'More and more people' looking for barrier-free homes, Toronto real estate agent says

Forget fireplaces, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances - soon hot properties listings could also prominently feature wheelchair ramps or other accessible design elements.

Investment in going barrier-free could help aging homeowners stay independent longer

Brian Borst (left) tours a Distillery District fully accessible condo. Realtor Jeffrey Kerr (right), who specializes in barrier free real estate listings, says making properties accessible is a good investment. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

Forget fireplaces, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances — soon hot property listings could also prominently feature wheelchair ramps or other accessible design elements.

Jeffrey Kerr is a real estate broker with Re/Max in Toronto and one of only two realtors in the province who concentrates exclusively on barrier-free sales listings.

And he says business is booming.

"Demand has been increasing," he told CBC Toronto in an interview. "I've been doing this a lot of years and every year there are more and more people looking for accessible homes."

Kerr, who has been in the real estate business for 17 years and wrote a book on barrier-free homes, said with the aging baby-boomer demographic, demand for accessible properties is predicted to grow. so money spent on accessibility modifications is a good investment.

"If you love where you live, absolutely, spend some money, modify your home, as long as it's done professionally, so that they can live there as long as they want on their own terms as long as they can," Kerr said.

And when it does come time to move, Kerr says the accessibility features can help sell the home as long as it's done right.

"Universal design can blend seamlessly into the home, if it's not obvious and institutional," he said, adding that so often real estate agents advise homeowners to remove modifications that they assume could put off buyers.

"When you are listing a house with accessibility features, don't take them out." Kerr said. "There are buyers out there that want accessibility."

Brian Borst says while the rental market in general is tight, finding an accessible place is even more of a challenge. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

Brian Borst has found it a challenge to find a rental that will accommodate his wheelchair and other needs. He toured a condo in the Distillery District owned by one of Kerr's investor clients.

"I was pretty impressed with the layout and how pretty much everything is accessible, even the balcony," Borst said.

"It's difficult to find a place because there aren't too many accessible units listed."

'We're not a priority'

Melanie Marsden, is visually impaired and has a partner who uses a mobility scooter. It took them a year to find an accessible condo in Scarborough that met both their needs. She says buildings are just not designed with accessibility in mind.

"We're not a priority. I know that sounds really sad, but we're really not a priority," said Marsden.

Ing Wong-Ward, associate director of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto, says more developers should incorporate accessibility features to accommodate an aging population. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

Ing Wong-Ward, associate director of the Centre for Independent Living Toronto, said developers should pay more attention to this growing segment of the population.

"Think about the future. Many people don't want to move to a long-term care facility, so why not design something that can be adapted as your bodies change, as your needs change?" she told CBC Toronto.

"The reality is everyone is going to have some sort of physical disability simply due to aging. I don't know why developers aren't thinking of ways that people can stay in their homes longer."


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