It’s often stated that moving house is one of the most exciting but stressful life events that we can experience. Well from our point of view as a young couple in the UK with a disability, the stressful part is certainly true.
House hunting for your dream accessible home for those with a disability is far from easy and often frustration and stress completely overshadow any feelings of excitement. But why is this the case?
In this post, my partner, Allan is guest posting by sharing his thoughts on the difficulties and frustrations when looking for a wheelchair-accessible home.
So, Emma and I have been looking to buy our own “dream” home here in Scotland for more than fourteen months with very little luck at all.
What makes a house accessible?
What’s accessible to me may not be accessible to someone else. For the most part, wheelchair users require the same basic requirements that allow them to gain access and move around freely.
Our access requirements mean that we are ideally looking for a two or three-bedroom detached/semi-detached bungalow or cottage-style house with decent outdoor space. We also need the property to be all on the one level, have a large bathroom, spacious hallways and rooms and good storage for equipment.
It also has to be within a certain budget and more to the point, in a very specific region of Scotland. Ideally our current local authority area due to care needs and being close enough to the family for support. Not a lot to ask, right?
So what’s the problem of finding an accessible home?
Well for starters, it’s not ideal to start house hunting in the middle of a pandemic that is causing lots of people to re-think where they live and start to look elsewhere for something fresh with more outdoor space and the likes.
This is sometimes causing twenty plus people to enter bidding wars at closing dates on any one property which only makes prices go one way and that is up.
It also doesn’t help that the government offered a holiday on stamp duty meaning people were saving thousands on any property they bought. Both the Scottish Government and the UK Government have first-time buyer schemes in place too which is boosting the housing market.
There is also a shortage of housing stock on offer so each property that comes up has very high competition. This is a perfect storm that we are in the middle of, trying to find what is essentially a needle in a very large haystack.
After looking for such a long time, you begin to notice patterns and I have noticed that the more expensive houses are usually more accessible and sympathetic to a wheelchair users needs but these obviously come with the baggage of huge debt.
Discriminatory housing system
So after looking at properties for the last 14 months, it seems clear that the only real way of buying an accessible home with large enough rooms and space to manoeuvre around is to spend a fortune on a large bungalow.
This is all fine and well but I would suggest that the majority of people are not in a position to do so which is extremely sad. I can’t tell you how many three/four bedroom detached two-storey homes I have seen for sale at say £120k with spacious rooms and large outdoor space vs a two-bed semi or terraced bungalow with small rooms, tiny bathroom and cramped hallway for £185k.
This really puts disabled people at a massive disadvantage when it comes to trying to buy an accessible home. Yes, bungalows are all on one level but must we be forced to pay so much over the odds in comparison to an average two-storey home?
For some reason, bungalows are expensive and very sought after by everyone and why would anyone spare a thought for those with disabilities needing them. House buying is ruthless and competitive.
My point is that disabled people do not have the same opportunity to buy a home because it is not a level playing field when it comes to available properties.
Even if you do find that needle in the haystack, disabled people are often faced with then having to make adaptations to the home they find and this can mean tapping into savings, applying for loans and grants or in some situations setting up crowdfunding appeals. And the funds for accessible bathrooms alone can run into multiple thousands, never mind access features such as ramps, widening of doors and the likes.
Basically, if you are looking for a bungalow then your search will become easier the higher price bracket that you go up to but should it really be this way just to buy a home that is all on one level. Houses builders need to sort it out because there is big demand!
Problems with house viewings as a wheelchair user
In fourteen months we have viewed around ten properties and made offers on only two and both of these needed substantial work doing to make them accessible.
Getting a viewing and attending a viewing is a palaver in itself when you are a power wheelchair user. Many viewings can be as little as ten minutes and there can be as many as twenty-five-plus viewings per day/evening.
We often ask if we can have more time just to be able to get our portable wheelchair ramp in place and get in and around the house. But we are usually told no because there are people before and after our viewing.
As if ten minutes is enough time to see a house for the first time and decide if you want it. You have more time to decide what you want to eat off a restaurant menu! It’s ridiculous.
But it’s a seller’s market so we are finding estate agents don’t care too much if we don’t get a viewing because there are so many other people.
We have called estate agents to book a viewing within two minutes of a house being listed on the property sites and are told that they already have several viewings booked! It’s unreal!
On two occasions when we had a booked viewing, only to have it cancelled because the property sold overnight.
We have been told stories by estate agents that they have sold houses for 50K-100K over the asking price. It is ridiculous. How can anyone compete with that?
It also doesn’t make financial sense because the house ends up in negative equity which is nonsensical.
Why more wheelchair accessible bungalows are needed
One of the most frustrating parts of trying to find an accessible house is that most of the time these tend to be bungalows and they are very rare to the market in comparison to other property types.
Bungalows seem to be highly sought after by all types of buyers and it can be very frustrating because maybe some of those people don’t necessarily need a bungalow they just like the look of them or don’t want stairs. This only adds to our competition for this rare type of house.
Another major issue is the total lack of new build bungalows on the market. Very few housebuilders seem to want to entertain the idea.
We have seen some but they were all in Northern Scotland which is outside our property search area. I can only guess that builders of new build properties do not build bungalows due to the size of the plot which they take up.
Meaning it costs them more land space vs narrower two storey homes. It’s so frustrating and very ignorant of these companies because there is a huge demand for bungalows and accessible housing.
Struggles of finding an accessible home
Hunting for an accessible property in our region of Scotland is a stressful nightmare at the moment. Then we recently heard that this is the hottest place in the UK for demand and speed at which properties sell when put on the market.
Not at all what we want to hear!
People are travelling hundreds of miles to view homes and often putting in offers before they have viewed the house. When they do buy after a bidding war, it only inflates the area’s house prices which then just pushes many people out of affordability.
It often makes us want to walk away and be done with the idea. Or at least for the time being because it’s not worth the frustration of seeing your dream home being battled out by numerous bidders on yet another closing date.
Obviously, the pandemic isn’t helping the situation. The varying factors have created a big bubble and we all know what bubbles do. Pop!
Video: Finding A Wheelchair Accessible Home | Our Experience & Plans!
As I’ve mentioned, house hunting is difficult, but add in a disability and wheelchair accessible requirements and it’s a whole lot more challenging. In this video, we share our experience of looking for our future wheelchair accessible home and all the issues we’ve come across.
Accessible housing for disabled people – Disability Information Scotland
Housing and disabled people: your rights – The Equality and Human Rights Commission