Before beginning the search for special needs housing there are some tips to consider. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website lists state and local government agencies, along with other organizations, that can help you. At the federal level, the agency also provides information about HUD’s Section 504 regulations that define federal financial assistance. In particular, Section 811 outlines it’s program for Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities. It is important to research what assistance is available before contacting a realtor.
Once you have a strategy in place to utilize available programs to minimize costs, it is time to think about the housing location. Is the individual with special needs employed or a student? Can they drive a car or do they need to be near public transportation to get to work or school? If the individual is a K-12 student, pay particular attention to school and after-school programs. Research what is available as many schools have programs for children with special needs that are offered outside of the standard school zoning in some neighborhoods. Also, take into account the proximity of hospitals and doctors. Consider the location of shopping (food and otherwise), dining and entertainment. Also, consider if there are any restrictions regarding support animals if that is relevant to your special needs.
Once the location list is narrowed down talk to others who have faced the same housing challenges; whether it is a support group, school parent message boards, housing assistance advocacy group, or online forum. You can save a lot of time and money by learning from others who have gone before you. In these discussions, ask a lot of follow up questions because it is hard to ask about what you don’t know. Dialing into the details can help save you missteps in your process.
Once you have identified a general location that meets some of the criteria above, it is time to canvas the availability of appropriate homes. When thinking about the layout and design of a home, consider the rambler or ranch style house. They have a long low profile, very few stairs to navigate (if any) and have minimal exterior and interior decoration. These rambler attributes make the home reasonably easy to modify.
If mobility is an issue, look for a house with smooth floorings, such as hardwood floors or laminate flooring. Smooth surfaces provide easier access to shower and bathroom areas. Also, check to see that the doorways in the home are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Assess how many modifications would be required to address the special needs while remaining within a budget. Grab bars, ramps, and other similar amenities are reasonably simple to add, and some states, cities, and counties will help pay for the modifications.
Not only are there federal, state, and local agencies to help you meet the requirements of a special needs home, there are also lenders and realtors who specialize in financing and purchasing this type of home. A good lender and realty agent will be familiar with the agencies and government programs that can help their client get approved for a loan and maneuver the housing marketplace for the right fit.
Get online and look. Realtor.com, Zillow, Homesnap, and Redfin are just a few of the online options to explore real estate from your home or mobile device. Just plug in an address of a home in the area that meets your criteria and you will get stats on that home as well as an aerial map of the neighborhood that allows you to click on and get information about homes that are not currently on the market but maybe soon.
Realize this process takes time. Identify a strong, competent real estate agent who understands your special needs parameters and is willing to put forth the time to find the right housing solution for you. Also, speak with a trusted attorney to ensure you have maximized all potential program benefits available to you. Buying a home is probably the biggest purchase you will make in your life. Buying a home that accommodates special needs adds a layer of complexity that should be well thought out before hiring a realtor.