The Second Half: Live the good life…at home

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

A 20-something gal I know is working with a Realtor to purchase a home. In the course of our conversation about her search, it dawned on me that home-buying is much different in our Second Half.

Twenty-something said, “I want a nice private home on a large lot, good re-sale value, a large eat-in kitchen with an island, spa bathroom, located near quality schools, and convenient to the interstate.”

I said, “I want a single-level ‘green’ home, a small kitchen open to a great room with attached laundry facilities, spacious bathroom with walk-in shower, located near quality health care, and convenient to shopping, libraries, theater and decent restaurants (and a freezer full of ice cream).”

Hmmm…what a difference a few decades makes:

1. Single-level: I once thought stairs were good exercise, but now all I can think of is the wear-and-tear on my knees.

2. “Green” home: Hubby says in Germany they brought the cows inside for warmth, but I already have enough crap around the house.

3. Small kitchen: These days I rarely cook, primarily because it’s Hubby’s job to get the groceries—salsa and chips don’t require cooking.

4. Laundry room attached to kitchen/great room: No washer/dryer should be farther away than my ability to hear the buzzer when it’s done…soon enough they’ll need to be next to the couch.

5. Great room: Designed specifically so that your company can see you cleaning up in the kitchen, cuing them to go home—that’s the theory, anyway.

6. Big bathroom with walk-in shower: DUH. Honestly, two bathrooms is really the ideal and universally responsible for saving Second Half marriages.

7. Quality health care nearby: When a tree fell on Hubby, the first responders arrived while I was still on the phone with the dispatcher—rural living means volunteer fire professionals are your neighbors, hearing the call on their scanners they arrive with emergency equipment and home-made cookies for the bystanders.

8. Convenience: Currently, I only have to cross the road to get fresh eggs, but buying ice cream means I have to drive at least 10 miles.

“Who cares what she wants?” you might ask. Well, the experts do! Senior communities and senior housing issues are clogging both government and AARP information networks, as they try to stay one step ahead of aging Boomers. Knowledge is power, my friends, and where there is housing there is money.

Mostly our money.

If you want to age in place, architects and contractors embrace something called universal design principles, creating homes that work for everybody, whatever their age or level of mobility. Nell Bernstein, senior editor, wrote in her article, “Universal Design Helps Senior Age in Place”:

“A universal design home might include anything from extra-wide door frames for easy wheelchair passage to no-step entries to levers instead of doorknobs—even grab bars that masquerade as towel racks for those who don’t want any sign that their home is out of the ordinary.”

Bernstein describes a new kind of interior designer called a “Certified Aging In Place Specialist” or CAPS.

The website tells us:

“The Remodeler’s Council of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), in collaboration with the NAHB Research Center, the NAHB 50+ Housing Council, and AARP, developed the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) program to help consumers with the dream of making their houses homes for a lifetime, even if their needs and abilities change.”

They offer a CAPS Locator on the website, to find a CAPS professional near you. I tried the “Remodeler” category and the locator found “0 CAPS Remodelers” within 50 miles of Rockford.

Hmmm…maybe new job possibilities for my readers! Or, if you are a CAPS professional in the area, let me know. My aging technological skills may have misled me as I tried to use the CAPS Locator. After all, it took me three years to figure out how to use an ATM machine without setting off alarms. My first mug shot didn’t do me justice, but I’ve learned to have my hair done before using an ATM. Just in case.

One website I found, Universal Designers & Consultants, Inc., has lots of information for the Average Joe, including a cool video that gives you a kitchen tour in their “Home for the Next 50 Years” page:

The Home for the Next 50 Years is a showcase for how universal design can be applied to an existing home to make it more livable and thereby extending its life for the homeowners. We improved the circulation (maneuverability) within the house, made the kitchen and bathrooms more functionable and made the house “smarter.”

Check it out at

Visit the website and click on the Homeowners tab, where you will find an article that states, “It is easy to add amenities to your home that will keep you comfortable and safe for years to come.” Great stuff!

On that same page they offer a downloadable booklet, The Do-able Renewable Home by AARP, that covers this subject in easy, honest language—I highly recommend it for every adult, regardless of age. Download it, and make copies for your friends and family…after all, if we’re going to live to 120, we want everyone on board with the notion of making our world an easier place to navigate.

My vision of universal design is Judy Jetson’s house: food cooks itself, a robot cleans up, we fly away in a car that drives itself, and the only one using a treadmill is the dog. That’s what I call amenities!

Next column: More about places to live as we face our Second Half.

Official information and services from the U.S. government—reach these sites easily by typing and put senior in the search box to find these links.

Housing for Seniors at Reverse mortgages, in-home help, nursing home comparison, and more.

Retirement at Pension plans, benefits calculator, retirement ages.

Health for Seniors at Disease, health care facilities, medicare, nutrition.

Travel and Recreation for Seniors at Amtrak senior discount, older drivers, travel tips.

Education, Jobs, and Volunteerism for Seniors at Adult education, AARP working options, Senior Corps.

End-of-Life Issues at Advance directives, estate planning, hospice.

Federal and State Agencies for Seniors at Administration on Aging, Social Security Administration, Veterans’ Health Administration.

Consumer Protection for Seniors at Consumer fraud, elder rights, advocates for nursing home residents.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren at Benefits and assistance, health and safety, state resources.

Laws and Regulations Concerning Seniors at Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Medicare Modernization Act, Social Security Act.

→ Money and Taxes for Seniors at Investing, tax counseling, estate planning.

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the Nov. 3-9, 2010 issue

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