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Experts offer moving tips for Florida seniors

A realtor who caters to seniors and others offer tips on the moving process — from selling your home to relocating.
Sandra Ceballos poses for a photograph in front of a home she has listed for sale and is currently under contract April 8 in Tarpon Springs. Ceballos company, Silver Roots, works with senior citizens in downsizing, and moving.
Sandra Ceballos poses for a photograph in front of a home she has listed for sale and is currently under contract April 8 in Tarpon Springs. Ceballos company, Silver Roots, works with senior citizens in downsizing, and moving. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Apr. 21
Updated Apr. 22

Sandra Ceballos eventually burned out in 2014 from stress and quit her job as a marketing coordinator at a retirement community. Her daughters encouraged her to slow down and do something else.

“And I said, ‘I just I really, really love working with my senior citizens, and I don’t want to give that up,’” Ceballos, 55, remembered. “So I had to come up with something else.”

The Clearwater resident decided to turn her experience moving seniors into a retirement community into her own business and started Silver Roots in 2014. The company helps people in their 60s and older across Tampa Bay move themselves and their belongings. Each year, Ceballos assists 40 to 60 clients with her moving and real estate services.

Sandra Ceballos, right, talks with homeowner Andrea Richards at Richards’ home April 8 in Tarpon Springs. Ceballos company, Silver Roots, works with senior citizens in downsizing, and moving.
Sandra Ceballos, right, talks with homeowner Andrea Richards at Richards’ home April 8 in Tarpon Springs. Ceballos company, Silver Roots, works with senior citizens in downsizing, and moving. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Moving can be more challenging with the added realities of aging. Some seniors decide to downsize — opting to move closer to children or into retirement communities or smaller homes, Ceballos said. And often, they have built up a lifetime of mementos and scrapbooks of photos they want to pack safely or get rid of.

They need to decide what kind of community is best for the next stage of their lives. And they need to take potential health issues into account when finding a new home, Ceballos said.

Seniors should think about these decisions as early as possible, said Rodney Harrell, vice president of family, home and community at AARP. Sometimes moving may not be the best choice, he said, and having more time allows seniors to make modifications to their homes or buy homes that allow them to age in place.

Harrell recommends that seniors stay in their homes and communities when it’s possible, to maintain their quality of life.

If moving is necessary, seniors should make their decisions holistically, he said, considering the total cost of a new living space and whether it’s close to family, parks, libraries or transportation. Seniors should “look for places that fit their needs over a longer term,” he said.

Housing continues to be one of the largest expenses people have as they age, he said, but seniors should try to keep housing costs down to account for healthcare emergencies and other surprise expenses.

“I’m a big proponent of keeping those costs low, because you never know what might happen to us elsewhere in our lives,” he said.

Retirement communities are an answer for some seniors, but others may need a more frugal option. Living with a roommate who can help pay the rent and do housework can work for those with less in savings, Harrell said.

When relocating, seniors should look for places that provide community and activities, said Robin Stover, an attorney with Gulf Coast Legal Services. She suggests seniors look for communities with a gym, card nights, potluck dinners and holiday events.

“Try to incorporate sociability as much as possible into your decision,” she said. “A communal, convivial atmosphere is so critical.”

Many seniors who have moved to Florida have questions about the legal documents they will need, Stover said. Often, clients ask if they need a make a new will.

A will should be valid if it’s from the state the senior moved from, Stover said, but Florida doctors and lawyers are more comfortable with Florida wills. Stover recommends that seniors seek legal counsel and complete those documents before moving.

Scams are widespread in the moving industry, said Bryan Oglesby, spokesman for the Better Business Bureau serving West Florida, and seniors should verify a moving company’s credentials before making a deal. Some seniors have dealt with companies that held belongings hostage for money or never showed up for the move, he said.

Oglesby recommends that seniors search a moving company’s name on BBB.org to make sure it is reputable and has good reviews. Also, ask family members and friends for recommendations on companies, he said.

Those moving across the country should get a quote based on the total weight of the items they’re moving. If a company gives a quote without looking at your belongings, it might be a “big red flag,” Oglesby said. Seniors also should look up the company’s national license if they are moving across state lines.

The cost of hiring someone to pack up a home can be expensive alongside other moving costs.

That is one of the services that Ceballos provides. She charges based on the number of bins a person needs moved or downsized. A person in an 900- to 1100-square-foot home with 20 to 30 bins of belongings would cost about $915 to $1000 to pack up and unpack, she said. She offers reduced rates per bin for clients who need a lot of downsizing.

Sandra Ceballos, left, talks with homeowner Andrea Richards as they talk about what and if furniture will be kept, or donated, at Richards’ home April 8 in Tarpon Springs. Ceballos company, Silver Roots, works with senior citizens in downsizing, and moving.
Sandra Ceballos, left, talks with homeowner Andrea Richards as they talk about what and if furniture will be kept, or donated, at Richards’ home April 8 in Tarpon Springs. Ceballos company, Silver Roots, works with senior citizens in downsizing, and moving. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Sandra Ceballos, right, talks with homeowner Andrea Richards as they talk about what and if furniture will be kept, or donated, at Richards’ home April 8 in Tarpon Springs. Ceballos company, Silver Roots, works with senior citizens in downsizing, and moving.
Sandra Ceballos, right, talks with homeowner Andrea Richards as they talk about what and if furniture will be kept, or donated, at Richards’ home April 8 in Tarpon Springs. Ceballos company, Silver Roots, works with senior citizens in downsizing, and moving. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

After years of finding homes for seniors and helping them move, Ceballos has suggestions for those making a living transition:

  • Measure doorways, bathrooms and bedrooms when touring homes to make sure that a wheelchair, walker and other medical equipment can move through easily.
  • Look for homes that don’t have stairs and have an easy floor plan to navigate.
  • Make sure the home has a garage that can be easily pulled into.
  • Check to see if the house has a security system or needs to have one installed.
  • Pack cash, jewelry and checkbooks in your car when you move to keep them secure from movers.
  • Plan for where you want to live when your health declines. Start looking at long-term care communities in the area you’re moving to, even if you’re moving into a home or retirement community now.
  • Look up independent- and assisted-living communities and other long-term care facilities online to check their ratings and any complaints they might have. When you tour, talk to employees to see if they’re nice, and ask current residents for feedback.
  • Look around and use your sense of smell to gauge cleanliness when touring long-term care facilities.
  • Start downsizing ahead of time, a little every year. Go through what you have and get rid of what you can, so you’re not overwhelmed when it’s time to move.
  • Take note of move-in dates before your home sells. Many long-term care communities take weeks to move new residents in, and that should be handled before selling your home.

Many seniors choose a new home based on where they want to live and what they can afford, Ceballos said. The rest depends on what seniors want out of their new homes and communities.

For some seniors, camaraderie is important, she said, but she also has clients who are more “reclusive and don’t want to deal with a bunch of people.”

Ultimately, seniors will “feel most comfortable living in the same kind of environment” as their current homes, Ceballos said.