How Can REALTORS® Help Clients Find an Accessible Property?

There’s much more that REALTORS® can be doing to help people living with disabilities buy or sell a home, says Aaron Lillie, a broker in Barrie, Ontario. And inventory shortages across the country make it that much more challenging for people living with disabilities to get into the market.

“It’s very rare to come across something that is, let’s call, ‘fully accessible’,” says Lillie, who became a quadriplegic after breaking his neck diving into Lake Muskoka in 2007. “In terms of something being accessible, there are so many different types of disabilities and also severity, so it’s not like you have this one blanketed type of home or property.”

But homes can be modified, and that message needs to get out there more, he says.

When a REALTOR® lists a home, Lillie says they should include information on how the home can be modified for people living with a disability. That might include information on a stair chair (which rides on a rail) or doors that can be widened for wheelchairs, or modified vanities and room to install curbless showers in the bathroom, or the option of lowering countertops in the kitchen with pullout shelves to prepare food.

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Lillie says some REALTORS® forget to include people living with disabilities when they prepare their marketing materials, which makes it more challenging for them to find or sell a home.

Tip: There are steps you can take to make your website more accessible. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provides an internationally accepted standard to making online content more accessible. You don’t need to be an expert coder either. Discover a few tips to help get you started, such as adding alt text to images so people using screen reading technology get a more holistic experience.

The two main features that clients living with disabilities look for are entrance solutions, so they can safely get in and out of the house, and bathroom solutions, Kerr says.

Use technology

Dexter Wilkie, a salesperson and REALTOR® in Halifax, says technology has made it easier to show properties to people living with disabilities.

“Depending on the client, we can cater to their needs, including audio walkthrough for [people with low vision or a person who is blind], video walkthrough and virtual tours [YouTube or social media] if the property is not accessible by foot,” he says. “For vacant raw land, I recently had a client watch me drone tour them through the property and the client couldn’t walk the land.”

Jeffrey Kerr, a broker in Toronto, agrees that technology has made a huge difference.

“Technology has really been a game changer in helping most buyers, including [people living with a disability], view homes remotely [the exception being people who are blind or have low vision],” Kerr says. “Virtual tours, video tours, photos and floor plans make it really easy for people to evaluate a house online before booking an in-person showing. This is especially true in the winter when there is lots of snow on the ground, making it more challenging for people who rely on mobility devices to move around.”

On Episode 20 of REAL TIME, Brad McCannell, Vice President of Access and Inclusion at the Rick Hansen Foundation takes a closer look at Universal Design trends and opportunities. Listen to the episode now.

A more balanced real estate market, like what we’re seeing now, might be better for buyers looking for an accessible home, which can be modified to meet their needs, as opposed to the red-hot market we’ve seen the past couple of years, where homes have sold in a day or two. Taking the time that’s needed to evaluate a home—for consultations with an occupational therapist, home inspector, or home modification expert, for instance—isn’t always possible in an active market.

Katherine Minovski, a broker based in Unionville, Ontario, says she’ll recommend contractors to clients, but another current challenge due to supply-chain issues from the pandemic and inflationary pressures has been the high cost of materials and labour for renovations or modifications. Housing supply is an issue as well, she says, especially bungalows and first-floor units that can be more easily made accessible as well as easy access to parking and amenities.

If a client is a person who is deaf, hard-of-hearing or in the Deaf community, it may be helpful to provide a printout of a property’s stats before touring a home. You can also communicate in writing at the property (using a notepad, cellphone, or tablet). During more complicated transactions, you may want to consider finding an American Sign Language interpreter.

Disabilities come in many forms

Kerr says he’s noticing a rising demand for accessible homes. And, like Lillie, he emphasizes not all disabilities are the same, so it’s important to have a discussion with a client to get a clear understanding of their needs.

Kerr and Lillie also point to the growing numbers of seniors—23% of the population in Canada will be over the age of 65 by 2030— and most of them want to age in place. They will need accommodations to their homes as they get older.

Speak to your client about what their needs are (never assume), so you can help coordinate during the process to ensure their needs are being met in an equitable way.

Have you worked with someone who has accessible housing needs? Share your knowledge and experience in the Comments section below!

The CREA Café team is responsible for the official blog of The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). The CREA Café is a cozy place for CREA to connect with our valued members and friends by sharing our thoughts and insights over a virtual cup of coffee.

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