Need a lift? The ups and downs of having an elevator in the home
When Patrick Silberstein moved from Kings Point into a two-story town house in the Roslyn Landing condo development in Roslyn five years ago, he liked the look, design and location. He also liked something else: Residential elevators there were a standard feature.
Silberstein, 77, a retired real estate developer, and his wife, Lynda, a painter in her late 60s, didn’t need an elevator, but they could use it for groceries and luggage. And having it felt like a kind of insurance policy for the future. They pay about $1,000 a year for a maintenance contract.
“An elevator for me is an enormous advantage as you get older,” said Silberstein of the elevator decorated with a print to blend with the rest of the home.
A tennis player, Silberstein spent some time off his feet after surgery, making the elevator a lifeline.
"Without the elevator,” he said, “I would have been stranded."
While many people think of elevators as features in skyscrapers, residential elevators are on the rise in the suburbs, going in to new luxury homes or condominium and other developments.
Ellen Hanes, an agent at Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, said that while she's not aware of any statistics tracking this, she is seeing residential elevators more often. "I do know from my experience in seeing homes, elevators are typically found in higher-priced properties," she said.
An elevator in the house can help residents age in place or just navigate their space more easily.
“People get accustomed to where they live. They don’t want to leave and change to a single-level house,” said Michael Hanley, 51, owner of Atlas Mobile Solutions in Smithtown, which sells and services lifts. “So they modify the house to accommodate their needs.”
Residents who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices will sometimes add an elevator to a home if possible, and stair lifts on straight and curved staircases as well as platform lifts that carry wheelchairs can help residents stay in their homes when they can no longer navigate the stairs.
“People who get different environmental modifications such as elevators and stair lifts are more likely to be able to remain in the community,” said Jill Cuyar, chief communications officer for the Suffolk Independent Living Organization (SILO), which offers services to people with disabilities.
“The general population isn’t getting younger in Nassau and Suffolk. It’s getting older,” said Norman Barrie, 74, a retired high school administrator who lives in a house in Jericho with his wife, Laurel, 72, founder of The Camp Connection, a summer camp advisory service. “It becomes palatable to have such a luxury in your house.”
And having an elevator, especially one that is blended into the décor, can add 10% to a home’s value, according to home improvement site Bobvila.com.
While elevators can be added to existing buildings, Hanley said it’s better and cheaper to design with them included in the original plans.
“An elevator has to be thought of with the construction of the building or the building has to be modified,” he said. “You have to put holes in the floor to put the elevator in. To add an elevator to a home is a big to-do.”
With installation, residential elevators on average cost $30,000, requiring 25 to 40 square feet, according to Bobvila.com. Sleek glass and metal elevators cost $20,000 to $40,000, while those with wood and iron décor cost between $35,000 to $55,000.
To retrofit homes typically costs tens of thousands of dollars, Hanley said, noting that closets sometimes can be used. Retrofits can involve repairing walls, adding new ceilings, updating wiring and electric panels and carpentry, and adding safety gates and exterior elevator doors.
Stair lifts are a much less expensive choice, costing on average $3,000 to $5,000, according to Bobvila.com. Hanley said residents with longer stairs may be able to get extensions for $600.
“As long as you have a straight staircase, it’s pretty easy to install,” Hanley said, adding that stair lifts cost an additional $10,000 on curved stairs.
With a stair lift, chairs are mounted on treads on motorized rails. The user can flip the chair up so it’s out of the way for others to use the staircase.
“It’s good for anyone with trouble negotiating stairs,” Hanley said. “A lot of people worry about falling down the stairs.”
You can save more than $1,000 by buying lightly used equipment, as long as it’s in good shape, he added.
Platform lifts that carry wheelchairs typically cost $5,000 to $20,000, providing a third option, according to Bobvila.com.
A useful luxury
Steven Jackson, 55, a medical equipment sales representative, bought a two-story, 4,350-square-foot house in Locust Valley in the mid-1990s that had a wood-paneled elevator, complete with phone.
“The elevator was like a luxury, an amenity,” he said. “We use it more than we thought we would.”
Jackson, who is moving to Florida, had his lightly used elevator serviced once a year, paying about $200 annually for maintenance.
“In the 16 years I was living in the house, I can't recall needing a major service or repair on it,” he said. “The mechanism/controller for the elevator has its own room in my garage, so it's very accessible to troubleshoot.”
When Jackson decided to put the house on the market recently, his broker, Ellen Hanes, saw the elevator as an amenity that would be attractive to buyers, regardless of age.
“A home elevator is a unique feature that many older homes in a suburban neighborhood do not have and can serve many purposes,” said Hanes. “Not only can it be used for people with physical issues, it also serves as a convenience for bringing laundry up and down and for moving heavy objects.”
Freedom of movement
When Robert Quinn, 86, a retired banker in Quogue, became unable to walk, living in his home got complicated. He could easily find himself stranded on the second floor. “Going upstairs became impossible,” he said.
The answer? Four years ago, Quinn got a Harmar stair lift, allowing him to continue living in his home.
“The chair’s easy to get on and off,” he said. “The speed is slow, not frightening, and it’s quiet.”
Quinn said the stair lift provides peace of mind. “It is very visible but so what? Without the power chair I would be stuck on the second floor,” Quinn said. “It’s a godsend.”
While elevators can be optional in new complexes, they’re sometimes part of standard construction. Take Roslyn Landing, a 78-unit town house development in Roslyn.
Jing Sun, 48, sales director and Roslyn Landing resident, views elevators as an amenity more than a necessity.
“It’s a good thing to have. You don’t have to carry items, laundry, groceries up the stairs,” she said.
Sun, associate director of Douglas Elliman’s Roslyn office, said younger residents sometimes find elevators appealing.
“We want to make it convenient for our residents,” she said. “Sometimes people don’t want to walk.”
Sun said units ranging from 2,750 to 3,600 square feet initially went for $1.5 million, but now go for roughly $1.7 million and up. She believes elevators add at least $50,000 in value.
“We have young families with kids,” she added. “It’s easier to take the elevator than for the parents to carry them.”
Sun said grandparents with difficulty walking have an easier time, although younger people are the principal residents.
“We have young families in their early 30s and tenants in their 80s,” she said. “It is a very new thing. It provides a resort-living style.”
The fall factor
Stairs always lead somewhere, but when they increasingly can lead to injury, elevators, stair lifts and platform lifts can come in handy.
Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for injuries from falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
More than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, and more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls.
Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, making equipment to navigate steps a potentially lifesaving tool,
“The stairs are one of the most common places for falls to occur,” said Jill Cuyar of The Suffolk Independent Living Organization (SILO). “Though environmental modifications may seem intimidating at first, they could drastically prevent falls in the long run, which could even save your life.”
Cuyar said stair lifts, platform lifts and elevators provide safer solutions when stairs become problematic.
“We strongly encourage seniors and individuals with disabilities to educate themselves on the options available to keep them safe and independent in their homes, such as stair lifts and elevators,” Cuyar said, adding that SILO has a program to help Long Islanders get support and installation services. For information, call SILO at 631-880-7929.
— CLAUDE SOLNIK