Buying an Accessible Condo

We all need a place to live and feel safe. If you are able bodied, the process of buying your first property can be very stressful. When you add a disability into the mix, the process can be extremely overwhelming.  I purchased my first place when I was 24 years old and I went through a whirlwind. I would like to share some things I have learned about purchasing a wheelchair-accessible house or an ADA-compliant condo.

The first thing you must determine is a location.  Do you want to leave your house and take your chair, or use a vehicle? Once you narrow that down, I recommend writing down features in your current home or on your property that allow you to live worry free. Features such as grab bars, ramps, an accessible shower and any modifications you had to add to make your current place livable for your needs. I recommend doing research on the cost of those items when purchased as new. Then I recommend contacting every major real estate firm in the area where you wish to live. Explain that you are a wheelchair user and describe the type of property you are looking for. You need to let the real estate company know your needs. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed.

When I started my first condo purchase, I contacted four major real estate firms and explained that I wanted to buy a condo with as much of an open floor plan as possible. I told them that the apartment doesn’t have to be turnkey because I will have to make some modifications. However, the condo must adhere to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and FHAA (Federal Housing Amendments Act) standards. If you are purchasing a condo, I would highly recommend doing research on your disability rights under the FHAA.

All the real estate companies I contacted said they have worked with individuals with disabilities before. The one firm had a realtor with a son who had a disability. I was paired with one realtor from each firm and I spoke to each of them on the phone. They sent me information on multiple condos via email for me to look at. I requested a meeting with each of the agents. This way, they can see my chair and get a better sense of my needs.

I was shown multiple condos and I learned quickly that the MLS definition of accessible is just a grab bar on the wall or shower. Pictures can be very deceiving. None of the properties from the four firms I had contracted showed me anything accessible to my needs, even though when I looked at these condos online, they appeared to be open floor plans with good turning spaces. When I visited some of the places, I couldn’t turn in the hallway. During my visit to all the condos, I was shown the accessible condo grounds, clubhouse and pool, but the interiors of condos were not accessible. Therefore, you should really read up on the 1988 FHAA.  I was under the impression I would be able to buy a place and only need to do minor things to make it accessible for my needs. I was very wrong. I ended up having to hire other realtors and expand my search radius. Realtors are commission based, so you can hire as many as you want. I used this to my advantage.

After a while, reality started to set in that I may not find even a condo with a roll-in shower and I might have to look at places where I need to redo the bathrooms for my needs. I ended up purchasing a condo that needed both bathrooms updated to a roll-in shower, and I had one wall taken out to allow for ample turning space for my chair. This was an added expense that I wasn’t expecting, and I am still paying for it. But I needed to live my life. I could have waited around for a truly accessible condo. Who knows how long that would have taken? Plus, if you have a disability, you know there is not one way that works for everyone.

Another tip I suggest is to make sure you have a realistic budget. We all have bills. Having a disability is expensive. Things cost a lot more when you have to make them accessible. All my bathroom quotes were $4,000 more expensive to put a roll in shower than putting a stand-in shower tub. This is just reality and it sucks. To a contractor, its special work. So, what I’m trying to say is keep in mind that your expectations may differ from reality. Expect to pay more for an accessible place, but you will get more on resale. It’s a special niche market. The reality is you need to have an accessible place and you might not find a move-in ready place without having to pay more for renovations.

About Josh McDermott: Josh is a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab®. He is a public speaker and has served as a goodwill ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Josh lives in New York and loves to travel. Click here to learn more about Josh.