives.