I could hear the excitement in the estate agent’s voice.
She had discovered that we were renting a flat while our house was being renovated, and immediately offered to value it when the work was complete. I explained that the plan was to stay in the house for the rest of our lives, and to keep out of the clutches of estate agents and conveyancing solicitors (I didn’t say that bit). She was not wholly convinced and reassured me that should we change our mind they would be delighted to help.
Our 1950’s house has been subject to numerous ‘improvements’ over the years, two kitchen extensions, one in the 50’s that added a coal hole, meter cupboard and pantry, one in the early 80’s – not insulated or heated and with no space for fridge/freezer or dishwasher. Central heating pipes had been accommodated by cutting numerous holes in floors and ceilings and lots of boxing in, a shower was put over the old high sided bath and upvc French windows installed with a threshold 10cm high and 20cm deep. Perhaps they all added value at the time?
We started to look at improving access and soon realised that a piecemeal approach would not be ideal. For example:
- The best place for a lift (see my last blog) was where the stairs were.
- The ‘utility’ room (ex galley kitchen) was too narrow for wheelchair access
- The pantry and coal shed extension made the passage at the side of house too narrow for access.
- A large double chimney breast and stack in centre of house (redundant as no fireplaces) took up valuable space on every floor including the loft.
- Socket location and sparsity could only be overcome by trailing cables, extension leads, boxing in or drilling into walls.
- Radiators and endless pipework restricted options for using the space differently
- The hipped roof would have to be changed to create a room there (future accommodation for a live-in carer)
Reality dawned: if we were going to make the house age-friendly, tinkering about would not do. The project would take some months, the cost would be substantial, and we would have to move out while it was being done.
Unlike King Lear we don’t have any children, so no risk of assuming incorrectly that they will care for us in old age. We did not have the ready cash to fund a large building project, but we did have equity in the house. A key decision was to use that equity now and accept that this might mean slim pickings for Battersea Dogs Home or Oxfam by the time we die.
After researching the options and taking financial advice we decided on:
- Taking out a 10 year interest only mortgage. It is an offset mortgage, so we only pay interest on the funds we draw down. Over a 9-month project this makes a big difference to the total interest paid.
- When the mortgage term ends the plan is to convert the loan to equity release. This allows us to keep our income for living costs and avoid being cast out into the storm like Lear when we are 80.
Post financial crash the mortgage application process involves plenty of hoops to jump through. Our intention to use the funds for home improvement was met with some scepticism by the mortgage provider and we had to prove that we were not going to splash out on luxury goods, holidays or pay off credit card debt. Current income, outgoings and intended retirement age were all factored in.
Hopefully we have some years to go before the accessibility features are essential to day to day life. In the meantime the value to us of the renovation will include:
- Consistent and lower cost space heating
- Reduced water consumption but with showers that produce more than a feeble trickle
- A full complement of kitchen cabinets instead of gaps where shelves had rotted away, drawers collapsed and kick boards that have taken too much kicking.
- Space for guests to stay other than an inflatable bed surrounded by office paraphernalia, including those with reduced mobility.
- If either of us become temporarily ill or disabled, having a shower will not resemble the worst challenges in the Crystal Maze.
- Due to acoustic glazing, we may not be woken at night by the rumble of the (very handy) bus that runs along our road 24 hours a day
- Drinking water coming through plastic pipes instead of lead and the disappearance of a mystery leak that always evaded discovery
If we are really lucky the strange musty smell by the front door will also be gone!
We are delighted that Margaret will be sharing her experiences in ‘Designing Homes for Ageing Well Symposia session at the Housing LIN’s annual conference.