Right Moves for Seniors Has the Right Stuff for Mom’s Stuff

Moving is one of the top five most stressful life events no matter how old you are. But for senior citizens who have spent decades in the same house where they raised their family and collected a lifetime’s worth of stuff, moving can be outright traumatic.
That’s where Linda Hiller Novak and Carolyn Stieger come in.
Novak and Stieger opened Right Moves for Seniors in Berkley in January 2012. Stieger is an Accredited Staging Professional Master, a Certified Relocation and Transition Specialist, and is President of the National Association of Senior Move Managers. Novak is an Associate Broker with Max Broock Realtors in Birmingham and is a certified Senior Real Estate Specialist. She also has a degree in psychology, sociology, and urban studies. The two of them would often refer work to each other in the past when clients would call for help in moving their elderly parents.
“I kept getting calls from clients saying, ‘Mom’s in the hospital, there’s no way she’s going back to that four-bedroom house, here are the keys, can you please take a look at it?’,” says Novak. “I kept calling Carolyn. I trusted her to help figure out how to prepare the house for sale, downsize mom and move her into a new home.”
Novak and Stieger help downsize and transition seniors into new homes. They manage every single detail of the process – staging the home to sell, getting it listed and working with potential buyers, planning and organizing the move, creating custom floor plans for the new living space, packing, and selling extra furniture and items in their consignment store. They also handle of the details of moving day and do all of the settling and unpacking. “We don’t leave until their beds are made,” says Steiger.
They chose to open their real estate sale and consignment business in Berkley because they found it was very difficult to manage the whole process just to have to turn over the person’s cherished, but no longer needed, belongings to an outside source they’re not sure they can trust. So they just decided to handle that part of it too.
“It was very important to make sure everyone was treated ethically and with respect,” says Stieger. “We take a lot of care and pride in working with seniors.”
“A lot of our people are not moving into senior communities but just ‘rightsizing’ into condos or apartments. No matter who you are it’s easy to get dragged down by your possessions,” says Novak. “They were in a generation that they collected stuff. Now the kids don’t want it; they have very different lifestyles and they don’t entertain like that [with china and silver sets]. We’ll take it [into our store] and sell it on consignment. The kids say things like, ‘Mom, get rid of this junk,’ but to them it’s not junk, it’s their life; it’s their memories. For us to come in and say, ‘You know what, it’s not junk. It has value,’ it really does a lot for their self-esteem.”
The services Stieger and Novak provide are a relief to the seniors and their families alike, taking what can be a very difficult and emotional life adjustment and making the transition much smoother and easier. Families can also have confidence in knowing that their parents and grandparents are being treated with care and respect, but do not have to feel that the responsibility rests entirely on them.
“We really feel that we are helping preserve family relationships,” says Novak. “One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life is parent my own parents. We can go in there and tell them go out go to lunch, enjoy your relationship, and we’ll take care of [the rest]. We’re happy to administer a little bit of tough love – it’s easy to see things objectively when you’re not the child.”
Steiger and Novak work with a variety of different downsizing – or “right-sizing,” as they prefer – situations, from seniors with early onset dementia moving into assisted living homes to those simply moving out of their large family homes and into smaller, more manageable condos. Stieger and Novak like to make an initial home visit to discuss what the person’s needs are and how they can help, and they also do a lot of speaking engagements at places like senior community centers.
“We’ll ask, ‘Do you feel trapped by your possessions?’ and see all their heads bobbing up and down,” says Novak. “They’ve lived in their homes for 30, 40, 50 years, maybe they lost their spouse, the kids dumped everything in the basement when they left home and left it all there. They would love to be in a community with other seniors and interact but they literally feel frozen in that house.”
For many of the seniors they help, the most valuable advice they can give is, “Don’t let your possessions own you.”
“We try to empower them to help make the decisions instead of making the decisions for them,” says Stieger. “We work with them on their floor plan because we don’t want to move more than they can fit. We try to be very organized and methodical on how to process what’s going with them.” Big bulky pieces of furniture and glass-topped tables are among their standard no-go items for basic safety reasons. “We look at many different things when we’re helping them, and when they don’t take my advice I practice tough love!”
Most of their clients have been very receptive, and even those who weren’t initially are grateful afterwards. “We receive the most beautiful letters from people,” Novak says. “They feel like they’ve been given their freedom.”
Michigan has the second largest population of seniors after Florida. With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 60 every day in the United States, senior citizens comprise the fastest-growing segment of the population in Michigan today. There are many new senior communities opening all throughout southeastern Michigan, offering a place where seniors can socialize and also be attended in a way they never were at home – they don’t have to cook, clean, or drive anymore, which can be a tremendous relief.
“It’s better for them to move when it’s their decision and they can enjoy it,” says Stieger of senior communities. “They can be a part of the community and enjoy their lives and social activities while they still can. I always tell my clients, ‘Knowledge is power. You don’t have to make the decision today, but why not start looking?’ A lot of times people see the options and realize it won’t be so bad. The fear of the unknown is what holds people back when they explore the possibilities.”
The women tout the advantages of senior communities for the social engagement, healthy food, exercise, and day-to-day services they provide. Especially after a winter like this one. “Winter this year was so brutal; so many seniors were confined to their homes and isolated,” says Stieger. “When they move into a senior community they have activities every single day. It’s just so good for them when they interact with people their own age and have that social element to their lives. I see the changes in them and they just blossom.”
The services and support Stieger and Novak provide through Right Moves for Seniors are critical, even if it’s not as flashy a story as, say, 20-something coastal transplants repopulating urban cores and launching tech start-ups from co-working spaces. “It ain’t sexy but it’s necessary!” laughs Novak. After all, we should all be so lucky as to live to a ripe old age when we, too, would benefit from such a business.