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Downsizing, Rightsizing, Moving…Grooving?

Adult child and mom talking about downsizing into senior apartments

In our last blog, we discussed the ways that empty-nester parents handle the subject of downsizing with their adult children, and some of the issues that surround emptying that nest. It’s a big, big issue with implications for the housing market, for the family dynamic, and for the emergence of downsizing-related services. According to AARP’s Public Policy Institute, 60% of Ohio homeowners age 50 and older have lived in their homes for more than 30 years. And 72% of these own their homes outright. That’s a lot of equity, a lot of potential for downsizing, and a whole lot of stuff. 

Housing experts are predicting a fairly healthy sell-off of homes as the result of the downsizing Baby Boomer generation. While not statistically significant yet, the beginning of the movement is stirring demand for smaller housing units as well as assistance services for downsizing.

Baby Boomers are renting luxury apartments in vibrant suburbs and city centers, buying condominiums within planned communities, and even trying out (gasp) 55+ senior apartments within age-restricted communities. 

There are so many reasons for downsizing for empty nesters, and even when adult children are resistant to this, they typically understand that having parents make a move when they are young is far easier than helping aged parents move from an aging house, likely in need of a myriad of repairs. Adult children of empty nesters should understand that, just like them, their parents want their freedom.

John Sweeney, retirement investment expert, noted in his 2016 blog, “Moving is easier when we are younger…. and selling the empty nest might boost the nest egg.” Sweeney is the executive vice president of Retirement and Investing Strategies for Personal Investing, a unit of Fidelity Investments, Boston. Sweeney’s blog is The Empty Nest Conundrum: To Stay Put or Downsize When Kids Fly.

Loads of Benefits, But its Hard To Do

Downsizing, rightsizing, lightening the load—whatever you call it, it’s painful, particularly when couples or singles are preparing a move from a home where they’ve lived for decades and raised a family. Most empty-nesters choose to take on the downsizing challenge themselves. But an increasing number of older adults choose to hire help when they’re downsizing.

In the last blog, we talked with Chris Davis from Auction Ohio and Libby Patrick from One More You Transitions, who shared their expertise and experience with assisting downsizers. Services like theirs are increasingly available for those who do not want to tackle downsizing as a DIY project, or those who just simply have too much stuff to manage downsizing on their own.

Professional Downsizing and Organizing Services

Suzan Smith’s attitude toward assisting older adults in downsizing is reflected in the warm name she gave her company: Suzy’s Helping Hands. “We don’t just move things. We move the soul of the home for people.”  Formerly employed in the retail sector in management for Madison’s (a women’s clothier) Ms. Smith used her business acumen and skills as an organizer, networker and “people person” to develop Suzy’s Helping Hands. She and her staff of professionals provide relocation assistance, downsizing and estate liquidation, home sale preparation, staging and professional organizing services. 

The key to my company is my affiliates. Suzy’s Helping Hands partners with a network of professionals that collaborate to complete even the largest of downsizing projects. These partners include auction houses, hauling companies, appraisers and nonprofit social service organizations. Ms. Smith also emphasizes that her team is “highly skilled at what they do, and they are wonderful, empathetic, caring people.”  

Suzy’s Helping Hands uses EE Ward Moving and Storage Company and Buckeye Crating and Third Party Solutions.  Auction houses such as Auction Ohio  and Garth’s Auctioneers and Appraisers  are often called to evaluate and sell items in a downsizing project.

Steps to Help the Downsizing Process

“You have to be multi-faceted,” Smith says, in order to properly serve clients struggling with downsizing. The network she has cultivated helps properly place belongings that need a new home. “Downsize, liquidate, get the house ready to sell.” The following is a five-step process that helps streamline the downsizing process:

1. What Fits in the New Place? –Determine what items you want to take, what items fit well with your new home’s décor and (very importantly) measurements.

2. What Items Do the Family Want? —Have family members pick their items and take them away, or have them professionally shipped to family. Organizations like Suzy’s Helping Hands can help homeowners package and ship items to relatives living far away.

3. What Items Need to Be Sold? –Properly allocate possessions to the right hands. This will help you to sell items more efficiently. The auction house or appraiser that has the most specialization and expertise in valuating a particular item is likely to get the best price for that item.

4. What Items Can Be Donated? – Clothing and household linens that are clean and free of holes and stains, as well as household furniture and appliances that are sturdy and in good working order can be donated. “I work a lot with Goodwill,” noted Smith, “but clients often have an organization or charity that they want to give to.” Consider your favorite charity when making the decision to donate items while downsizing.

5. After donating everything that you can, there will likely be some items, such as old mattresses or damaged goods, that should just be thrown away. Suzy’s Helping Hands, like most home organization services, has professional hauler on staff for this purpose.

Moving into the New Home

“We go through the home, item by item, to make sure everything is going where it is supposed to go, where the homeowner wants it to go.” Smith says when setting up the areas of the new home, its important to take personal style, passions, hobbies and favorite activities into consideration. Creating space for these activities can make people feel much more at home in their new place. Smith says she often helps downsizers pick out new pieces of furniture for the new place that fit it better.

It is estimated that 90% to 95% of people who are downsizing have their families help them. But some families are just not interested in doing these tasks themselves, and may be overwhelmed by it all. Smith says, “They want and need the assistance from an organizational standpoint, as well as from an emotional standpoint.” 

 “There is no typical age that we work with. The other day I was working with a 45-year old client. In a couple of weeks I’ll be working with a client who is 87 and getting ready to go into a retirement community.” Smith says that while the reasons for downsizing vary widely, “everyone values the same things—services, understanding, empathy.” She emphasizes, “Customer service is key, and at our heart is helping people get through this transition as easily as we can. It’s so much bigger than just downsizing.”

It Helps to Keep Expectations Low

Selling the belongings that the client and family do not want helps out with the cost of the move. Smith says she tries to prepare clients in terms of lowering their expectations. “We live in a throwaway society. Children and younger relatives generally do not want items like china and silverware.” And while it may hurt to know that your children don’t want these cherished items, sometimes it’s great just to start out with a clean slate.

Suzy’s Helping Hands provides downsizing and relocation assistance services throughout Central Ohio. Contact Suzy Smith at