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Finding Help in a Crisis Downsizing

Senior move managers can help you unclutter a home and relocate, but you'll pay $40-$125 an hour

For Roger and Alma Kline, retirement downsizing involved no long-planned move to a beachfront condo or Arizona community, no leisurely thinning out of the lifetime of possessions in their home of 20 years in Casper, Wyo.

Rather, it came suddenly and unexpectedly on March 14, 2010, when Roger suffered an aneurysm that first brought hospitalization, then a move with Alma to a residential care facility. The Klines, both 75, would never return home again.

See also: Downsizing in retirement.

Chalkboard drawing of downsizing your home - a cottage industry of service companies can help you

Move managers can help in retirement downsizing. — Photo by Jana Leon/Getty Images

It fell to daughter Andrea, 45, of Minneapolis, to manage an emergency downsize. "I remember sitting in my parents' house … looking at all their belongings and thinking, 'What am I going to do now?' "

Many people do the job themselves. But growing numbers are turning to a cottage industry of firms specializing in "senior move management."

Caring Transitions, which has 116 franchises in 35 states, put the AARP Bulletin in touch with Andrea after she brought the firm in. "Less than 24 hours after my call, a team arrived at my parents' house," she said. "They helped me pack. They organized all the stuff and contacted places to make donations, as I sold other items on Craigslist. They helped get the house in order so it could be sold." Among the things they noticed — the roof needed repair.

The services cost $800. Andrea used 10 vacation days from her job and figures that the company's help meant she didn't have to take another week off. "Like my siblings, I could better focus on my father's health," says Andrea.

The Klines' case was typical. Professional managers normally enter the picture in "situations where a move is immediate and necessary because of the loss of a spouse, loss of health or ability to live independently," says Mary Kay Buysse of the National Association of Senior Move Managers. The association's membership has grown tenfold since 2006 to about 600 companies in the United States and Canada.

Such a move can mean going from a 2,500-square-foot home that a couple has had for 40 years to a 400-foot unit in an assisted living facility.

The management firms charge $40 to $125 per hour and rarely do the actual moving. They do the before and after chores, from packing and seeing to donations to arranging furniture in the new digs.

But most downsizes aren't emergency operations. They take place for a lot less money, with yard sales, online sales and calls to family, friends and local charities to come for giveaways.

However it's done, the move can be trying emotionally.

Next: Six tips on how to fly smoothly from your empty nest. >>

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