Property Data Features Over the Generations

 Debbi Conrad  |    January 13, 2010

People come with a wide range of individual needs and these needs may change over time, as with “normal aging.” Over one million Wisconsin residents are over the age of 60 as of July 1, 2008. The 60-and-older population in this country has gone from 6 percent in 1900 to 16 percent in 2000, and is projected to be 25 percent in 2030 and 26 percent in 2050. The number of people age 65 and older has increased from 4 percent in 1900 to 12 percent in 2000, and is expected to reach 19 percent in 2030 and 20 percent in 2050. That is 86.7 million people!

As people get older or sustain injuries they may find themselves in situations where they must temporarily or permanently use a walker or a wheelchair, which gives rise to some specific dimensional requirements in the homes they want to buy. One Eau Claire REALTOR® recently had to measure the doorways in 58 homes to find three that her buyer-clients who use wheelchairs could go to see. This could have been avoided if the MLS included barrier-free features. Barrier-free features will also be important in the Home for Vets program where veterans from Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts will need homes that accommodate special needs resulting from war injuries.

The Accessibility Features Report (AFR) is an optional property condition report designed by a certified architect to provide specific information about barrier-free property features needed by a homebuyer with accessibility needs. The AFR is intended to be used by real estate agents who are listing or previewing a property to determine if the property may be appropriate for a person with disabilities. Using the AFR will help define and prioritize specific property features, rather than leave the real estate agents to determine what is or is not an “accessible” or “barrier-free” property. It also may be used to identify and prioritize the architectural features a buyer needs in a residential property.

The AFR may best be used in conjunction with MLSs. A broker who has listed a property that has potential for a person with disabilities may indicate that an AFR is available. The cooperating broker can get a copy of the AFR and see a thumbnail sketch of some of the property’s dimensions and features: the width of interior doorways, the height of thresholds, the kind of door handles, the method of window operation, etc. Using the AFR is not, however, an exact science. Any person considering a property based upon an AFR should most definitely inspect and evaluate the property.

When the listing agent showed a ranch-style home to a buyer who was not very interested in the property, it occurred to the agent that this home might, with a little remodeling, be suitable for a buyer who uses a wheelchair. The listing agent would like to advertise a house as wheelchair accessible because it is built at ground level. The agent was told that the remainder of the house, especially the bathroom, would also have to be wheelchair accessible. Is this correct? 

The term “accessible” may have many connotations, and what may be accessible for certain persons with special needs may not be so for others. It is unfortunate if the listing broker advertises a property as being accessible and the selling agent and buyer go there only to discover that it simply will never work because the garage ceiling is too low for a specially customized van and because the buyer will never be able to open and close all of the double-hung windows. The parties and the agents could avoid getting their hopes up and wasting time if they had more detailed information on the listed property’s features and the features for which the buyer is looking.

The answer, of course, is to use an AFR when listing this property that can be remodeled and retrofitted for persons with special needs. Instead of labeling a property as “accessible,” a term that has no precise, commonly understood meaning, the AFR simply gives information about potentially accessible or adaptable components in a home, such as whether grab bars are in the bathroom or could be easily installed.

Encourage your MLS to use the AFR and list barrier-free property features — it’s the wave of the future!

The AFR form may be found in ZipForm.

Debbi Conrad is Director of Legal Affairs for the WRA.

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