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Illness, injury and aging mean homes with accessibility are in great demand. But that doesn't mean they're easy to find

Darcel Rockett, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Matthew Gill, 25, was 19 years old when he jumped into the Rock River in Wisconsin. He dove in, not realizing the depth of the water he was diving into, and hit his head, according to his father, Bill Gill.

Matthew's spinal cord injury put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

The accident changed the trajectory of the Gill family in many ways, including in terms of housing. Matthew's childhood home in Lisle was no longer conducive to his new mobility. The split-level, five-bedroom, three-bath residence was too small.

"I am in a wheelchair, full time ... we got a chair lift put in. I would transfer to that and use that up the stairs and someone would have to bring up the wheelchair," Matthew said.

"That led to a lot of frustration for my son early on," Bill said.

And despite Bill being in the real estate industry for 32 years, his experience and expertise did not make it easier to find a home that was compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

When the Gills started looking for homes, they wanted to stay in their current school district for their youngest daughter (then in elementary school). But after looking at "hundreds of homes online" and viewing about 80 homes in person -- seeking residences with first floor masters or ranch homes that could be remodeled -- and not finding anything suitable with the help of colleagues and competitors, Bill, Baird & Warner's branch manager in Naperville, Ill., decided to design and build their own home.

"Some of the homes just needed so much work," he said. "And we were doing all of this with everything else going on -- trying to work, a sixth grader, three kids in college, and then Matt. The entire family was just devastated at this injury."

But before their custom home was built, a six-bedroom, 4.5-bath home in Naperville became available. The Gills remodeled and moved in during March 2015.

"The house was about the same floor plan that we were designing and yet buying it was half the cost of building a house," Bill Gill said. "And the modifications we did were about half the cost of what any other house we looked at would have been."

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