In January 2006, the first wave of baby boomers turned 60. Over the next several years, some 75 million of that generation will reach or approach retirement age. For remodelers, this represents a huge market opportunity. Scott McCollum of McCollum Associates, in Dallas, and Bob Bell of Bell's Remodeling, in Duluth, Minn., are two remodelers who saw potential in the growing retiree and aging-in-place market.

Like remodelers Bob Bell and Scott McCollum, Dakota Builders in Tucson, Ariz., also has taken on universal design projects. The bathroom project shown above features a spacious roll-in shower design well-suited not just for wheelchair access, but also for bathing kids or washing a dog.
Dakota Builders Like remodelers Bob Bell and Scott McCollum, Dakota Builders in Tucson, Ariz., also has taken on universal design projects. The bathroom project shown above features a spacious roll-in shower design well-suited not just for wheelchair access, but also for bathing kids or washing a dog.

“I'm in that group [of aging baby boomers],” McCollum says, “so when you look at the mega trends, I was very aware of what was going on. Everything you look at from the standpoint of numbers [indicates that] this market is growing.”

Both Bell and McCollum jumped at the chance to earn the industry's only aging-in-place certification, the National Association of Home Builders' Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation. Eventually both became involved in the education process themselves, teaching CAPS courses through the NAHB's University of Housing program.

McCollum sees so much potential in the CAPS market that he is restructuring his business to focus exclusively on aging-in-place and green remodeling projects. The first step, he says, will be promoting CAPS on his quarterly four-color direct-mail card. The cards currently feature icons reflecting all of McCollum's designations, but going forward, CAPS and green building will be the focus. McCollum also promotes his CAPS work on home improvement radio shows, something he plans to do more of. “I could see us, two or three years down the road, doing a CAPS-focused major-market radio show,” he says.

Dakota Builders

Dakota Builders

UNIQUE CHALLENGES Remodelers looking to enter the market, however, must realize that aging-in-place work comes with its own unique set of complexities, McCollum says. Challenges arise when an aged, ill, or disabled homeowner is not the sole decision-maker. A variety of third parties may be involved — anyone from a spouse or child to a therapist, doctor, caseworker, or even an accountant or financial adviser. Remodelers, Bell says, may also face resistance from clients who are in denial about the reality of their circumstance. They might object to certain modifications that will be helpful in time even if they aren't needed now.

On one recent project, Bell says, a client just diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) chose a round-front toilet seat instead of an elongated bowl. Shortly after the toilet was installed, the client's condition worsened and she needed assistance in the bathroom. Bell had to return and install the elongated bowl. He was able to replace the toilet quickly, but it could have turned out differently.

Clients, Bell says, “don't realize that you can't just go down to The Home Depot and pick up these products off the shelf.”

Taken together, these challenges mean that the planning stages of an aging-in-place project may be far more complicated (and emotional) than those on a typical remodel. CAPS instructors recommend creating a team atmosphere, working as closely as possible with any doctors or therapists who may be involved. “You have to figure out who your allies are,” McCollum says. “If you're a good, active listener, you'll be able to figure out, ‘I'm going to need help from the therapist or from the son or daughter.'

“When you're selling a CAPS job, you're not only evaluating the physical circumstance of the individual and of the home, you're also evaluating all the people who are involved in the process,” McCollum says.

David Zuckerman is a freelance writer based in New York.