May 22, 2011

USA: Leave the Stuff, Keep the Memories

NEW YORK, NY / The New York Times / Real Estate / May 22, 2011

NEW CHAPTER Judith Kertzner used a senior move manager in relocating
to a town house from a five-bedroom Dutch colonial.
“I had 55 years of memories in my old house,” she said.
Kathy Kmonicek for The New York Times


JAY GOLDSTEIN and his wife, Carrie, accumulated 15,000 books in the 46 years they lived in the Glen Cove split ranch where they raised their four children. Its sixth bedroom became the second story of a library. All sorts of memorabilia and other hard-to-toss belongings accumulated in the attic and basement. In February, when their home went into contract for $550,000, deciding what to take, what to dispose of and how to lay out their new $8,050-a-month two-bedroom rental apartment at the Atria on Roslyn Harbor, an independent senior community in Roslyn, seemed overwhelming.

“Just cleaning out the attic was a major thing,” said Mr. Goldstein, who described himself as “lawyer by training, not a mover,” and was very busy taking care of his wife, who has a neurological disease.

With three grown children residing out of state, Mr. Goldstein, 75, decided to hire Barbara Feldman, a “senior move manager.” Her mission: clear out the house, call in an antiques dealer to look at some of the books, and arrange for charitable donations. She also needed to have their new apartment set up by their April move-in date.

Ms. Feldman, the owner of the four-year-old Nu Start NY in Manhasset, estimates that she assists 60 to 100 older adults a year with the physical and emotional demands of downsizing from their longtime family homes into apartments, age-restricted condominiums and assisted-living facilities.

She consults with appraisers, antiques dealers, secondhand furniture dealers, charities that pick up, packers, organizers and clean-out crews. She arranges to distribute possessions to family and friends. After unpacking, she makes the beds, sets up computers, hangs artwork and rearranges LladrĂ³s on shelves.

She is one of at least 600 people who belong to the nine-year-old nonprofit National Association of Senior Move Managers. It was founded to meet a growing demand for such services, and it is not alone in having identified the market potential of downsizers. Among others is the million-member-plus National Association of Realtors, which has created a “seniors real estate specialist” designation. According to its Web site, people trained in the specialty are qualified to counsel home buyers and sellers age 50-plus “through major financial and lifestyle transitions.”

Michelle N. Cohen, the executive vice president and an associate broker at Laffey Fine Homes in Greenvale, who calls herself a “moving life coach,” is one of the association’s specialists. “They need direction and what they can take and what they can’t take” and what to do with the rest of their stuff, Ms. Cohen said of her clientele.

Before the downturn, Ms. Cohen said, homeowners were looking to trade up. Now, anecdotally at least, “there are many, many people who are downsizing; we are seeing more of that than going the other way.”

People who “had to sell” and are renting, she concluded, “are better off getting rid of the feeling that ‘I can’t breathe, I am strapped.’ ”

And yet “moving from the old place to a new one is very rarely easy, and can often be a traumatic event,” even for adult children. Recently, Ms. Cohen recalled, a successful entrepreneur was selling his widowed mother’s residence — and his boyhood home — in East Hills, so that she could move into a senior adult residence in Port Washington.

He “literally cried on my shoulder when he had to make decisions about which furniture to sell, which to throw out and which to try to save for Mom’s place,” she said. She helped him by locating a service to declutter the house; a tag-sale operator; and a mover to transfer the few pieces being kept.

Costs for these services are computed hourly and depend on the scale of the project, said Fritzi Mazzola Gros-Daillon, an owner of Transitions USA in Huntington, who gave an estimate of $1,800 to $2,000 for the packing, unpacking and materials (though movers’ fees are separate). For other jobs — sorting through belongings, looking for documents hidden in books, or negotiating with hoarders — a higher hourly rate applies, she said.

Last June, Mary Balberchak of Massapequa hired Transitions to bring her parents, Mary and Edward Malloy, back from the house in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where they moved upon retiring 25 years ago, to a two-bedroom apartment in an age-restricted community in Farmingdale.

“They were completely instrumental in the move,” Ms. Balberchak said of the service. “I am the mother of two elementary-school children and there was no way I could do that.”

Kathleen Mazza, their senior move manager, flew to Florida and determined what they wanted and needed to be shipped, donating their leftover food to a local food pantry and excess clothing to Goodwill. She made sure their cable and telephone services were shut off, that Mrs. Malloy had her medications, and that Mr. Malloy’s car was transported on the moving van. Back on the Island, she did the unpacking.

In March, after two years of indecision, Judith Kertzner, a retired reading teacher, sold the Dutch colonial in Brightwaters where she had lived for more than five decades. Most older people “don’t move, because they can’t imagine doing it,” said Ms. Kertzner, 86, who bought a two-bedroom ranch in a gated Bay Shore town-house community.

As a moving gift, her four far-flung sons, ages 49 to 61, hired Diane Landau, the owner of Memories on the Move in East Meadow, to help.

Sorting out what to take along, Ms. Landau said, “is easier for me because I don’t have this emotional attachment to it.”

And although Ms. Kertzner described Ms. Landau as “very understanding,” the realities of moving to a smaller place were painful anyway. “It is a hard adjustment,” she said, “because I had 55 years of memories in my old house. I took a lot of them with me, and I have no room for them.”

© 2011 The New York Times Company