Paying for Home Modifications

(Page 2 of 2 of Home Modifications for the Elderly)

By , Attorney

Many home modifications are inexpensive. Examples of typically low-cost modifications include replacing cabinet knobs with pull bars, installing grab bars in the bathroom, adding night-lights, increasing bulb wattage, and getting rubber grips for faucets. And some changes are free -- such as removing throw rugs that pose a slipping hazard and regulating water temperature to avoid scalding. But other modifications can be pricey, such as installing a wheelchair ramp or lowering kitchen counters.

Here are some ways to cover the costs of home modifications:

Sliding scale and reduced fee services. Some contractors will do home modifications for the elderly for a reduced fee or on a sliding scale, depending on the senior's income.

Loans. Sometimes seniors can obtain a second mortgage or use a home equity line of credit to pay for repairs and modifications.

Funds from Title III and Title V of the Older Americans Act. These funds are distributed to local area agencies on aging (AAA). To find your local AAA, visit the Eldercare Locator at

Rebuilding Together. This national nonprofit can provide some seniors with assistance in home modifications. Visit their website at to learn more.

Medicare and Medicaid funds. If ordered by a doctor, some types of home modifications might be covered by Medicare or Medicaid -- such as hospital beds, walkers, and raised toilet seats. To learn more about these health care programs, see Nolo's Health Care: Medicare & Long Term Care section.

Community development block grants. These funds are available through cities or towns, and usually go towards housing rehabilitation in specific neighborhoods.

Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

Some larger modifications will require the homeowner or relatives to hire a contractor. It's important to use caution when hiring a contractor. Unfortunately, some shady home improvement contractors prey upon the elderly -- charging excessive fees, doing shoddy work, or getting paid and then failing to do any work at all.

To protect against scams -- or to make sure the work is done correctly and on time -- take these steps:

Investigate Before You Hire a Contractor

The best way to avoid problems is to be choosy when hiring a contractor. Get recommendations from trusted family and friends. A good reputation is often the best indicator of an honest, competent contractor. Make sure the contractor is licensed for the particular work you want done and that they are insured. Also check with the local Better Business Bureau, local consumer protection agencies, and your state's contractors licensing board to see if any complaints have been filed against the contractor.

Get More Than One Bid

Meet with several contractors. Ask them specifically how they will carry out your home modification plan, what materials they will use, and how much they will charge. Get all specifics in writing. Keep in mind that the lowest bid is not always the best deal if the contractor plans to use cheap materials or cut corners.

Sign a Contract

Once you choose a contractor for a home modification, sign a written contract that specifies the work to be done, materials to be used, time frame for the project, and the cost. The contract should also lay out the payment schedule.

Tie Payments to Completion of the Work

Payment for the home modification job should be tied to completion of the work. Often, the homeowner makes a small down payment to start (so the contractor can buy materials). The remaining payment should be structured either as one final payment upon completion of the project or, if the project is large, partial payments as various stages of the work are completed. The details should be included in the contract.

To learn about others ways to help older relatives remain in their homes safely -- including information about in-home support services and how to protect seniors from fraud -- get Long-Term Care: How to Plan & Pay For It, by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).

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