You hear a lot about the concept of aging in place as an alternative to moving into a retirement community or similar facility. The reputation of home-based care is also improving, and is increasingly being viewed as a less costly alternative to institutionalized care. What’s more, a provision of the Affordable Care Act will pay for healthcare delivered in the home.
But what about an “in-between” step?
There’s a new trend in mature market housing that’s based on the old idea of the in-law quarters: the “transitional home.” Known in the building industry as “accessory dwelling units” or ADUs, these homes provide something of an affordable compromise that allows children to be close to aging parents while also allowing the older generation to maintain their independence.
Essentially, a small structure is erected on the property of adult children (often in the backyard) or of other caregivers. These units offer all the comforts of home, proximity to loved ones or caretakers, and, in some cases, access to a whole new level of medical or aging-in-place technologies.
Although relatively new, the market for ADUs (aka “Granny Pods”) seems healthy and poised for growth. Some examples include the Practical Assisted Living Structure (PALS) by Rockfall Company LLC, Excel Homes’ Starting Lineup, and the Inspired In-Law Cottage by Larson Shores Architects. Besides the typical grab bars and soft-fall flooring, many units feature modular construction, green building products and other energy-saving, sustainable options.
Two interesting entries include N2Care’s MEDCottage, offering medically oriented designs that feature rubber floors and monitoring systems, and Stay at Home Additions, which are pre-constructed ADA-compliant bathrooms fully equipped with walk-in showers and a laundry.
Launched in 2010 and recently profiled in The New York Times, the 12-by-24-foot MEDCottage offers robotic technology that can monitor vital signs, filter the air for contaminants, and communicate with the outside world. Sensors alert caregivers to problems, and medication reminders are provided via computers. Ceiling tracks can be used to install lifts or balance aids. Other technologies provide entertainment options including music, literature and movies. Stay at Home features temporary units that are connected to an existing home’s first floor structure and utilities; they can be removed once no longer needed.
Although zoning can be an issue, some American cities such as Portland, Ore., and Santa Cruz, Calif., have waived administrative fees to encourage ADU construction. While some companies offer leases and buyback programs, costs for ADUs run the gamut from around $17,000 to more than $100,000. But, experts note, ADUs are a much smarter financial and emotional alternative to the typical assisted-living facility or skilled nursing home — or in the case of certain illnesses and disabilities, even a long-term hospital stay. Loved ones can enjoy their privacy and living space, which can be a great stress reducer – especially for Boomers in the “sandwich generation” raising their own family and caring for aging parents.
For marketers, ADUs present a huge opportunity for the design, building, healthcare and technology sectors, particularly in the areas of home medical equipment and tele-health. Aside from their benefits for aging parents, ADUs could be promoted to Boomers as offices or studios as well, or to accommodate a returning adult child. These structures could serve Boomers as their own transitional home too, allowing them to rent out the main house or pass it on to their children. There is also an opportunity to promote building ADUs, especially as a way to expand living space for families unable to afford a new home.