Donna Green was riding the tiny elevator in her elegant — but very vertical — South End town house, when she made a confession: The elevator intended for visits by her aging parents and in-laws was in fact more frequently used by the rest of the family.
“The lazy teenager,” she said of her daughter. “The arthritic dog,” she said of Miss K, a 14-year-old Lab-Retriever mix. “The boozy mom,” she said of herself. “We all have our reasons.”
It was inevitable, right? Having become a status symbol on reality shows like “Million Dollar Listing” and “The Real Housewives,” private elevators are increasingly showing up in the real world — well, for those who can afford them, anyway.
The number of residential elevators in single-family homes has increased by 40 percent over the past five years in Massachusetts, according to Stephen Sampson, the state’s chief elevator inspector. In March, there were about 2,070 “residential” — or roughly 15-square-foot — elevators in owner-occupied single-family homes in Massachusetts, up from 1,474 in 2011.
“It’s almost like a way of life today,” Sampson said. “God forbid you take the stairs.”
They are being installed in the three- and four-story town houses that define Boston’s monied neighborhoods and in suburban houses a mere two floors high.
As developers attempt to entice high-end buyers with luxuries like dog concierges and his-and-hers toilets, the home elevator has become a must-have for the pampered set — and for baby boomers determined to fight off the assisted-living facility. They also allow folks with disabilities to live in homes that would otherwise be unworkable.
Residential elevators start at around $40,000 — not counting maintenance, interior design fees, or the cost of a shaft, which can run upward of $500,000 to carve out, according to one developer.
Americans have been riding elevators since the 1860s, when they appeared in hotels. But somehow, a century and a half later, a slow, cramped elevator in a private home is a conversation piece.
When Jane Akin and her husband threw a Christmas party after installing an elevator in their Weston home — she’d broken her foot and ankle — 50 guests took joy rides.
“They acted like they hadn’t been in an elevator before,” said Akin, 70.
The Akins are now selling their house — it’s on the market for $3.8 million — and moving to Naples, Fla., where they’re building a single-family home, also with an elevator.
And yes, it will stop on the floor with the in-home gym.
The growing popularity of in-home elevators means that some developers are installing them when they build new houses or rehab single-family homes, an attempt to enlarge the buying pool as a graying population becomes increasingly determined to age in place.
On Beacon Hill, developer Charles Reed is rehabbing two circa 1830 Greek Revivals — the preconstruction asking prices are $12.5 million and $12.95 million — and he’s leaving in the elevator shafts from a prior institutional use in case the new owners want them. That’s a change from what he would have done in the past. (If they’re are not wanted, the spaces will become closets or storage space.)
In Boston’s South End, Donna Green’s husband, Doug, 52, a financial services consultant, gave an example of how life in his five-story town house is easier with an elevator, particularly with elderly parents.
“We don’t have to worry if [my mother] has a glass of wine or two,” he said. “We just put her in the elevator and up she goes. We just hope we don’t find her there in the morning.”
The Greens’ house is on the market, for $3.65 million, and their next home, wherever that may be, will also have an elevator, Doug Green said. “You start to realize all the benefits.”
In the Fitbit age, when active people measure their every step on digital devices, some homeowners insist that while they don’t use the elevators themselves, their employees do.
“I have a housekeeper, and she’ll probably use it,” said a woman who is building an 11,000-square-foot house in Weston and asked not to be identified. “She’s 63, which is older for housework.”
Despite the costs, for those with the money an elevator can be more attractive than moving — to a facility or a new town or state — and some able-bodied empty nesters are so stair-averse they won’t consider a place without an elevator.
“People are obsessed,” said Loren Larsen, a real estate agent with Compass in Boston. “When I tell [prospective buyers] that the place has an elevator it’s like I’ve just told them it comes with a bucket of gold in the garage.”
Despite the eagerness for the elevator, she often hears one spouse telling the other the contraption is not to be used.
“The wife will say to the husband, ‘You better not take the elevator, you need to take the stairs.’”
There have been no elevator deaths or serious injuries in residential elevators for about 25 years, when two children died in unrelated accidents, one in Beacon Hill and the other in the Back Bay, Sampson said. Since then, he said, the Department of Public Safety has added new regulations.
As determined as some baby boomers are to climb stairs, some millennials are equally determined not to.
When real estate agent Toni Gilardi held an open house for a fifth-floor walk-up in the North End, twentysomethings arrived short of breath and wondering how someone “could live like this.”
The previous occupant, Gilardi was quick to point out, was a woman in her 90s who had lived there for 60 years and walked the stairs twice a day.
“It was hysterical,” Gilardi said. “But also there’s also something seriously wrong with it.”
Meanwhile, in at least one home, the elevator trend has met the mindfulness trend, and the mash-up has Andrew Miller Korda, 26, using his lift to transport himself, but not physically.
“Occasionally I will go in the elevator and just sit,” he said. “It’s an odd place to have such a private moment, but it’s so peaceful and quiet.”