Remodelers don't usually think of aging-in-place modifications as a chance to upsell, but Dan Bawden does. Earlier this year, his Houston-area company, Legal Eagle Contractors, opened The Idea Center: a home remodeled into an office/showroom equipped with aging-in-place innovations, from the front porch's removable wheelchair ramp to threshold-free doorways, good lighting, and lever door handles.

Bawden's goal is to get clients excited about a concept that many people still associate with infirmity. “I emphasize that these features don't look bad and can be stylishly accomplished,” he says, adding that walking clients through the house has a lot more punch than just discussing aging in place in the abstract.

Bawden was a driving force behind the CAPS (Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist) certification and was one of the first remodelers to receive it. Sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders' Remodelors Council and AARP, the CAPS program has graduated more than 1,100 remodelers since 2001. Bawden notes that public awareness of the aging-in-place “movement” is increasing as remodelers educate clients about their options for remaining relatively independent in their own homes. At the same time, manufacturers are launching a new generation of accessible products that are both functional and attractive.

“Once you get people thinking about how these modifications can make their life easier and more comfortable, they start to get excited,” Bawden says. “There's also the warm-and-fuzzy angle of doing this work. It's very personally rewarding, and the adult children are happier — they feel you're doing something good for mom and dad.”

Still, “there's a lot of denial” about the challenges associated with aging, notes Bawden, who is also an estate attorney. “I talk about CAPS with every client, whether they're 33 or 83,” he says. He avoids words such as “aging” and “senior,” and prefers instead to use “storytelling” to discuss aging-in-place in the context of his clients' elderly parents. He explains that by doing modifications now, they won't have to scramble later, should illness or injury strike.

Bawden sometimes even brings in an occupational therapist to recommend specific modifications for clients who already have a serious illness or disability. This can vastly improve the client's quality of life, and “from a marketing standpoint, it looks like you're offering that much more,” he says.

For more about CAPS, visit The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is developing a certification in universal design. Also see ByDesign on page 60 in this issue.