Real Estate

Moving to the next stage

Local firms help seniors 'downsize'

by Kate Daly

The combination of a shifting economy and aging population has created a new niche in the moving business where the focus is on helping senior citizens downsize.

More than six years ago, Joan Harlem sold her large home in Woodside after going through a divorce, and moved into a smaller place in town. At around the same time, she befriended a woman in her 80s who was also in transition after losing her husband of 40 years. She was ill, had no children and needed help moving. Harlem stepped in and then went on to found a business called Home Strategies.

As a moving organizational specialist, Harlem finds herself working with a lot of local elderly clients who are opting to live in smaller spaces at places such as Menlo Commons in Menlo Park, Vi in Palo Alto and The Sequoias in Portola Valley. On the flip side, she also helps younger couples that are moving up into bigger homes from small apartments.

Regardless of her clients' age and stage in life, a lot of preparation goes into a move, and figuring out what to take and not to take can be overwhelming. "These are their possessions so we are very gentle about that," she said.

As decisions are being made on what to move, give to family members, sell on consignment, donate to charity, or haul away she said, "I label, photograph and journal everything."

She will supervise a team to unpack and rearrange things in the new location, as well. Another service she offers is helping stage a house for sale. "If a house is going on the market, we work with Realtors to help declutter it."

Eloise Pollock took a special class to become a Seniors Real Estate Specialist in Coldwell Banker's Portola Valley office. She has clients "who have wanted to sell their homes for four years" waiting for the market to change, and now, she said, "They're starting to move on to the next stage."

She can think of five professionals in the area who specialize in helping people move. "They're not necessarily expensive, but every single client has said it's the best money I've spent."

She describes one moving specialist who "on moving day says, 'Go to the movies,' and then she takes all the old furniture to the new place and hangs the pictures and light fixtures on the wall so they feel like it's home."

Pollock recently collaborated with Maria Quinby, a senior move manager, professional organizer and interior designer who started her business, On the Move, in Woodside three years ago.

Quinby had just helped her parents downsize from two family homes in her native Sweden to one smaller place, when she ran into her husband's aunt, Patsy Whitley, at The Sequoias in Portola Valley. "She was telling me about all these neighbors in Menlo Park where they raised their families. They were paying two mortgages. Their kids were too busy or too far away to help them move, and I realized I can step in as the extra daughter without the extra baggage."

"To move is one of the biggest things they do in life. ... It's very emotional. It may take a whole afternoon to go through a box. ... You make tons of small decisions that can be so tiring for older people," she said.

She charges $65 an hour to organize, mediate, coordinate and decorate, as she spells it out on her website. So far her longest job has lasted 120 hours, where she sorted through an entire house to help the client decide what to keep, took photos, then drew up a floor plan to show where everything would go in the new home.

Quinby is also willing to whip the new place into shape, getting it painted or recarpeted, and will unpack items, plus fill the refrigerator.

Susan Doherty of Woodside used Quinby for her young family's remodeling project, and then hired her to help relocate her mother-in-law from Phoenix to the Moldaw Family Residences in Palo Alto. Doherty said Quinby "even makes the beds and hangs the pictures; she got everything ready for Alyse Rosen's first night at her beautiful new apartment."

Right now Quinby is assisting a Menlo Park woman move out of her three-bedroom, two-bathroom home into a one-bedroom unit at The Sequoias. Quinby says the reason the client gave for wanting help is, "I want to clean up my mess so my kids don't have to."

As resident services coordinator at The Sequoias, Deborah Barrette keeps track of resources senior citizens might want to use. She has noticed "a surge" in the number of people offering senior moving services in the four years she has worked there. Quinby is one of several names on a list that also includes Kate Brauner with Senior Moving Assistance and Marlene Cope with Gentle Transitions.

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