In Iowa—where VGM Live at Home is based—there are two sayings from the iconic movie “Field of Dreams” that are reiterated often. They are, “If you build it, they will come;” and “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.” I can’t help but think of these two phrases as I report on the current state of the home accessibility market.
Clients Are Starting to Come
For many years, the home accessibility contractor market has been asking whether clients will respond if a service platform is built that allows people to age in place successfully. In the last two years or so, the health care industry as a whole has seen a spike in support for telemedicine, hospital-at-home programs and other services that help people remain in their homes over the years; in-home care is also growing at a rapid rate. New technologies for senior home automation and easy connectivity to family are growing markets. But until recently, little attention was paid to the home living environment. It seems home access professionals are now being welcomed to the party as others in the care continuum are realizing that their concepts don’t work if the home setting isn’t appropriate.
Big Boxes Bust In
It all started when big box stores decided to make plays in the home accessibility market. Home Depot was the first to publicly announce that they had an agreement in place to work with National Seating & Mobility (NSM). Then Lowe’s publicly announced their program—called Lowe’s Livable Home—with agreements with Lifeway Mobility and Harmar. Together, Home Depot and Lowe’s have 4,000 stores in the U.S. with high traffic. As they roll out their programs, there is and will continue to be increased consumer awareness of the aging-in-place market. Lowe’s also recently announced they had an agreement with AARP to help provide tips for successfully aging in place. In the 24 hours after the announcement, there were almost 100,000 impressions or downloads of that message.
New startup companies are bringing technology solutions to market that connect clinical, consumer and service providers. These companies are well funded and are working to provide conduits that will bring awareness to all parties about the services available that enhance the choice to stay home. Most of these startups realize they need a reliable, vetted professional home accessibility contractor referral resource as part of any successful program. With the whole home access industry still in the maturing mode, there are many entrepreneurial opportunities available and many hats will be thrown in the ring. Not everyone will be successful, but for those who are, there is a fantastic opportunity to make the final years of life much better than it is in too many cases today.
Even though established home access contractors had ups and downs in 2020 (like many other businesses), the vast majority still experienced modest growth. In 2021, once people got vaccinated, the demand for services had a noticeable uptick and almost everyone VGM Live at Home works with is in line to experience double digit growth. New businesses are being established with above average success rates and sustainability—but the market is far from saturated. There is still a need for professional companies to meet the increasing demand for home accessibility contractors. The industry is in a build more phase because more people are realizing the need and clients are coming in quickly.
The government is also starting to take notice. The great news is there are six different pieces of proposed legislation that mention home safety upgrades. The not-so-great news is that all of the bills focus mostly on other services and have no clear path to benefit taxpayers. The Homes Renewed Coalition had some success in 2021 lobbying for a bill that would provide tax breaks for homeowners who make specific approved home safety upgrades. The approach has been to put together a bill that would allow homeowners to use retirement funds tax free on home accessibility upgrades.
Like all bills, there has been a wait as the Congressional Budget Office looks to score the bill to get an estimate of how much it would cost. The good news is that a competing bill with a projected higher cost came back from scoring with a lower estimate than expected. It’s within probability that the Homes Renewed effort could come in with a cost very close to neutral, which would make it a non-partisan issue; therefore, it could be added to any bill package without requiring up or down votes. If this happens, consumer awareness will get a dramatic boost.
Is This Heaven?
While the home access industry is clearly on an upward trend, it’s not heaven yet—there are challenges aplenty! Despite the nice growth the industry is experiencing, it is also bumping up against the supply chain challenges affecting other industries. Freight delays, damage and price increases are also prevalent. Contractors are seeing crazy volatility in building material prices and struggling to find and keep quality employees, which causes delays in getting projects completed. Somehow through all that, the industry is still seeing record growth for many.
Professionalizing the Industry
The home access industry is still maturing. Providers and contractors need to concentrate on defining the field so prospective clients know what the experts do and that they exist. There’s also a need to bring meaningful professionalism that will elevate dedicated workers. There are several certification programs in the marketplace, but currently there is no legal requirement for a contractor to earn and retain a certification to complete an accessibility modification to a home. Industry leaders hope to change that soon. Because they serve the senior market and people with mobility limitations, providers have no chance of being taken seriously unless their motives are pure and the needs of clients are handled with the highest ethics and service.
The home accessibility business gets to participate in preserving the home—and it’s not just about the house. Home is where all the great memories are made and loved ones either live or visit frequently. Home access modification is meaningful work, and it means a lot to the people served. Entrepreneurs who enter the business and understand the customer that comes with the work have a great opportunity for growth in a fun industry.