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During a recent webinar on universal design by the 50+ Housing Council and NAHB Remodelers, builders and remodelers offered strategies on how to encourage reluctant home owners to incorporate features that will make their homes easier to use — even though most home owners balk at what they term “institutional-looking grab bars for old people” and few will admit they actually need such features.
Tracy Lux, of Trace Marketing based in Sarasota, Fla., the moderator for “Reimagining Universal Design: Communicating Value to Your Customers,” which was held on June 17 and sponsored by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, said that builders and remodelers should stress that universal design is, first and foremost, good design — and that good design is not only functional, it is also attractive.
As an example, Lux pointed to her own home, which she recently remodeled while incorporating many accessibility and ease-of-use universal design features that were convenient and unobtrusive.
Panelist John King, of Rampart Homes, who remodeled the Lux home, said his goal is “to make a house seem as if it had always had” the added universal design features and improvements he installs.
To help convince clients to add these features, he said he first discusses their wish list for the home and how they intend to live in it. He then discusses their current physical requirements, followed by a discussion about any future ones.
When broaching accessibility and ease-of-use, King said he often mentions the possibility of clients being visited by aging parents or friends — so that clients can focus on aging issues and how they affect other people, not themselves.
King said he then discusses the current condition of the house and the clients’ personal style before finally suggesting what improvements can be made that will enable the clients and their guests to get full use out of the home.
The third panelist, Dan Bawden, of Legal Eagle Contractors in Bellaire, Texas, suggested that since few clients actually can accurately define universal design, builders and remodelers should set the parameters of the discussion and define universal design for them.
Universal design, he tells his clients, is “a holistic approach to building and remodeling a home that makes it more comfortable and safer for families, friends and visitors and lets the owners comfortably live their lives in the home for many years to come.”
Universal design, he said, is “good, common-sense design with the long term in mind.”
Lux and Bawden also suggested that builders and remodelers should "talk around" universal design terms when discussing its features and benefits. Instead of pointing out the need for an unobstructed pathway for wheelchair users, they suggested that builders and remodelers discuss “open concept” kitchens with roll-away islands.
If home owners wants to continue to work from their home, they said, that can lead to discussions on “energy-efficient skylights” that bring in more natural light and help avoid eyestrain. This type of discussion will avoid pointing out that older people need more light.
Lux also suggested describing features using phrases such as, “making entertaining easier,” or “good for everyone from grandkids to grandparents.”
According to research by the AARP, Lux said most home owners want to stay in their homes but do not like to talk about “aging in place.”
Bawden suggested that builders and remodelers should tell clients that, in most cases, designing for the long term will add very little expense to the project, especially in new construction.
He also stressed that CAPS builders and remodelers explain their designation and training as well as mention that their designation is recognized by AARP. Most people are more familiar with AARP than they are with NAHB, he said, noting that mentioning AARP adds credibility.
When discussing universal design, Bawden said the most important tool a builder can have is a photo portfolio of beautiful rooms and projects that also demonstrate universal design features. He said he has created a 30-minute PowerPoint slide show that he presents to community groups, AARP chapters, church groups, civic clubs, clients and others.
Bawden also recommended that designers make themselves known to their local medical community, including occupational therapists, because medical professionals want their patients to live in safe, comfortable and livable homes.
Lux said that with skill, and a working knowledge of universal design and the products that make the designs come to life, builders and remodelers can create “a unique selling premise” that will build client loyalty and produce referrals.
For a replay of the webinar, click here.
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