Baby boomer home upgrades change home insurance needs

Linda Melone

Baby boomers are experiencing the physical changes associated with aging, such as loss of balance or achy joints. Some of these changes may require modification to your home, resulting in changes to your homeowner's insurance.

For example, an older home with a sunken living room that requires stepping down two or three steps to enter can become a tripping hazard for older Americans.

Painful and weak knees make it challenging to walk up and down stairs. Even entering and exiting a shower can be a problem. Aside from moving into an assisted living center, the alternatives require upgrading your home.

Adding a special shower door, eliminating stairs, filling in a sunken living room and even adding a residential elevator can enable aging baby boomers to stay in their homes longer and remain independent, says Andy Shore, president and owner of Sea Pointe Construction, a remodeling company in California.

Shore, whose clients typically range from age 45 to 65, offers a service called "aging in place" also called universal design) to accommodate the evolving needs of boomers. Examples of home design changes include motion sensors - eliminating the risk of fumbling in the dark for a light switch, handrails in bathrooms for balance and lifts on stairways.

Renovations that impact insurance needs

Simple changes, such as adding handrails in the shower, that don't affect your home's value won't require additional homeowner's insurance, says Tim Dodge, a spokesman for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of New York, a trade group. However, you'll need more coverage if the cost to outfit your home lifts the value of your home.

The amount of insurance that homeowners should carry depends on the cost of rebuilding the house, Dodge says. "If the home was completely destroyed in a fire, the homeowner will need enough coverage to pay to replace it all," he says.

In addition to the added value of the renovation, consider how the change will affect your liability, says David Miller, CEO of Brightway Insurance in Florida. For example, if you add a Jacuzzi to ease sore muscles, this creates greater liability as it increases the chances of someone falling in and getting hurt.

Classified as "attractive nuisances," Jacuzzis and swimming pools are pieces of equipment likely to attract children, who can fall in and become injured. The liability portion of your homeowner's policy covers legal fees in the event of a lawsuit, but check with your insurer if you plan to add a Jacuzzi or similar "nuisance," Miller says.

On the other hand, cosmetic changes - such as widening doorways - are less likely to affect your coverage, Miller says.

Costs of popular boomer upgrades
Popular baby boomer home remodel upgrades include:

  1. Filling in a sunken living room
    Estimated cost for concrete: $2,000 to $3,500.
  1. Widening doorways to fit walkers and wheelchairs
    Estimated cost: $1,000, depending on the work involved.
  1. Installing residential elevator
    Estimated cost: $20,000 to $50,000.
  1. Changing shower doors and installing handrails
    Estimated cost: $6,000 to $8,000.

Whether these changes will boost your insurance rates varies greatly, but the residential elevator is most likely to require more coverage, Miller says. "The residential elevator industry makes sure that all kinds of safety precautions are in place, so liability is not an issue," he says. The high cost of the elevator, however, will require you to update your insurance since it increases the replacement value.
Increasing coverage
To find out whether a particular change will affect your insurance, Dodge recommends:

  • Talking to your insurance agent. Insurance companies use mathematical models developed by companies such as Marshall & Swift to calculate building replacement costs.
  • Going to, a service provided by Marshall & Swift. For less than $10, the homeowner can input information about the house and receive an estimate of the replacement cost, Dodge says.
Getting an estimate from a local homebuilder regarding how much it would cost to rebuild, whether it's your entire home or just a section.

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