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Moving? Niche service helps decide what to leave or take

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When Anita and Robert Summers planned to move from their family home in Merion Station, Pa., to a nearby retirement community, they were daunted by the thought of sorting more than four decades worth of stuff. So they turned to Moving Solutions, a Wynnewood, Pa., company specializing in "senior move management." For $2,800, the consultant helped the two retired professors decide what to take with them and what to give away.

The growth in retirement communities and the scattering of adult children have created this niche service. As you sort through a lifetime of belongings, the move manager helps you decide which treasures to keep and arranges for disposing of the stuff you don't. Some managers will assist moving frail seniors into nursing homes.

But leaving behind a memory-laden house can be difficult. So beyond organizational skills, a move manager can become a sort of grief counselor as homeowners say goodbye. Indeed, many managers hold degrees in social work or psychology.

Susan Danick, who runs Transitional Assistance and Design (www.helpseniorsmove.com; 240-403-0177), in Gaithersburg, Md., notes that some anxious clients will call her several times a day for weeks. "The emotional part of moving is very tricky," says Danick, a former nurse who began her business after moving her grandmother into an assisted living center.

Hiring a professional can help you avoid tangles with relatives. Mary Jo Zeller, a founder of Gero Solutions (www.gerosolutionsinc.com; 847-705-2123), which serves the Chicago area, says a client will often take her advice about what to toss, after rejecting the same advice from an adult child.

Costs vary, but most jobs that involve a move from a house to an apartment range from $1,200 to $2,500, not including the cost of movers. "The price was very reasonable," says James Hecker, who recently left a three-bedroom house for a two-bedroom apartment in Chevy Chase, Md. A former Marine who has moved 26 times, he and his wife, both in their 80s, found it too taxing to do all the work themselves. They paid $2,000 to Danick's company. He says they discarded about one-third of their possessions in "a no-hassle move."

To find a move manager, check with the 88-member National Association of Senior Move Managers (www.nasmm.com). Ask for references from clients and from retirement communities where clients have moved. Find out how many moves the firm has managed for seniors, and get a written list of services and fees. And make sure the firm is insured and bonded.