Purchasing a home can be a stressful process, and adding a chronic condition like RA into the mix brings up a whole other list of things to consider. So how exactly can you go about making the best decisions as you navigate home shopping with RA?
My husband and I decided to purchase our home at the same time that I was awaiting surgery for my first hip replacement. In retrospect, the extreme pain I was in helped to keep me in check, as I tend to “forget” how bad the pain can get, imagining that I can do more than I can. So, if you're like me, it may not be a bad idea to go house shopping when you're flaring. Later, you'll be thankful that you chose with your RA in mind, especially when the RA pain comes out to play in that very nasty way.
A home is your haven, but not if you can't easily access it. If you're limping, on crutches, using a walker or a wheelchair, are you able to independently and safely get in and out of the house? We settled on a ground-level townhouse, mainly because of all the properties that we looked at, this one was the easiest for me to access when I was in such agony. There were no stairs to get into the house, nor were there any inside. To this day, I am appreciative of our one-level living arrangements! Another bonus was that there would be no yard maintenance, as it would be taken care of by our property management fees.
Another thing to consider is the type of home you want, based upon your budget, of course. Single-family detached home, townhouse or condominium? This decision will impact the quality of your life, so it's important to evaluate the pros and cons thoroughly. Due to the mercurial and progressive nature of RA, it is wise to prepare for the worst-case scenario, but plan for the best outcome possible.
Carefully evaluate the size of home you'll need. It needs to be cleaned, so unless Rosy Robot is a regular visitor to your home, you may need to adjust your expectations. How many bathrooms do you want to clean? We have two, and I find that's more than enough.
Location, location, location
Be sure to check out the surrounding area. When we first rented, we didn't realize that there was a fire station around the corner from us. As a light sleeper, I was often awakened by the blaring of fire trucks as they rushed off to attend to the emergencies around town.
If you're moving into a townhouse complex or condominium, carefully check out possible sources of noise that may interrupt your much needed rest. If the unit you're looking at is close to the entrance gate of the complex, you may be disturbed by the constant whir and clang as it opens and closes. Perhaps you'll hear the not-so-melodic sounds of the key pad as visitors punch in to gain entry. Where is the elevator? Although it is convenient to be next to it, the regular comings and goings of your neighbors as they enter or exit the elevator may prove to be an added source of irritation.
How are you with “second-hand noise”? Would the boisterous sounds coming from the pool or party room make their way into the unit you're considering?
Try to visit at various times during the day/week to get a clear picture of the traffic and noise patterns.
Commute and transportation
What type of commute will you have to work? Imagine your worst flare, how much longer will your day seem with the addition of a long commute? How close are you to the places you regularly visit? For example, the pool I frequent is less than a ten-minute drive. It's a lot easier to stay committed to an exercise program when you don't have to tack on longer travel time. Distance and travel times count, especially if you need support from your friends and family.
If you drive, you want to ensure that there is adequate, accessible parking available. Is a garage a must? How do you feel about underground parking? How far do you have go to access public transit and what's the schedule? Figuring out all these questions will help you narrow down the best home for you.
Making your new home RA-friendly
In a perfect world, the house you buy would be RA-Friendly. Since perfect exists in your imagination, the reality may take some retrofitting. Lever door handles may be one of the first changes you make in your new home. You want to be able to get in or get out easily and safely.
A walk-in shower stall is so much easier for anyone who has limited mobility. A shower chair and grab bars help to keep you safe. As long as we're in the bathroom, why not add a higher toilet? It's so much easier to keep clean than the portable plastic toilet seat risers.
If for some reason you do opt for a two-story home, consider the location of the washer and dryer. Can you imagine going up and down the stairs with your laundry in the midst of a major flare-up? Neither can I. So, ideally, you'll want them in a place of greatest accessibility.
How about that flooring? Carpets, linoleum, hardwood? There are pros and cons to each of them. Carpeting is softer on those tender feet and aggrieved knees. If noise is an issue, carpeting is sound-baffling, which helps if you're sharing walls or floors with your neighbors. On the other hand, linoleum and hardwood are easier to clean as there is no heavy vacuum to drag around. Instead you can put on some music and have a waltz with a Swiffer.
Before you head out with your realtor, take time to evaluate your needs, then create a checklist to help you find your ideal home sweet home.
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Marianna Paulson is known as Auntie Stress. On her website, you'll find links to her two blogs, Auntie Stress Cafe and the award-winning, A Rheumful of Tips. She also publishes a mostly monthly newsletter called The Connective Issue. Sign up here to receive information, tips, and to learn about giveaways.