Many of our clients have been involved in catastrophic accidents or clinical negligence. They may suffer from brain injury, spinal cord injuries, loss of limbs, cognitive and visual impairments. Some require very extensive care packages to support them in the community. Finding a new home for these clients is not as straightforward as it may first appear.

We believe housing occupational therapists (OTs) should lead the property search process because we have an in-depth understanding of the client’s care needs, the manual handling techniques that will be used, and the equipment, fixtures and fittings required to enable safety and independence. All of these factors will affect the size and layout of rooms within the property and the overall design of the property.

Location, location, location

The location of the home is paramount to enable independence – the client should have access to local shops, therapists and other important services. Every client has different needs depending on their injury and abilities – housing OTs are best placed at matching a client’s ability with a suitable location due to their medical knowledge.

Working with the family

It is vital to consult with family members when looking for property. In most situations, they know their relative best – what they like and what is important to them. However, most families don’t have a medical background. Therefore, they are probably not fully aware of the implications of the client’s condition on their way of life, and the knock-on effect this will have on their property needs. Housing OTs, with their medical background, can help the family develop their understanding in this area.

The care environment

In some situations, the property the client is currently living in is too small to enable the optimum number of carers to be present. This means family members are required to take on these caring roles. A housing OT can support the family in understanding how the care environment should be in the ideal property, including explaining the number of carers needed at different times of day and night. In other situations, the family members are fully aware of how their relative should be cared for and it is important for other people involved in the property finding to respect their way of doing things.

A housing OT will also be able to take a realistic view on the facilities needed by the carers whilst they are at work in the house, such as office and rest areas. This is not an area that a property search agent without a medical/care background is likely to be able to advise on.

Construction knowledge

Housing OTs have extensive knowledge of working with architectural plans – they both regularly create their own designs for adapting rooms, and they also audit architects’ plans to ensure they meet the client’s care and rehabilitation needs.

At Design for Independence we regularly work closely with a wide range of construction professionals and understand the practices and terminology of the construction industry. We know when it is important to involve other construction professionals.

There are many people and organisations within the property search field for the less able. However, housing occupational therapists have unique knowledge and expertise to help clients choose a property which will meet their needs far into the future.

Case studies

Big, beautiful, but impractical. Our client had bought a barn and wanted help adapting it, but in reality the property should never have been purchased in the first place.

Urgent, temporary home adaptations. Find out how we helped one client move to suitable place very quickly, and how we helped another stay in his current property, but with clever adaptations.

Property search process

  • We begin by agreeing the budget for the work with the solicitor – this is normally 10 hour blocks at a time, as this gives the legal team control over the budget and ensures they receive regular feedback on progress.
  • We ask for the relevant expert reports and review these.
  • We then hold an initial meeting with the client and their family to familiarise ourselves with their requirements and wishes. A very important part of this meeting is the observation of the client’s personal care tasks, so that we get a good understanding of the space needed in the bedroom and bathroom. It would not be appropriate for a non-clinical property search agent to conduct such observations.
  • At this meeting, we also ask for medical information, rehabilitation goals and a list of the equipment currently being used. From this discussion, and the observation, we are able to predict the type and amount of equipment that we think the client is likely to need. We can also make important decisions on the type of access needed to the property, the number and size of rooms, and the general layout.
  • All the information and recommendations are summarised into a housing needs report.
  • With the preparations complete, we can begin our property search, which is conducted by our occupational therapist working together with our in-house estate agent. This is initially done online, through agencies and Google Maps. We contact estate agents to ask questions when needed. During our search, we record all the information on a spread sheet, with detailed explanations as to why each property is suitable or not.
  • When we find a property that we think will potentially meet our client’s requirements, we email the link to the client, family and case manager, with a short summary. If they express interest, we book an appointment to see the house with them. Several suitable properties will be booked on the same day to reduce visiting and travel costs.
  • If we agree that a property is suitable to be adapted, and the client/family like it, we negotiate the purchase of the property for the client.
  • Once a house is secured, we send a list of the alterations required, and can include two or three quotes for any necessary work (provided by trusted building companies).
  • We are also happy to project manage any building works.