House Hunter: 'We need a house with wheelchair access'

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The Independent Online

THE PROBLEM

THE PROBLEM

Angela Scott of Warwickshire writes: "A motor accident some years ago left my husband partially paralysed and permanently confined to a wheelchair.

"We have modified our existing house, but took the hard-nosed decision to make only a few changes to ensure that the property remained easy to sell. We now want to move and our next property must be tailored to my husband's long-term needs.

"We are financially comfortable and are happy to move to a different area in order to get the right property. We are both under 40 and have a 10-year-old daughter. Despite the obvious problems, we are determined to live as normal a family life as possible. We would prefer a home on one level in a property that appears to everyone, including ourselves, to be conventional. But it must have enough rooms, aids and internal space for my husband to enjoy adequate mobility.

"Trawling through estate agents' details and websites is demoralising - there appears to be nothing of this kind on the market. Can you help?"

THE ADVICE

Graham Norwood writes: "There are more than six million people with some form of disability in the UK, so at any one time there are thousands of modified or suitable properties on sale. The problem is, estate agents are loath to advertise them in case able-bodied buyers are deterred by old-fashioned ideas of what constitutes 'disability-friendly features'.

"You should register with all estate agents in the usual way and set out clearly what your requirements are. To avoid confusion it is sensible to use terminology accepted by house builders or firms that modify properties, so if a home on sale is described as 'accessible' or 'adapted' you know what to expect.

"'Accessible' homes have off-street or unrestricted on-street parking within 25m of the front door; there will also be no steps between the parking area and the property entrance; there will be access to at least one external door which will be at street level or reached via a ramp; within the property there will also be level access to all the main 'living floor' rooms such as kitchen and living room although it may be that bedrooms will be upstairs; finally, an accessible home will have a toilet on the same level as the entrance or will have a lift to a WC if it is on another floor.

"'Adapted' homes contain fixed equipment or adaptations designed to meet the needs of those with physical impairment - a vague phrase that could mean as little as having a handrail next to the bath right up to having lifts, wider hallways, ramped thresholds and electrical fittings moved to arm-height.

"Some agents now use the term 'disabilities-friendly community' to denote an area where nearby shops and facilities like doctor's surgeries are easy to access for those with mobility problems.

"If you are having difficulty finding suitable properties, try one of a range of disability-friendly property internet services now emerging. For local authority or housing association properties, consult www.ability-housing.co.uk or www.disability-housing-register.co.uk.

"For those wanting a private home, a new website, www.mobilityfriendlyhomes.co.uk, is a lifeline. It is a showcase for estate agents across the UK to use for accessible or adapted homes - sometimes the same properties are advertised on the agents' own websites without any reference to their disability-friendly features, but when they are also advertised on the website they reveal the aids. "There are thousands of these properties but they're rarely identified when they're going on sale" says the site's founder, Eastbourne estate agent Mike Reid.

"There is also an adapted/ accessible property section on www.thelittlehousecompany.co.uk, a website that deals with private home sales without going through estate agents.

"One other solution is to buy a new or recently built home. Since 2000, developers have been legally obliged to construct homes complying with what industry-jargon calls Part M Building Regulations.

"These force builders to make the approach to a property, its entrance and internal doorways and the layout of rooms to be completely accessible for those in wheelchairs or with other severe mobility restrictions.

"Part M also obliges developers to put light switches and sockets near mid-points on walls, to fit grab rails in bathrooms, and ensure cookers and ovens are accessible, too."

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Accessible modern apartment, disabilities-friendly community.

Price: £260,000.

Agent's details: Ground floor three-bedroom apartment with large rooms in this development in the centre of Poundbury, a modern suburb of Dorchester, Dorset. There is comfortable wheelchair access to the property and the surrounding area is predominantly flat. The masterplan for Poundbury's 400 acres are governed by a building code that ensures car parking is to the rear of homes, in order to encourage easier disability mobility on pavements to street-level new-build cafes, shops and community buildings.

Agent: Jackson Stops & Staff, 01305 262123.

Property two: Accessible new apartment, mixed community.

Price: From £249,000.

Agent's details: Cassio Mansions is an apartment complex being built in Watford, which will offer disability access to each of the 101 flats, each of which has an open-plan same-level living area. Lifts run to every floor. On site will be a swimming pool, hydrotherapy spa and gymnasium, all with wheelchair access and disability-friendly changing rooms. Two-bedroom properties begin at £249,000 with larger units going on sale later in the year from £375,000. Service charges are still being calculated to cover communal facilities including a concierge service.

Agent: Linden Homes, 01923 229229.

Property three: Adapted bungalow, mixed community.

Price: £425,000.

Agent's details: Firgrove Lodge, in the village of Bielby, 12 miles from York, is a good example of a large property with grounds discreetly tailored to those with disabilities. This bungalow has four bedrooms, a study, a double garage and a kitchen with granite work surfaces, Spanish terracotta tiles and a US-style fridge freezer. The paved terrace and lawned garden have easy maintenance, while the front door and three internal ones are double width; the others are 90cm wide instead of the standard 84cm. Electricity sockets are at a higher level than usual and light switches are also lower, all suited to wheelchair users.

Agent: Blenkin & Co, 01904 671672

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to: The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 020-7005-2000 or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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