December 30, 2010, 10:00 am
When Moving Seems ImpossibleBy PATRICK EGAN
Patricia Wendler had been trying to sell her Southport, N.C., home for four years. Just before Thanksgiving, she finally got an offer, with one major contingency: Mrs. Wendler, 80, had less than three weeks to move, or no deal.
She and her husband, who died in 2008, had retired to Southport 16 years ago from New Hartford, N.Y. In that time, the Wendlers had accumulated furniture that wouldn’t fit in her new apartment, tools she wouldn’t need and years upon years of paperwork. “I kind of stored everything,” she said.
Her daughter-in-law, June Wendler, described the task of relocation as a “tornado.” She called Jane Roberts, a senior move manager in Wilmington, N.C., for help.
Initially, Patricia Wendler was not thrilled.
“I was a little resentful,” she said. “Why would I need someone like that? I’m not used to having people do things for me.”
The Wendlers are among more than 50,000 families to hire a certified senior move manager this year, up from 30,000 just two years ago, according to the National Association of Senior Move Managers. These services don’t come cheap: Most move managers charge $25 to $60 per hour. A top-to-bottom move can require several days of planning, packing and unpacking, running $1,500 to $4,000 or more — not including the cost of the actual movers.
Despite the expense, many families are finding senior move managers indispensable, and not just because they handle the logistics. Tensions can spill over when an elderly parent must relocate. Hundreds of necessary decisions and actions can swallow time the family may not have; the inevitable negotiations and concessions can trouble even the best parent-child relationships.
Surveys show that the elderly overwhelmingly wish to remain in their long-term homes, and to many of them moving represents a loss of control. “These moves usually are precipitated by something that’s happened — a health crisis, a death of a spouse, a loss of driving ability,” said Margit Novack, a senior move manager in Philadelphia.
A good move manager helps to clear a path to the new home while ensuring that the senior is always in control, regardless of who made the first call. “These people don’t want anyone telling them what to do. You have to walk a very fine line,” said Ms. Roberts.
“We become their surrogate friend or surrogate daughter,” added Judy Rough, a senior move manager in Phoenix.
By taking the adult children out of the driver’s seat, a manager can help circumvent family hostilities. “It really lets the adult child be their companion in the journey. The adult child isn’t the bad cop,” said Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of N.A.S.M.M. “It really lets the family be the family.”
In Southport last month, Ms. Roberts helped Mrs. Wendler sort through what to keep and what to donate to charity. She packed everything, hired the movers and then unpacked in the new apartment. She even photographed the interior of Mrs. Wendler’s former home so as to reproduce the layout as closely as possible, making sure that if the toothbrush sat on the right side of the sink, that’s exactly where Mrs. Wendler would find it in the new apartment.
Ms. Roberts’s efforts won over Mrs. Wendler. “She did things I never would’ve thought of,” said Mrs. Wendler. “She was just perfect.”
Printed in The New York Times Dec. 30, 2010