We all need a helping hand from time to time, but prefer to remain as independent as possible. Accessible features in a home are a way of lending ourselves a hand, and staying in our own house for much longer than we otherwise might.

As more members of the baby boom generation – which comprises the largest segment of America's population – reach retirement age, many of them show a preference for "aging in place" in their own homes rather than moving to traditional elderly communities and facilities. This trend has created more interest than ever in the designing and retrofitting of homes for maximum ease of use. Heightened awareness of the needs of disabled people of all ages, and increased legislative attention to their rights, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), have also helped drive a trend which can benefit all homebuyers.

What has come to be called "Universal Design" is a set of standards for making every house a welcoming home for inhabitants of all ability levels. These include placing light switches and thermostats low enough, and electrical outlets high enough, for anyone to reach; outfitting hallways with railings and showers with grab-bars and stools; replacing doorknobs with levers; offering ramps as well as stairs, and doorways that can accommodate wheelchairs; and minimizing falling risks through secure, low-pile carpeting.

Though there was a time when accessibility was considered an obstacle to resale value and desirability, attitudes – and demographics – have changed, and Universal Design is now considered a resale advantage. This potential extra salability can be achieved through minimal effort and expense. For instance, in many cases a room can be made wheelchair-accessible simply by changing the direction of a swinging door.

The simplicity of such measures – and their popularity with potential homebuyers ® makes it equally desirable to build a new home with these considerations in mind, or to retrofit an existing home with them. No one has to feel they've turned their home into a medical facility – you can avoid this with some smart and simple methods that enhance convenience and are common sense for all homeowners, while maintaining the more intangible comforts of home, like independence and familiar communities.

In addition to the convenience offered by making these types of upgrades to a home, there are government loan programs that can help subsidize accessibility modifications. Talk to a local real estate professional about accessible-home options in any area where you may be interested in buying; he or she can also find out about financing opportunities and other ways to keep your path to satisfying and secure homeownership a clear one.