Now, a new chance to age at home
Ed LangloisAs seniors get older, they may find it a hassle — or even impossible — to cook or use the bathroom in their own homes. Negotiating the front steps could become a daring deed. Reaching into a low-lying cabinet may be a prelude to the emergency room.
Time for the retirement home?
Not so fast, says Brian Bartholomew.
The 50-year-old former marketing and finance executive from Lake Oswego is gaining steam in his startup business. He helps revise homes so seniors can age in familiar confines.
Bartholomew, a 15-year member of Resurrection Parish, was on a 2003 pilgrimage to Rome when his widowed mother confided to him that she needed to leave the family home. The house where she had lived for 53 years was becoming too much to handle.
After returning to the United States, Bartholomew teamed up with his siblings and got the old house ready to sell. In the process, the idea of a senior-focused home renovation venture came to mind.
His mother Mary, a 79-year-old retired speech pathologist, was soon delighted to live at Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst. But at the same time, Bartholomew’s idea of making the old house elder-friendly endured.
At the time, he had backed out of corporate life and was looking for a new path. He bounced the senior remodeling idea off an old friend from the market research business, David Dickinson.
The men began testing the waters. They found that there is not enough retirement housing for Baby Boomers, who will likely want to stay in their own houses anyway.
“Pretty soon, we knew we were onto something,” Bartholomew says.
According to research by the American Association of Retired Persons almost 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their own homes as they age. The National Association of Home Builders says 75 percent of contractors report an increase in inquiries related to aging in place.
Bartholomew and Dickinson went to the University of Southern California to get certified in home revision for elders. In late 2003, they launched their business, which they called In Your Home.
Now they have eight employees and a growing list of faithful customers. Last year, In Your Home brought in $700,000 in revenue.
Customers are the 50-plus crowd and people who are disabled. Both groups have a fierce desire to remain independent as long as possible.
Most get in touch with Bartholomew with a crisis like this — “My husband broke his hip and can’t come home until the bathtub gets revised.” Others are slowly becoming unable to rise from the toilet seat, reach high shelves or read the newspaper with current lighting schemes.
In Your Home can do one job and then be gone, but more often the company becomes an abiding presence. Bartholomew takes photos in houses and keeps meticulous records so that when a customer calls needing a door widened or a ramp added, he knows just what they’re talking about.
Some clients keep a list of small fixes needed and get a visit every three months from a worker.
In Your Home is often a comfort for children of seniors, who face the struggle of what to do as parents age. Also, it often turns out to be cheaper to make a senior’s home livable than to move.
Bartholomew says that some Baby Boomers are thinking ahead for themselves, getting their homes ready for the days when they are 80-somethings. He admires those people who have overcome society’s general denial of aging. Everyone, he adds, should consider whether visitors can use their house safely.
In Your Home points out things that may need to change in a house so it can become elder-friendly.
For example, lever doorknobs are kinder on arthritic hands. Steps from outside can become gradual cement ramps. The oven door can swing to the side, rather than down. Grab bars can make it easier to use the toilet or get out of the shower. Sliding shelves can make cabinets more usable. Wider doors are better for wheelchairs and walkers.
In Your Home can install technology such as automatic door openers, bathtub lifts and devices that allow people to answer a call without going to the phone.
The company hires workers with a broad range of skills, so customers do not need to deal with a long parade of sub-contractors.
Bartholomew, a father of three, has a calming presence on the job site.
“This may sound weird, but I’d love to earn the trusted-son-in-law position with my clients,” he says. “I want to show them that I care as much about their wallets as I care about my own.”
In Your Home serves the Portland area mostly, but has made calls farther away, Salem and Astoria, for instance.
Bartholomew is a gentle soul. But he’s nobody’s fool.
One moment, he’s on his cell phone kindly telling a client that he’ll come pick up a stack of old windows so they don’t become an eyesore. The next, he’s explaining plans to franchise a business plan that could make a lot of money.
“Sure, I’m a capitalist,” he says. “There is a win-win here when we create the jobs we create and solve the problems we solve for people.”
Clearly, there is more to life for Bartholomew than making money. He believes in service and he has a sense of honor. On some jobs, he loses money doing what he thinks is right.
He is concerned with ethics as well as the bottom line. In Your Home workers get above-market pay, health coverage and share in the profit. Bartholomew is picky about hiring, since he knows his employees will be in the sanctuary of people’s homes.
His Catholic upbringing, at St. Joseph and Queen of Peace parishes in Salem, helped him embrace a commitment to play fair in business and do excellent work. He went to Oregon State and then earned a master’s in business administration from Willamette University.
“At the end of every day, I’m proud of what we do,” he says. “It’s the right thing.”
There were times in corporate life when he risked his job by speaking his mind in touchy situations. He managed to stay employed and felt mighty good for being candid.
“That’s when you can correlate prayer and putting it all up,” he says.
Once In Your Home becomes larger and its survival is assured, Bartholomew intends to begin a program to help lower-income seniors stay in their houses. Filling that huge need will likely involve training volunteer workers.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot of reading in the bible to see that touching lives daily is why we’re here,” he explains. “I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve. The truth of it just plays out.”
For more information, go to www.iyhusa.com or call the company at (503) 443-2424.