Home elevators win favor with aging population

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PHILADELPHIA -- Developers are luring downsizing baby boomers with elevators, a luxury feature that offers convenience now and the promise of easier movement as they age.

Business for Newtown, Pa.-based Bell Elevator Co. Inc. is up 25 percent over the past year, said Tom Reavy, owner of the 6-year-old residential-elevator firm.

The aging U.S. population and the lower cost of installation -- about $25,000 now compared with nearly $60,000 two decades ago -- are two factors driving elevators' growing popularity, Mr. Reavy said.

In real estate, targeting the over-55 demographic once meant single-story ranchers. But today, the lifts -- which are still popular in suburban mansions -- are becoming more common in townhouse developments, he said.

The National Association of Elevator Contractors did not have figures on the increasing presence of elevators in the home, but local industry observers agreed that the demand for them has grown.

Of the 27 completed Artisan Townhouses along the 1400 blocks of Bainbridge, Pemberton and Kater streets in Philadelphia, 13 have elevators, said Scott Neifel, sales manager of Philadelphia-based Plumer & Associates Inc. Realtors.

The lone unsold property does not have an elevator, and, Mr. Neifel said, it probably would have sold if it had one. All eight homes in the next phase, which will begin in February at the southwest corner of Broad and Fitzwater streets, will include elevators, he added.

"We are seeing them in just about any new development over a certain height," said Matt Pincus, owner of West Chester, Pa.-based Pincus Elevator Co.

Elevators are a feature often expected in newly constructed homes of four stories or more, Pincus said.

An elevator can serve as a "glorified dumbwaiter" for carting luggage or groceries between floors, Mr. Neifel said. Still, not all downsizing suburbanites are interested in them.

Kathy Maris, 52, is relocating from her 3,800-square-foot Moorestown, N.J., home to Philadelphia with her husband. They considered two city townhouses with elevators, but didn't place bids.

"I look at it as just another thing that could break down," Ms. Maris said.

Mr. Reavy acknowledged that's a possibility and suggests that buyers do their homework before purchasing. "If you buy a good product, you are going to have fewer problems," he said, adding that service and lubrication contracts are available.

Brian Stetler, of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, typically advises his clients to consider how much they will actually use the elevator before they buy. For some homeowners, it turns into a closet, he said.

"They put brooms, laundry baskets, and vacuum cleaners in them." Mr. Stetler said. "But it is only storage on one floor."

One concern, Mr. Stetler said is that the elevator will hinder resale because it takes away living space on narrow city lots.

Regardless of potential drawbacks, Mr. Pincus said, "At a certain price range, an elevator is part of the deal."

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