person in wheel chair

Tips for Buying a Home If You Are Disabled

Felix Homes

Nov 11th 2020

If you’re living with a physical disability, then you’ve probably conquered your fair share of adversity. Rampless entryways, cramped corridors, and poor lighting can make it feel like the world is conspiring to annoy you. Thankfully, finding your perfect living situation doesn’t have to be this hectic. Homeownership has never been more accessible for individuals with disabilities. But before you start your search, here are some tips to empower you throughout the homebuying process.

Know Your Housing Rights

There are a number of housing laws in place that help safeguard the rights of the disabled and ease the process of finding a residence. In 1988, people with disabilities were added as a protected class to the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This means that they are protected from discrimination throughout the process of seeking and securing a residence. 

How does this look in real life, you ask? For one, real estate agents aren’t allowed to steer disabled individuals toward certain properties, and sellers can’t consider a buyer’s physical disability when fielding an offer on their home. Basically, if your physical disability alters the way you are treated, then you have grounds to submit a discrimination complaint to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The 1988 addition to the FHA also extends to accessibility within dwellings. As long as it was first occupied after March 13, 1991, any multifamily housing structure with more than four units must have options that meet these 7 accessibility requirements:

  1. An accessible building entrance on an accessible route
  2. Accessible and usable public and common use areas
  3. Usable doors
  4. Accessible route into and through the housing unit
  5. Accessible environmental controls, such as light switches and thermostats
  6. Reinforced walls for grab bars
  7. Usable kitchens and bathrooms

These stipulations, unfortunately, do not apply to multifamily dwellings of four units or less, or to single-family homes—even those built after 1991. To evaluate which housing option is the best for you, you’ll need to…

Know Your Options

Every person, disabled or otherwise, comes with their own set of requirements for a living situation. Factors like your age, experience, financial flexibility, and type of disability all affect which style of housing you wish to pursue. We suggest you talk to someone about your housing possibilities. An experienced real estate agent can help you understand your options, and might expose you to ideas you’ve never even considered. Some real estate agents even specialize in working with disabled clients

You can also talk to an advisor associated with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Every state has HUD-approved housing counselors that offer insight into your homebuying process. 

The most straightforward residential option is contemporary multi-family housing, for its adherence to those previously-mentioned FHA regulations. However, if you seek more space, privacy, or just a different housing experience, there are plenty of options that could suit your needs.

While they might not be perfectly designed for accessibility, certain housing styles are often adaptable to the needs of the differently-abled. Ranch, craftsman, and bungalow-style homes usually allow for ease of access, and often feature open, user-friendly floor plans. If you favor construction that’s more move-in ready, many of today’s builders are creating spaces with universal design in mind.

Universal design is an innovative concept that prioritizes accessibility and ease. Think lots of natural light, wall-mounted sinks, generous sight-lines, and paddle door handles. By implementing design concepts that accommodate almost all needs, these properties are move-in ready for nearly everyone. That being said, some of these properties are more adaptable than accessible, which means you might have to make a few alterations based on your particular needs.

Know Your Financing

If you’re looking to buy a home or make your property more accessible, there’s no reason to go it alone. Depending on your location and type of disability, there may be dozens of programs designed to help you either find or create your perfect environment. Some of these are nationwide, while others are geared to a certain locale. You might have to do a little research to find out which programs apply to your area. However, a few great places to start include:

FHA Loans

These federally-insured loans are great options for low-to-moderate income households. As long as you have a credit score of at least 580, you can secure a loan for up to 96.5% of your home’s value. They even have a loan option that includes the cost of necessary repairs on a new property. First, you’ll have to find an FHA-approved lender, but that’s a speed bump on the otherwise clear road to accessible homeownership.

Housing Choice Voucher

For first-time, low-income homeowners that can stand to wait a little while for approval, this program, courtesy of HUD, is often the best option. Most associate the HCV with securing rent, but there is a homeownership option that can help cover monthly mortgage payments and expenses associated with making a home accessible. The HCV does have a few drawbacks. Not every Public Housing Authority offers the program, and waiting lists can be many months long. Many first-time buyers, though, find that the savings are worth the delay.

Fannie Mae

Fannie Mae’s Community HomeChoice program makes it easier for people with disabilities to secure a mortgage. Forgiving debt-to-income, credit, and down payment requirements all help lower the threshold to get you in your ideal dwelling.

Habitat for Humanity

Habitat is renowned for working with qualified families to create accessible environments. Their designs tend to have wide openings and no-step entries that cater to all individuals. You’ll have to show your commitment by attending classes and maybe helping build a couple of houses yourself, but the reward is a well-built, affordable house that fits your needs.

Upgrading your Home to Meet Accessibility Standards

There are a multitude of programs that help disabled individuals alter a home. Although many are geared toward specific conditions/demographics, like blindness or retired persons, there’s a good chance that if you have a disability someone is out there just waiting to help. Rebuilding Together Americorps, The Gary Sinise Foundation, and ModestNeeds.org, among others, make sure that you don’t break the bank for suitable housing. For a more exhaustive list of these options tailored to your area, check out this directory.

Options for Disabled Veterans

Apart from conventional VA loans, disabled veterans—even those not injured in the line of duty—have special financing options for accessible housing. Veterans with certain service or aging-related disabilities can qualify for an SHA grant, which allows for the securing of user-friendly housing and for home modifications. Those injured in the line of duty after September 11th, 2001 might qualify for the Homes for Our Troops program, which offers mortgage-free housing to retiring wounded veterans.

Whatever your situation, there’s always a housing option to fit your needs. If you’re in the Nashville, TN area and want to have a conversation about accessible housing—or any other residential situation—feel free to give Felix Homes a call at 615-422-4277, or send us an email at contact@felixhomes.com. We always strive to be accessible to you.