For most people, retirement brings thoughts of relaxation and serenity. For one Rockford-based contractor, it meant discovering a passion and a second career.
Michael Sullivan tried retirement once. It didn’t take. Instead, he got the idea for Sullivan Home Improvement Solutions, a Rockford-based contracting company that focuses specifically on helping seniors stay in their homes and continue to live independently.
“Once I retired, I decided to work on my legacy,” Sullivan explains. “I wanted to get involved in something that would fulfill a need for people.”
The answer came when Sullivan, who has a background in business development, home renovation and landscaping, attended training to become a Certified Age in Place Specialist (CAPS) through the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). The CAPS program promotes universal design, a discipline that focuses on making spaces more accessible to the segment of the population with a disability or limitations caused by aging. It was during this training that he learned just how much of a need there would be for this specialization.
“The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) indicates that, by 2030, there will be more people in our population over the age of 65 than people under the age of 18,” says Sullivan. “The AARP also states that 85% of these people would prefer to stay in their home as long as possible.”
Recognizing this growing population and need, Sullivan made the decision to create Sullivan Home Improvement Solutions. Currently entering its second year in business as the first and only CAPS-certified contractor in the Rockford area, the company is poised to help senior homeowners extend their independent living.
“As we age, our ability to get around becomes more difficult and the discussion of assisted living becomes more and more frequent,” says Sullivan. “But, by making a few home modifications, you can reduce the chances of falling in your home and maintain your independent lifestyle.”
Reducing the chances of a fall is the first and most important part of the equation for Sullivan. According to AARP, a person falls every 11 seconds.
“For seniors, a fall can be, and often is, a life-changing event,” he says. “Everything that we do is focused on fall prevention through home modification.”
Those modifications can come in the form of installing a first-floor laundry room, widening doorways, installing ramps or custom entryways and stairlifts, improving lighting, and adding grab bars and railings. The biggest impact, however, comes from making changes to one room in particular.
“The AARP states that, of all the rooms in the house, 80% of falls happen in the bathroom,” says Sullivan. “The bathroom is our primary area for modifications.”
For seniors wishing to shower or bathe in safety and independence, Sullivan Home Improvement Solutions has a number of options available. Bathtubs that are precarious to get into and out of can be replaced with a walk-in tub or shower. Slippery showers can be replaced with safer options that offer seats, grab bars and handheld showerheads. Sullivan and his team assess and install anything the homeowner needs to feel safe and independent.
“As a general contractor we are able to go through the home, identify the fault points, and provide a suite of products that can manage almost all of the areas where people typically fall,” says Sullivan. “When we install a tub or shower conversion, move the laundry to the first floor and, where necessary, add a stair lift, we address 90% of the problem areas.”
In addition to their own expertise, Sullivan and his team work closely with occupational and physical therapists to make sure the necessary changes are made.
“Being CAPS certified, we lean into the expertise of caregivers like physical and occupational therapists,” says Sullivan. “It’s not necessarily in a medical sense, but more to align our goals. We’re happy to sit down with them and have an open discussion about just what the needs of the homeowner are.”
Once the homeowner’s needs are assessed, Sullivan and his team provide a detailed estimate for the cost of the installation. The work itself is done by manufacturer-certified crews and licensed plumbers who follow a strict code of ethics laid out by NAHB and CAPS. A typical job is started and finished within three days, and every project is permitted and inspected.
“We make sure that everything is coordinated,” says Sullivan. “We work as a seamless team to make sure that everything is in place and inspected by the local building inspectors as quickly as possible. This gives our clients an additional layer of insurance and ensures the project is completed up to code. And we respond within 24 hours to any issue that arises.”
As the only CAPS-certified Age in Place general contracting company within a 20-mile radius, Sullivan Home Improvement Solutions has settled into a very specialized role.
“We’re niche, that’s for sure,” Sullivan says, “But if you look at the demographics, over the next 25 years the market for age-in-place homes is going to grow. We’re on the cusp of a demand. This is an industry that is experiencing growth.”
Sullivan points out that there is a significant cost savings that goes into modifying your existing home to suit your needs, as opposed to making a move to a retirement community.
“The cost of these modifications is a fraction of the cost of an extended period in an assisted living facility,” he says. “Saving money and allowing a loved one to stay in their home is a win/win situation to me.”
Sullivan feels a great deal of satisfaction with his work, knowing that, in addition to creating a safe environment for his customers, he is also helping them maintain their independent living.
“Making the decision to move out of your home and into an assisted living facility can be very difficult for the individual and their family members, especially when they are experiencing minimum difficulties,” he says. “That’s where we come in.”
The modifications made by Sullivan Home Improvement Solutions go beyond just assisting the homeowner, physically. A CAPS-certified home provides a client the ability to welcome friends and family and host social gatherings with a higher degree of accessibility.
“By addressing those entryways, thresholds and staircases, we can provide an easier way for family and friends to visit and enrich the lives of the homeowner,” he says.
Sullivan also notes that, with more people over the age of 65 in 2030, the age of potential homebuyers will also be increasing, creating a greater demand for age-in-place modified homes.
“The market for homes is going to be more focused on age-in-place over the next 25 years,” he says. “In my opinion, the salability of these homes improves, based on what’s happening with the demographics.”
Now that the company has had a full year under its belt, Sullivan is looking back at what he has learned and continuing to streamline as the demand for his company’s services grow.
“I think we’re aligned with the trend,” he says. “I feel like we’re at the right place at the right time.”
Sullivan also feels a great deal of personal satisfaction with the work Sullivan Home Improvement Solutions is doing and finds it gratifying to provide an independent living option for people who might not feel ready to move out of their homes.
“One fall can change a person’s life,” he says. “If we can eliminate one fall, we’re doing good work.”