10 House Buying Tips when you have mobility issues or a wheelchair

Aah Spring.  Time for Easter Bunnies, newly born lamb, daffodils – and house buying.  Spring is a popular time to put your house on the market, probably to do with us coming our of winter hibernation, the nights are lighter and the garden and house are getting a spring clean.

House buying is a real minefield at the best of times, what with location, schools, transport and the commute to think of.  Add to that the issue of a disability and it becomes really problematic.

If you’re looking for a bungalow, they’re extraordinarily difficult to come by.  They are in such demand and such short supply (at least where we live in West Sussex).  For example, at time of writing, in my area there are 84 2-3 bed houses in our budget… and there are 6 bungalows.!)  They are also much more expensive than a house due to the size of the plot.  This means that because of Mr Wheel Chic Home’s disability we had to up our mortgage by £100K to find a bungalow that was wheelchair friendly.

A flat is an option, if you can find a ground floor flat, or block with a lift, but we wanted to stay in a house.  So that limited our search.  I had many suggestions from well meaning relatives about a house and getting a stair lift.  That’s great, but do you have an upstairs wheelchair and a downstairs wheelchair or do you put it on your lap on the stairlift?  Impractical.  Whilst Mr WCH doesn’t often need the chair in the house yet, there will come a time when he’s in it permanently (Damn you, Multiple Sclerosis!) so we had to think about the future.

Many, if not most bungalows on sale are an estate sale due to the death of an elderly resident.  This means you may have to remove gas fires, paisley carpet and woodchip wallpaper, and in a lot of cases (at least in our experience) the bathroom and toilet are separate and need breaking through to make one room.  Make sure you view bungalows with an open mind and with a view to how FABULOUS you can make it look, rather than what it looks like now.

We viewed 55 bungalows and had an 18 month search before we settled on the one we have, and we have no intention of selling it unless the lottery ticket comes in so we can get bigger rooms and a wider hallway.  It took that long because when you have a disability to consider you have a much more limited set of options.  So yes, we viewed a number of bungalows, but they were mainly rejected for practical reasons.  So what are those practicalities?

(note some of the photos of my house in this post are old photos, taken on the phone, so I apologise, but they give you the best view of the issues we had at the time)

Tip 1 – Is the area wheelchair friendly?

A couple of the bungalows we viewed were on steep hills, which makes living there a struggle.  Getting in and out of the house on a hill might be doable with a ramp, but he’d never be able to nip up the road for a pint of milk without the car or a motorised chair.  A steep hill also makes the garden tricky as there’s likely to be steps which would need some work later on.

Tip 2 – Is the the property accessible?

This seems like a no brainer, but check out these bungalows – none of these are any good because it would be impossible to build a ramp to get into the house in the future.

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Photo Credits: All photos from RightMove (www.rightmove.co.uk)

Don’t discount a house with steps, but you need to consider how a ramp could be added that isn’t too steep.  The Government building regulations document 2010 specifies rules on how steep a ramp can safely be.  There are many online calculators that can help figure out how much space you need for a ramp, but for example, if front door is 30cm off the ground, you’ll need a ramp of around 3.5m (it doesn’t have to be straight, it can curve).  So you need to consider if the driveway has that space or not, and how you might fit it in.

Tip 3 – Can you get into the property?

This sounds straightforward doesn’t it, but most of us actually don’t notice how high normal door thresholds are.  In some cases they are 10cm high (go and take a look at your front and back doors, I bet you’ve never noticed it!) but if like Mr WCH, you struggle to lift your left foot off the floor and can’t properly bend your knee, this becomes a problem.  There are options, to get new front door with a wheelchair threshold (see my post on this because we had to do this) but it’s additional cost, our new front door was over £1000.


Tip 4 – Can you get your wheelchair around the inside of the property?

My number one tip here is to take the wheelchair with you.  For our house we took the wheelchair on second viewing and Mr WCH sat in it and tried to get around the house.  It was a bit tight but mangeable.  With a bigger wheelchair or scooter he would struggle, but with his compact wheelchair he managed fine.  Except the bathroom door, which was too narrow.  So on second viewing we took his builder brother and asked him to advise if the door could be widened.  Which luckily it could, and he’s widened it for us since (to the tune of £1000 by the time you factor in redecorating), so the wheelchair now fits in the bathroom.

We viewed properties where the hall was so tight and there were radiators in the way, that the wheelchair couldn’t get from the living room to the bedrooms.  So that was a no-go.

Tip 5 – Are the rooms big enough to get a wheelchair round?

We have a three bedroom bungalow, but all the bedrooms are fairly small (previous owners converted it from a two bedroom and each bedroom became smaller in that conversion).  At the moment the wheelchair struggles a little in our bedroom with the bed in current position, but we’ll move the bed once he needs the chair in the house more often.

Also consider sliding wardrobe doors, much easier for someone in wheelchair, and great for smaller rooms too.

The kitchen and bathroom are critically important when buying a house but when you have a disability, it’s even more so.  You need to review the height of kitchen cabinets, the turning circle and the ability to get in the bathroom and bathe safely.  Let’s look at those separately:

Tip 6 – Is the kitchen accessible or can it be converted?

For a kitchen you need to consider height of cabinets, the turning circle between cabinets if it’s a galley kitchen and the placement of the classic kitchen triangle (cooker, sink and fridge).  Are there places for you to sit and prepare food, do you need the cabinets to be lower?  Most bespoke kitchen companies offer options for disabled people, see here for examples from Howdens to give you an idea, or review my Pinterest board for other things I’ve seen.  Some companies will have handy ways to lower the items from upper cabinets down to wheelchair level and you can also have mechanical or electrical ways to lower the worksurface including that of the hob.  All of this costs, so you need to assess is the kitchen usable as is, or do you need to add the costs into your overall budget?

Our kitchen is usable for now, as he uses this stool to prepare and eat breakfast – but at some point we’ll need to re-do it.

Tip 7 – Is the bathroom accessible or can it be converted?

The bathroom is a really important and complicated space in the house for a disabled person.  You need space for grab rails, wheelchair turning circle, and it needs to be safe.

Our bathroom is very small and not ideal to be honest, I would prefer something much larger but for now we need to work with it.  You need to look at a bathroom with a view to whether it’s usable for now, or whether or not you need to convert to a wet room.  If you need to convert, is there enough space to do so?  Do you have space for all the grab rails and support you need?

For us, the bathroom works well enough for now.  We know at some point we’ll need to convert to wet room, which will mean us moving the boiler and losing the airing cupboard to get a little more space.  Or, we may have to lose a bedroom, but I hope we can keep it where it is.

Tip 8 – Is the garden accessible and usable for wheelchair?

We’ve seen so many gardens that are down a number of steps, or the patio is up a load of steps.  Can you get in and out of the garden safely?  We need to do work on our garden  to make the exit from the patio doors safe and we also need to get better access to the decking.  And widen the path, and level the grass as we’re on a slight slope.  We have had two quotes, both in the £12,000-£15,000 range to make it fully accessible and to have ramped access from the kitchen.  We’ll be considering this soon as it’s starting to be a struggle for Mr WCH to make it to the decking.  You can see the steps in the left picture below are not great for him.

Tip 9 – Are the driveway and parking arrangements ok?

Do you have space for your cars, and is there space to open the doors fully in order to get a wheelchair built and move up to the door?  It was a requirement for us to have a level driveway with space for at least two cars.  We found that in this house, but it was deep gravel and to convert to paving it cost us £3500 – another cost you’ll need to think of.

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Tip 10 – Look at the flooring, is it suitable?

We do need to address the flooring in our house as the laminate put down by previous owners is quite slippy, (even for me), in socks, so Mr WCH has to wear shoes or slippers at all times.  He’s fallen in the kitchen twice, each time causing a trip to the local hospital and thirty stitches on each occasion.

The flooring in the kitchen and hallway needs to be addressed in or house.  We are considering using Amtico, recommended to us by a friend.  We’ve seen a sample of this and it’s quite textured so makes it a little less slippery.  We will get a quote at some point soon.

If the house is carpeted and the carpet is too thick, the chair and his legs will struggle over it, so again something else to consider in terms of cost.  I’ve written a post about rugs, but the same applies for carpets.

There’s plenty of other things that you might need to consider depending on your own circumstances but I hope this list has helped you think of some other challenges.

What other areas do you think you need to consider, I’d love to hear!

Our Inclusive Home

7 thoughts on “10 House Buying Tips when you have mobility issues or a wheelchair

  1. This is a fantastic set of tips! It’s just so frustrating it’s so difficult! I wish people could see the value in good accessibility and sell it to us (although then maybe there’d be too much competition for the really accessible homes since they are so few and far between right now!)! Thank you so much for joining the #accesslinky

  2. I couldn’t find a bungalow, so I went for a 2 storey house. with a straight staircase with space at the top and bottom for access to a seat so I can have a stairlift, with enough room to have a through floor lift if that’s eventually needed, with a downstairs and an upstairs loo and crucially a mudroom type area for keeping the wheeled stuff in (rollator, food trolley, manual chair, powerchair) when I’m not using them. Also front and back doors that could be made accessible with permanent ramps. And a bathroom that could be reorganised to either be a wetroom and big enough for a showerchair, or be a normal bathroom with space for a chair next to the sink (can’t stand for very long).

    I had a staircase with 2 turns at the last house. oof it was like a fairground ride with the elbow at the bottom! Never again. straight stairs are cheaper for stairlifts!

    1. It sounds like you have the perfect house that works for you and your needs, and you’ve future proofed it which is great! I would still love to live in a house but actually I don’t miss hoovering the stairs!

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