Seniors: Downsizing Part 1

Downsizing is the act of reducing possessions mainly due to moving or a change in overall style or interior design. Senior citizens are the largest group of people to downsize on a regular basis, and as the baby boomers age we are going to see the largest turnover in property, ever in the history of the world (I know you think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not!).  The first part of this series on downsizing relates specifically to seniors and those who are leaving their homes for many reasons, including an inability or lack of want to take care of a large house, and often times this accompanies a change in health or the death of a spouse or partner.

Senior downsizing is hard. Having worked in an auction house for almost a decade and worked with countless seniors and their families, there is no move harder than a senior who is leaving a home that they have lived in for 40, 50,or even 60 plus years.  Even when they had made the decision with their health and family intact, moving out of a long term home is more than a trip down memory lane; it is an extremely difficult process, and the decisions of what to keep, what to give to family members, what to sell, what to throw away, and how it will all fit inside of a new home, are countless and intimidating. Many times seniors and family members want to go it alone by selling stuff on eBay, holding yard sales, repairing a house, or taking many trips to the dump. While this can be cost effective, it takes away from your personal life, as well as spending time with your family.  While senior downsizing can be difficult emotionally, there are countless professionals who can help you through this process, and work WITH you to manage the emotions and the stuff!

Preparing in Advance: Creating Your Downsizing Team

For situations where time isn’t as crucial factor, assembling a team of people to help with the downsizing process can make you feel organized and in control. This team begins with finding a senior move manager who can manage the whole process.  The National Association of Senior Move Managers has a fully interactive webpage with educational links, a blog, frequently asked questions, companies they recommend, and also a fully searchable database to find a senior move manager near you.  The senior move manager will coordinate every aspect of the move and can refer you to a real estate agent if you need to sell the house as well.  Senior move managers are absolutely worth the money to make this painful move much easier. I recommend them most for families that want to be a part of the move, who interest is not in just “getting rid of the stuff.”

Another great organization is the National Organization of Professional Organizers. I have known many organizers who are a part of this group, and they are all excellent and can help reduce clutter to make it easier to evaluate the items that are in house before a move. Not all professional organizers can coordinate a move, although many can refer you to local auction houses or estate sale companies if that is something you are interested in. Organizing doesn’t even have to be done just for a big move.  It can be done anytime.

When Time is of the Essence: Your Options for Finding New Homes for Your Stuff at Short Notice

There are some times when coordinating a move over an extended period of time is simply not an option. Oftentimes life changing moves will occur at a moments notice, and with family scattered all over the world, dealing with an estate immediately following a death or an unexpected permanent move to assisted living can be extremely difficult. There are many companies that offer full service downsizing solutions, and can help literally from start to finish.  These are auction houses, estate sale companies, or even private individuals who can purchase the house and contents outright.  Let’s start first with auction houses.

An auction house that provides full estate services can be an excellent option for dealing with large estates.  Auction houses have experts with experience in researching and evaluating objects of all types, and they can find hidden gems that could net the estate additional money to pay estate or health care costs.  Most have varying types of sales and can sort the saleable from the non-saleable, and work with a senior move manager or professional organizer to coordinate a move on your time frame, while maximizing your dollars. Look for an auction house with both a bricks and mortar online component, as well as different types of auctions, including general and high end auctions. Some auction houses have services that can empty your entire house, taking those trips to donation and the dump for you, as well as provide moving services from your home to the auction house.  Some auction houses have an estate sale division, where they can first hold an estate sale within the house in order to sell much of the everyday items that are not suitable for auctions.

Estate sales can be excellent choices to sell items like pots, pans, newer furniture, rugs, books, records, and all sort of items that can be sold individually or even at a retail price. Items like paintings, coins, jewelry, antique furniture, and other vintage or antique items will do better at an auction.  Estate sales are used in conjunction with an auction, and auction is a good venue for those items that did not sell at an estate sale. One final way that you can dispose of an estate is to sell the contents to a single person.  While this can be an extremely efficient and easy way to sell the contents of the house, we typically don’t recommend this route before consulting an auction house or consultant, and here’s why:

Oftentimes people who are buying full estates aren’t offering you what the estate is really worth.  They know that you are in a situation where time is of the essence, and they are trying to get the estate for as little as possible.  Most likely they will sell the contents themselves and make a profit.  There’s nothing wrong with this scenario, except that some are not honest and will offer you a certain amount knowing that there is a gem hidden away that could be worth two or three times the price that they are offering you. This is why I encourage you to have an auction house or consultant come to your house before agreeing to selling the entire estate to a single buyer.  Private sale to a single buyer can absolutely be a good option, just be sure to take a few simple steps to make sure that you are getting the most money that you can, even if you are in a hurry to sell.

What to look for when hiring a downsizing consultant or team

Learn as much as you can about the person or company you are hiring.  There are many great companies out there, but there are many scoundrels out there too, who will pray on your ignorance or your time/distance constraints. A quick internet search should provide you with information, or at least a company website.  If you’re not familiar with the internet, ask a friend or family member to help you or ask around in your community to see if anybody has worked with them before.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for references either, any good organization will be able to provide you with customers who will give you an honest opinion of the business and their experience.

Ask the representative about their procedures and the way that the process will be conducted.  If they are a senior move manager, make sure to find out what companies they use and ask about their relationship with that company.  Do some research yourself to find out about those companies. Sometimes move managers are provided kickbacks from an organization with can skew their perspective. If its an auction house or estate sale company, ask them about their commission rates and their payment terms, and if possible set up a time to tour the gallery and talk to the employees.

Ask as many questions as you want! Good companies will WANT to answer your questions and will be honest in their answers.  If you feel like they are not answering your questions or that something is wrong, don’t use them!

The key to success when downsizing situation is transparency and communication.  Any reputable company, whether its a senior move manager, organizer, auction house, estate sale company, or private buyer will treat you with respect and understanding for this extremely difficult situation.  Asking questions and feeling comfortable with the process is the key to making sure that you and your items are treated with respect and dignity, and that you have a great experience!  Senior downsizing is a word of mouth industry, and your experience and your words can make or break a company, so be honest with them, ask questions, respect their procedures and their feedback on your items, and you should expect questions, honesty, and respect in return.  With the right downsizing team, this can be an much easier process than going at it alone. The truth is that yes, you can do at it alone, but why would you want too when there are so many companies out there who specialize in helping people just like you!

Questions or concerns? Comment below or contact us directly.  We’re here to help!

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About Renee Corbino
Renee Corbino has a decade of experience in the auction industry. Her expertise covers a broad spectrum of fine and decorative arts and antiques including: paintings, silver, ceramics, furniture, netsuke and more. She received her Bachelor’s degree with a double major in classical studies & art history from the University of Maryland, College Park and her Master of Decorative Arts from the Smithsonian & George Mason University.

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