Tax Breaks For Accessibility Remodeling

For those of you preparing your Virginia state tax returns, or planning remodeling and looking to maximize tax credits for next year – – here’s how to get up to $5,000 back if you do accessibility remodeling to accommodate aging in place or other physical challenges. Sadly, the federal bill referenced in this blog, originally posted last September, died before coming to a vote. But, Virginians, you’re good.

Read on . . .

With advances in medical care and increased awareness and implementation of healthy lifestyle choices, aging is a lot more fun than it used to be. Here’s another advantage for 21st-century seniors: tax breaks for fixing up your home so you can stay comfortably as you age.

Virginia offers homeowners a Livable Home Tax Credit equal to 50% of what they spend to retrofit a home to add accessibility features (like ramps, grab bars, and widened doorways), with a $5000 cap.

Alternatively, Virginia homeowners can receive as much as $5000 in credits if they purchase or build a home with accessibility features.

While there is no age limit on who can use the tax credit in Virginia, seniors wanting to make their homes aging-in-place-friendly are one of the largest groups that will find this credit useful.

Maryland considered an accessibility tax credit this year but it was ultimately rejected.

A proposal for a similar credit for federal income tax payers is wending its way through Congress now. House Ways & Means is considering a bipartisan-sponsored bill – – H.R. 5254, The Senior Accessible Housing Act – – to provide up to a $30,000 tax credit over a senior’s lifetime for expenses incurred in making aging in place modifications.  Unlike Virginia’s tax credit, the proposed federal credit would be limited to persons 60 years and older. The federal bill is in the early stages but, if it passes, it could be a real boost to the home improvement industry and a great help to seniors.

For more information about state tax credits for accessibility modifications, see this August 24, 2016, article by Jenni Bergal for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

For details about the federal Senior Accessible Housing Act, see this Sept. 20, 2016, article from National Review.

Wise homeowners consider all financial consequences before remodeling or relocating. Now, go forth and age frugally – – in place if you want to!

Image courtesy of “hywards” at

Take Style Cues From TV Homes

Before you engage in any remodeling or decorating projects this year, take some time to figure out your “style”, those sorts of surroundings that make you feel peaceful, relaxed, and at home.

There are lots of ways to get a handle on your style. Designers recommend perusing magazines, cutting out pictures of photos that spark something in you  – – negative or positive – – noting on each clipping what that something is, and keeping them in a folder to review with your designer or remodeling contractor later. You’ll begin to see patterns emerge to help you define what you’re going for.

Here’s another fun way to go about the same thing: take a critical look at the homes inhabited by your favorite TV characters.

What do you like? Do you tend toward the comfortable, small town, welcoming place with a front porch and a pie cooling on the window sill like the Taylors’ cottage-style home in The Andy Griffith Show? Are you more attracted to a chic suburban aesthetic, with stylish but family-friendly furnishings, like the Petries’ New Rochelle residence in The Dick Van Dyke Show? Maybe you covet a city apartment, with the latest modern touches, like the Drapers’ place in Mad Men.

What do you see in TV homes that you’d like to avoid or escape? What about the hastily-built tract home with walls that might fall over if you lean on them too hard, like the Bluths’ in Arrested Development?  Perhaps you’re tired of living in a hot mess of chaos and deferred maintenance like the Connors in Roseanne or the Hecks in The Middle.

Silly? Yes, but useful too. A lot of time and effort has gone into creating those sets to make you feel as if you could walk right in, sit on the couch, and have a cup of tea (or a martini, if you’re lucky enough to be invited for cocktails with Don and Megan.) Heck, the three different homes in Modern Family represent quite a wide range of styles. No less an authority than Architectural Digest has profiled the care taken by that show’s set designers to make sure that all of the main sets reflect the characters that inhabit them.

Wise homeowners plan before remodeling, starting with the style or feel they are going for. Why not have some fun with it? Now, go forth and couch surf for design ideas!


Plan Ahead to Head Off Remodeling Headaches

Large remodeling projects don’t have to be problematic.

Here are some steps you can take to eliminate hassles:

  1. Gather a “Dream File”: Clarify your vision by collecting pictures that look like the space you want.
  2. Know Your Costs: Research the average cost of  your project. Try a quick web search with key words that include “cost of”, your project type (e.g., “second story addition”) and location (e.g., “Northern Virginia”).
  3. Get the Most From Your Contractor Interviews: Line up meetings with up to four design/build contractors. At the meetings:
    • Show them your pictures (see no. 1 above).
    • Tell them how you will use the space and what is important to you (“We cook together so there should be room for us and the kids.”).
    • Share your budget. The temptation is to specify nothing, hoping to avoid the contractor “padding the job.” On the contrary, most contractors, not knowing what your budget is, will attempt to meet all your wants and come in much higher than you anticipated.
    • Ask for five or six references (with two being suppliers or subs), license numbers (if not actual copies of the licenses) and the contractor’s insurer’s information.
    • Ask the contractor about site management. Will you have one dedicated project manager? To whom should you address any questions or concerns as work progresses?
    • Make sure the contractor agrees to handle the permitting process. If he insists that you do it, this should be a red flag that could mean he isn’t properly licensed. Besides, if you pull the permits, you become the general contractor, coordinating all the trades, the timing of the job, inspections, etc. Your contractor has the time and expertise to do this; chances are, you don’t.
  4. Compare Apples to Apples: Once the contractors’ bids come in, ask them for clarification of anything that doesn’t make sense to you or represents a significant deviation from what you see in the others.
  5. Do Your Due Diligence: Make sure that any contractor you hire:
    • Is properly licensed for your jurisdiction and project type;
    • is insured for liability and workers’ comp;
    • does not have complaints listed with the licensing agency, consumer affairs or Better Business Bureau;
    • has positive references (and ask suppliers and or subs about the contractor’s track record in making payments – – you don’t want a lien on your property because the contractor failed to pay someone);
    • is, in fact, licensed (in the DC area, you can verify licensing online); and
    • does, in fact, carry sufficient liability, auto and workers’ compensation insurance (call their insurer to get a certificate of insurance).
  6. Get it in Writing: Before work starts, be sure you have a written contract that specifies start date and project duration, events that will trigger payments due from you and the amount of each payment. Do not agree to pay in full until a final walk-through is completed (it is standard to hold back 10%).
  7. Protect Your Space: If your bathrooms are off-limits, be sure the contractor provides for portable facilities. If you have a home office or otherwise cannot be disturbed during certain days/times, let the contractor know this up front. Keep valuables and breakables out of the construction area.
  8. Be a Good Neighbor: Let your neighbors know what to expect. Give them a friendly letter specifying what you will have done, when work will start, when it is expected to end, the hours during any day that work will be going on and whether and when large equipment or noisy processes will ensue. Let your immediately adjoining neighbors see the plans, especially if their sight lines or property aesthetics will be impacted, and settle any questions of property lines long before work begins. Invite your neighbors to communicate with you throughout the process if they have any concerns.
  9. Keep Communication Open: Once work begins, stay in close contact with your contractor. Bring to their attention immediately anything that concerns you or presents a problem.
  10. Get it in Writing, Redux: If there are any changes from the original plans, get a written change order from the contractor before work continues.
  11. Don’t Go It Alone: Remember, if you contact HomeWise Referrals before starting your project, we’ll put you in touch with properly-credentialed contractors and we’ll follow up for the project life-cycle to facilitate    communication and confirm your satisfaction once all is completed.

Following these steps will keep your project as hassle-free as possible.

Now, go forth and build wise!