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Tips for Selecting the Perfect Residential Care Home or Group Home Property

Searching for a Group Home


The main rule in real estate is “location, location, location.”  This is absolutely true for residential group homes including group homes for kids, adults with developmental disabilities, or homes for the elderly needing assistance, but there are many other important factors that can make or break your business.  The first step would be to do your market research and buy a home that is located near your target market, near other large residential family areas, and are in safe and inviting neighborhoods that inspire and comfort your clients and their family.

The biggest expense and biggest asset for most businesses is the building in which the business operates.  What would McDonald's be without golden arches, drive-up windows, and a compact and efficient kitchen?  Likewise, what would a group home be that wasn’t functional, safe, and comforting?  The most successful businesses function in harmony with their building, letting their building work for them and not against them.  A residential group home is no different; you are not selling clients your services, you are selling them your home.  The best group homes attract their clients with fresh air and outdoor spaces, natural light from big windows, wide hallways, big bathrooms, comfortable bedrooms, and various living spaces for rest and relaxation.  Clean inviting kitchens help with resident health and activity; kitchens open to living spaces increase resident appetites and make it easier for your staff to prepare meals while still being able to quickly assist residents.  Many homes have some type of basement space for mechanical spaces, laundry, and storage, but this means that your employees are out of sight and maybe out of range from residents while doing laundry, so the best homes have a main floor laundry space for staff to work nearby.  By far the most popular style of home for residential group homes are the ranch homes built in the 1960’s and 70’s.  Wide open floor plans with grand spaces on one level, these homes feel like “home” and are appealing to families and nostalgic for clients.

Kitchens are typically the most expensive room in a house based on per square foot cost, the second most expensive is the bathroom.  Ranch homes are the most popular style of home for residential care homes for the elderly, and the typical ranch home has two bathrooms. The first is usually a large spacious bathroom off the hallway to be shared by the family; usually with double sinks, a bathtub, and a door between 28”-30” in width. This is usually the homes premier use bathing facility and restroom, I recommend widening the door to 36” or more if possible.  Another cost to count on would be to remove the tub and replace it with a roll in shower.  The second bathroom is the master bath, typically a narrow 24” wide door leads to a small restroom with a single sink, cramped toilet, and a 3ft by 3ft shower stall.  This bathroom is rarely if ever upgraded, if you can find a decent sized master bath it is a real bonus and asset for a high-rent room.   

When it comes to windows and doors, size is everything.  The State Fire Marshal and the Department of Ageing and Disability take great care to review the code required clearances of windows and doors.  Windows when fully opened must meet minimum height and width requirements, they also can’t be too tall above the floor, with a minimum sill height.  The requirements for windows are fully documented and clearly stated, doors on the other hand, aren’t so clear cut.  The Life Safety Code actually stipulates that the minimum clear width dimensions shall be at least 28”, which isn’t very wide, narrower than many wheel chairs can fit through.  Some State Departments for the elderly don't have any listed width requirements, instead requiring that all doors be wide enough to “meet the needs of the residents.”  This leaves a lot of room for interpretation for door widths, basically it’s best for home owners to widen they door 36” if they can, if the jambs are small and it’d be great expense and difficulty to gain just a few inches, then typically the door can be left alone.  Windows are expensive to replace and can take time, doors can be $500 or more to enlarge, and also take some time.  If the home you are looking at requires changing a good number of doors and windows, the time and costs involved can be a deal breaker and eat up much of your start up income if you were to purchase the home.  If the home is too good to pass up, be sure and get a loan large enough to make the changes to your doors and windows.

Living in the midwest, a basement is a wonderful safety feature for when storms come, but a basement is no asset at all for an assisted living group home.  Basements are square footage that are of little or no use to the business owner.  Many basements sit near empty for homes for the elderly, and there are things to know about using a basement if you operate an assisted living home with one.  Laundry and storage rooms must be finished spaces; you cannot have concrete floors, rough walls, or open ceilings with floor joists above.  The entire room must have cleanable finished surfaces, a ceiling, and appropriate flooring. Many assisted living care homes convert a closet or pantry on the main floor to a small laundry room, moving the equipment out of the basement upstairs.  For homes that will be required to be sprinkled, a basement can be a huge waste of money, because all the basement rooms will be required to be sprinkled, a large cost with little to no benefit.  One of the more creative uses for a basement is to provide a short-term visitors guest room; should one of your guests have a relative from out of town come to visit, you could provide a bedroom for them to stay in free of charge for a pre-specified amount of time.  This is a great selling point for your clients, even if the feature is never used.   

There is are so many factors to consider when selecting the perfect home to help your business grow, more than I can write in a reasonable length blog post.  If you have been searching for properties, and are having trouble deciding between a few good options, give National Code Plans a call and we’ll review the online listings and let you know our thoughts at no charge.  The first step to success is buying the right property, the second is letting National Code Plans guide you on your journey to opening your home!

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