The upside of downsizing: Move managers aid older adults with relocation
Jennifer Prell and Sandy Zedella
John Konstantaras / Chicago Tribune
Senior move manager Jennifer Prell, left, talks with Sandy Zedella at her condo at The Garlands, a retirement community in Barrington, on Jan. 25, 2017. Prell helped Zedella move from a 4,000-square-foot three-level townhouse to a 2,500-square-foot residence.
Senior move manager Jennifer Prell, left, talks with Sandy Zedella at her condo at The Garlands, a retirement community in Barrington, on Jan. 25, 2017. Prell helped Zedella move from a 4,000-square-foot three-level townhouse to a 2,500-square-foot residence. (John Konstantaras / Chicago Tribune)
Brenda RichardsonChicago Tribune

For 22 years, Sandy Zedella enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle at her spacious three-level townhouse in Lake Barrington. Then one day last March, the avid golfer bent down to put on her house slippers and broke her back, which had deteriorated from a pre-existing condition. Two months later, she broke her arm after the kitchen chair she was leaning on tipped over, sending her crashing to the floor.
Those random mishaps proved to be a turning point for the 79-year-old widowed mother of four.
"My children said they thought maybe it was time for me to be on one level," Zedella said. 
Still, it took some gentle coaxing to persuade her to move. "I kind of wanted to stay until March of this year when the housing market would be more active," she said. "My children felt I would be safer with winter coming to avoid ice patches. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense for a lot of reasons. It was a pretty big decision."
Zedella put her home up for sale and moved in November to an independent living residence at The Garlands, a retirement community in Barrington. Based on previous visits with a friend, she gathered its reputation was "very strong."
Zedella's situation highlights the many issues facing older adults who downsize and relocate, whether by choice or necessity. According to the Illinois Department on Aging, about 3.3 million individuals in the state were 55 or older in 2015. Planning future housing needs can be daunting, but for many aging adults, top motivating factors include a health change, the inability to maintain their home, a desire to move closer to family members, and a need for a safer living environment and simpler lifestyle.
The soaring aging population is fueling a rapidly growing industry that helps older Americans organize, downsize and move to a new home.
Jennifer Pickett, associate executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, said demand for their members' services is increasing.

"This is the first demographic that has routinely outsourced yard service, snow removal, taking laundry to the cleaners and not solely relying on family members to do this. Hiring a senior move manager is not outside their wheelhouse," said Pickett. "When you are 75 and you have a 45- or 50-year-old son or daughter, they may have a 15- or 16-year-old child. They are busy with their weekends and their children. It's very difficult for them to take the time to effectively handle this type of transition."

Culling through a lifetime of possessions can be emotionally and physically wrenching for elderly homeowners. If family members overseeing a move are short on time or empathy, that can make matters worse.[Jennifer Prell]
"If older adults are in transition, it's important that they are treated with respect and dignity," said Pickett. "If the move is handled poorly, and the older adult is under a lot of stress because of that, the stress can really send an older adult into a downward spiral, especially if they have memory loss or a chronic illness."
Most senior move managers in the Chicago area charge $65 to $75 an hour, however, the national average is $40 to $60 an hour, according to the move managers group.
In an initial consultation, clients relate their life stories. "The process involves a lot of listening, said Pickett. "Sometimes, it's just being able to tell the story that allows them to free themselves of that possession."

"I had certain things I wanted to take that had sentimental value," she said. "Some things I knew wouldn't fit in my new place, and some things I didn't care whether I took them or not."
Paxem, Jennifer Prell's company, helped carefully pack and move some of Sandy Zedella's most treasured and fragile items, such as this gift her grandson bought her when he was in the Air Force stationed in Italy.
Paxem, Jennifer Prell's company, helped carefully pack and move some of Sandy Zedella's most treasured and fragile items, such as this gift her grandson bought her when he was in the Air Force stationed in Italy. (John Konstantaras / Chicago Tribune)
Senior move manager Jennifer Prell, owner of Paxem in Cary, helps clients downsize, pack, move and coordinate all other aspects of their relocation.

"Most of our families contact us after something has happened — a fall, a health scare or the death of a loved one," said Prell. "It's lonely living at home by yourself and that causes stress. The people who plan for events after retirement usually transition easier than those who haven't thought about a change or looked at other possibilities."

Paxem handled the packing for Zedella's move to a 2,500-square-foot residence at The Garlands from her 4,000-square-foot home. The company also hired and managed the moving company and set up the entire residence. By the time Zedella settled into her elegant two-bedroom condo, everything was unpacked and put away. Even the bed was made for her first night in a new home.
For larger-scale downsizing, estate sales prove a viable option. Diane Hudec, owner of Diane Hudec Estate & Liquidation Sales in Chicago, assures older clients that younger families who shop at estate sales will enjoy items just as much as previous owners.
Buyers covet antique rugs, Chinese porcelain and antiques, midcentury and Scandinavian-style furniture from the 1950s through 1970s and transitional furniture from stores like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware, Hudec said. But dining-room sets, 1980s laminate furniture and armoires from the 1980s and 1990s are a tough sell.
Despite the effort downsizing demands, for some older adults, a move later in life pays dividends in the form of a fresh start with fewer responsibilities.
In 2015, Gloria Ceccarelli and her husband moved to Westgate at The Glen — an Edward R. James Cos. development in Glenview featuring floor plans with first-floor master suites — after they sold their large homes from previous marriages.
Westgate's low-maintenance lifestyle was a big draw for the couple, who are in their early 60s. "It is wonderful not to have to worry about snow removal and mowing the lawn," Ceccarelli said.
Jennifar Evans, director of design and coordination at Edward R. James, helps downsizing homebuyers visualize going from point A to point B.

"They are purging items they don't really need, and now they need to create a space from top to bottom," she said.

Ceccarelli heartily embraces the change. "The space is very well-laid-out, and it flows wonderfully," she said. "It is still large enough for entertaining and family holidays, and we have a basement for ample storage. This is one of the best decisions we ever made, other than getting married."

Brenda Richardson is a freelance writer.

Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff
Advice for boomers desperate to unload family heirlooms

February 9, 2017
Next Avenue Blogger

[Richard Eisenberg]
By Richard EisenbergMoney & Work Editor
By Richard EisenbergFebruary 9, 2017
Next Avenue Blogger

After my father died at 94 in September, leaving my sister and me to empty his one-bedroom, independent living New Jersey apartment, we learned the hard truth that others in their 50s and 60s need to know: Nobody wants the prized possessions of your parents — not even you or your kids.
Admittedly, that’s an exaggeration. But it’s not far off, due to changing tastes and homes. I’ll explain why, and what you can do as a result, shortly.
The Stuff of Nightmares
So please forgive the morbidity, but if you’re lucky enough to still have one or more parents or stepparents alive, it would be wise to start figuring out what you’ll do with their furniture, china, crystal, flatware, jewelry, artwork and tchotchkes when the mournful time comes. (I wish I had. My sister and I, forced to act quickly to avoid owing an extra months’ rent on dad’s apartment, hired a hauler to cart away nearly everything we didn’t want or wouldn’t be donating, some of which he said he’d give to charity.)
Many boomers and Gen X’ers charged with disposing the family heirlooms, it seems, are unprepared for the reality and unwilling to face it.
They’re not picking out formal china patterns anymore. I have three sons. They don’t want anything of mine. I totally get it.
— Susan Devaney, The Mavins Group

“It’s the biggest challenge our members have and it’s getting worse,” says Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM).

“At least a half dozen times a year, families come to me and say: ‘What do we do with all this stuff?’” says financial adviser Holly Kylen of Kylen Financials in Lititz, Pa. The answer: lots of luck.

Heirloom Today, Foregone Tomorrow

Dining room tables and chairs, end tables and armoires (“brown” pieces) have become furniture non grata. Antiques are antiquated. “Old mahogany stuff from my great aunt’s house is basically worthless,” says Chris Fultz, co-owner of Nova Liquidation, in Luray, Va.
On PBS’s Antiques Roadshow, prices for certain types of period furniture have dropped so much that some episode reruns note current, lower estimated appraisals.
And if you’re thinking your grown children will gladly accept your parents’ items, if only for sentimental reasons, you’re likely in for an unpleasant surprise.
“Young couples starting out don’t want the same things people used to have,” says Susan Devaney, president of NASMM and owner of The Mavins Group, a senior move manager in Westfield, N.J. “They’re not picking out formal china patterns anymore. I have three sons. They don’t want anything of mine. I totally get it.”

The Ikea Generation

Buysse agrees. “This is an Ikea and Target generation. They live minimally, much more so than the boomers. They don’t have the emotional connection to things that earlier generations did,” she notes. “And they’re more mobile. So they don’t want a lot of heavy stuff dragging down a move across country for a new opportunity.”

And you can pretty much forget about interesting your grown kids in the books that lined their grandparents’ shelves for decades. If you’re lucky, you might find buyers for some books by throwing a garage sale or you could offer to donate them to your public library — if the books are in good condition.

Most antiques dealers (if you can even find one!) and auction houses have little appetite for your parents’ stuff, either. That’s because their customers generally aren’t interested. Carol Eppel, an antique dealer and director of the Minnesota Antiques Dealers Association in Stillwater, Minn., says her customers are far more intrigued by Fisher Price toy people and Arby’s glasses with cartoon figures than sideboards and credenzas.

Even charities like Salvation Army and Goodwill frequently reject donations of home furnishings, I can sadly say from personal experience.

Midcentury, Yes; Depression-Era, No

A few kinds of home furnishings and possessions can still attract interest from buyers and collectors, though. For instance, Midcentury Modern furniture — think Eames chairs and Knoll tables — is pretty trendy. And “very high-end pieces of furniture, good jewelry, good artwork and good Oriental rugs — I can generally help find a buyer for those,” says Eppel.

“The problem most of us have,” Eppel adds, “is our parents bought things that were mass-produced. They don’t hold value and are so out of style. I don’t think you’ll ever find a good place to liquidate them.”

Another possibility: Hiring a senior move manager (even if the job isn’t exactly a “move”). 
“Most of the people in our business do a free consultation so we can see what services are needed,” says Devaney.

8 Tips for Home Unfurnishing

What else can you do to avoid finding yourself forlorn in your late parents’ home, broken up about the breakfront that’s going begging? Some suggestions:

1. Start mobilizing while your parents are around. “Every single person, if their parents are still alive, needs to go back and collect the stories of their stuff,” says Kylen. “That will help sell the stuff.” Or it might help you decide to hold onto it. One of Kylen’s clients inherited a set of beautiful gold-trimmed teacups, saucers and plates. Her mother had told her she’d received them as a gift from the DuPonts because she had nursed for the legendary wealthy family. Turns out, the plates were made for the DuPonts. The client decided to keep them due to the fantastic story.

2. Give yourself plenty of time to find takers, if you can. “We tell people: The longer you have to sell something, the more money you’re going to make,” says Fultz. Of course, this could mean cluttering up your basement, attic or living room with tables, lamps and the like until you finally locate interested parties.

3. Do an online search to see whether there’s a market for your parents’ art, furniture, china or crystal. If there is, see if an auction house might be interested in trying to sell things for you on consignment. “It’s a little bit of a wing and a prayer,” says Buysse.

That’s true. But you might get lucky. I did. My sister and I were pleasantly surprised — no, flabbergasted — when the auctioneer we hired sold our parents’ enormous, turn-of-the-20th-century portrait of an unknown woman by an obscure painter to a Florida art dealer for a tidy sum. (We expected to get a dim sum, if anything.) Apparently, the Newcomb-Macklin frame was part of the attraction. Go figure. Our parents’ tabletop marble bust went bust at the auction, however, and now sits in my den, owing to the kindness of my wife.

4. Get the jewelry appraised. It’s possible that a necklace, ring or brooch has value and could be sold.

5. Look for a nearby consignment shop that might take some items. Or, perhaps, a liquidation firm.

6. See if someone locally could use what you inherited. “My dad had some tools that looked interesting. I live in Amish country and a farmer gave me $25 for them,” says Kylen. She also picked out five shelters and gave them a list of all the kitchen items she wound up with. “By the fifth one, everything was gone. That kind of thing makes your heart feel good,” Kylen says.

7. Download the free Rightsizing and Relocation Guide from the National Association of Senior Move Managers. This helpful booklet is on the group’s site.
8. But perhaps the best advice is: Prepare for disappointment. “For the first time in history of the world, two generations are downsizing simultaneously,” says Buysse, talking about the boomers’ parents (sometimes, the final downsizing) and the boomers themselves. “I have a 90-year-old parent who wants to give me stuff or, if she passes away, my siblings and I will have to clean up the house. And my siblings and I are 60 to 70 and we’re downsizing.”

This, it seems, is 21st-century life — and death. “I don’t think there is a future” for the possessions of our parents’ generation, says Eppel. “It’s a different world.”