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Transcript: Chat With AARP President Rob Romasco on Making Your Home a Great Place to Live

AARP: Good afternoon!. We're about to get started here with Rob. So go ahead and ask your question. We have many in the queue already but we want to get to as many as we can. Thanks for participating!
Welcome to our monthly chat with AARP President Rob Romasco. Today we're talking about Making Your Home a Great Place to Live for you to age in place.

Thank you, Rob, for joining us today. We're delighted for you to be here and talk about this important topic.

Rob Romasco: I'm happy to be here. Let's get started.
Comment From Peter Campbell: My name is Peter. My question is: How long can I stay in my house after foreclosure?
Rob Romasco: Hi, Peter. First of all you're not alone in facing foreclosure.

So many older adults are finding themselves faced with foreclosure. In fact, more than 1.5 million older Americans lost their homes in the last few years. Housing problems can be very complex and it is difficult to find trustworthy information and advice.

I recommend that you call AARP Foundation's Housing Solutions Center, which connects homeowners to free HUD-certified counseling, resources and education. This provides housing information and advice directly through the toll-free number: 855-850-2525

By the way, the AARP Foundation is an affiliate charity of AARP. When you call, the counselor can give you additional information and resources.

Comment From jmackinnon: The problem is yard work and house maintenance … any ideas (I'm a single senior lady in her 70s) other than throwing money in it?

Rob Romasco: This is such a good question. We get this a lot.

The Area Agency on Aging is a resource for information on organizations that may be able to help you. Faith communities may also have resources available. Check to see if your neighborhood has as email listserv that can tell you who can assist with low-cost help … perhaps some neighborhood kids.

Some communities have organizations called “villages” where neighbors come together to help each other out. If there is a village established in your area, you could join and get information on potential resources – but that does require some cost. You can learn more about villages here at the Village to Village Network.
Comment From Charles Maclean: I live in a multigenerational cohousing community. How can safe aging in place improvements and behaviors be approached in a way that highlights benefits for all generations and minimizes any we-they polarization?

Rob Romasco: This sounds like a great place, Charles. AARP is all for cross-generational support. We see two big benefits – the structure of the space itself and the interaction among community members.

Making the structure work – good home design – helps generations. For instance:

  • Wider doorways make it easier to get large packages in or a baby on a hip
  • No-step entries can benefit strollers as much as wheelchairs
  • Counters with different heights help anyone preparing a meal or a child doing homework. 

Here is a good article about this: What Is Universal Design?

It's wonderful for all generations to mix, to learn from each other and enjoy each other’s company. Kids can't have too many grandparents.

Next page: How can I find out how old my house is? »

Comment From George: How can I find out how old my house is?

Rob Romasco: Usually city or county records indicate when the house was built. Your city or county real estate assessment division should be a good place to start for that information.
Comment From Cindy: What can I do to make my grandmother's house safer? I don't have a lot of money for upgrades but I am worried about her falling.

Rob Romasco: There are lots of free things you can do around your grandmother's house. One idea is to remove tripping hazards, such as small throw rugs and electrical cords. There are also low-cost things, like making sure there is good lighting around the house, including lamps and overhead lights. You can increase wattage and add nightlights. These are simple, don't cost much and make a big difference.
Comment From SANDY HOLLAND: I refuse to make ugly "old" changes to my house. Why aren't there any decorators I can work with who specialize in making my home safe for me but still pretty.
Rob Romasco: There are some great-looking products out there that are truly practical and attractive. Grab bars are a great example – there are terrific ones that look like towel racks, in all kinds of finishes.

For those who have room in their budgets, there are professionals who can help. They're called certified aging in place specialists. These "CAPS" builders and remodelers can help ensure universal design features are included in a new construction or remodel. You can find CAPS professionals listed here.

Comment From David Teller: My wife had a stroke two months ago and is in a wheelchair now; her nurse recommends we make changes to the house to make it easier for her. How much money can I budget for this project? I need to update my home so I can fit her wheelchair.
Rob Romasco: Mr. Teller, this is a question we get quite often, so I’m glad you asked it. We can’t really provide an estimate, but I would recommend that you talk to a contractor to help you evaluate what can be done and at what cost. Here is an article about How to Hire a Contractor.

I’d also recommend that you look into certified aging in place (CAPS) specialists. You can find them listed here. Best of luck to you and your wife, Mr. Teller.
Comment From David Teller: Will making these changes impact the value of my home, good or bad?
Rob Romasco: Typically, the improvements you make – when done well – will improve the value of your home, especially if they’re done with an eye to good design.

Comment From Guest: How wide should a doorway be for wheelchair access?
Rob Romasco: From what I understand, the doorway should be between 32 and 36 inches, depending on where the door is. I would recommend you talk to one of the professionals from the lists noted above to assess your needs.

Next page: I don't want to move, but my house is getting really hard to get around »

Comment From Kathy B: I don't want to move, but my house is getting really hard to get around after knee surgery. I'm feeling like it's going to only get worse. The main issue is my stairs. How do I address this?
Rob Romasco: Hi, Kathy. If moving is not an option, then you might want to consider whether you have any space on the main living level that could be converted into a bedroom and a bathroom. Another option is to look into adding a motorized stair chair.

If that's not possible, make sure the stairs having railings on both sides, are slip resistant and well lit to ensure as much safety as possible.

I’d also suggest looking for a contractor who is a certified aging in place specialist (CAPS) because they are qualified to give you the best advice about what’s possible and advisable. You can find a list of CAPS professionals here.Comment From Guest: What is the best way to finance home repairs as opposed to home improvements. I need to do some basic repairs (including a new roof and a new hot water heater) but I can't afford to pay cash. If I put the work on a credit card the interest will eat me alive. Applying for a "home improvement" loan isn't an option.
Rob Romasco: It can be hard to find reliable, affordable help with home repairs. We’ve collected the names of some organizations that are dedicated to help meet the growing need for home repair services. Here are a few resources to jump-start your research.

  • Rebuilding Together is the nation's largest volunteer housing rehabilitation organization. Go to to see if there are Rebuilding Together affiliates in your state.
  • Centers for Independent Living (CIL). Many CILs may have funds available to assist in home modifications.
  • Your State Housing Finance Agency – every state has one. In North Carolina, for example, NCHFA helps low-income homeowners who need urgent repairs, accessibility modifications, comprehensive rehabilitation or energy-related home improvements by providing funds to local governments and nonprofit organizations that provide these services. NCHFA does not provide funding directly to individuals but could provide a list of the organizations they fund that provide services to individual homeowners.
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Check out HUD to see if you can access loans that can help you with home ownership and repairs.
  • Federal Housing Administration (FHA). There are two loan guarantee programs from the Federal Housing Administration, Title 1 and 203K loans have loan size limits.

Comment From Lynn: Will adding grab bars and things like that now help me prevent my children from selling my house later?
Rob Romasco: When done well, you won't even notice that they are grab bars. If you're concerned about resale, you can also contact the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Their designers can help with product selections that look great and are practical.

Next page: What are the signs your parents need assisted living? »

Comment From Rosemary Delisi: When do you think it's time to talk about moving your parents to a retirement community? What are the signs they need assisted living or they can remain in independent living?
Rob Romasco: It's never too early to have the conversation with your parents about moving to a place to live that will better suit their needs. It is important that you let your parents lead the discussion about what's important for them in their next place to live. In terms of signs, there are a lot, and it varies by person. This Assessment Checklist can help.

There are many options for retirement living. This article about Assessing Housing Options can help you determine if a nursing home is the right option, or if there are others you can consider. You may want to check out our Care Providers Search Tool for finding assisted living facilities in your area. Best of luck to you.
Comment From Katherine: Is home-sharing an option among seniors who may be friends or family so that folks can age in place? Share expenses and company. Are there working models?

Rob Romasco: This idea of 'cohousing' is gaining popularity. There are many things to think about before you move ahead. This article from the AARP Bulletin on Elder Co-housing has some great information. Here is a related blog post on Community Caregiving in Cohousing. Thanks for bringing this up, and best of luck.
Comment From MaryAnne: I feel that I can no longer care for my mother and put her into a nursing home. Will Medicaid still take the house from me because five years have not passed? I have not worked a job since 1997 because I've been giving my life to take care of both parents and now I'm worried that me and my 18-year-old son would be left homeless. I live in the state of Georgia if that is helpful.
Rob Romasco: Wow, that's quite a challenge. If you live in the home and have been your parent's caregiver, you might actually be exempt from estate recovery. Each state has different rules, so you should discuss the details of your situation with a qualified legal professional such as those at Georgia Legal Aid. I hope this information helps. Best of luck to you.

This has been a great session with great questions. You can replay this chat event and watch the questions and answers again and then we'll post the transcript soon. I encourage you to visit us for more information at

As you can see, AARP has great resources to help you and your family live your best lives. We understand the challenges that you face, and we want you to know that you're not alone.

Thanks again for joining us.
AARP: And thank you, Rob, for all the great information today. You're right, there were a lot of fantastic questions. Wish we could have got to them all.

Thank you, everyone, for participating.

Robert Romasco is the president of AARP.

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