Roger and Margaret Smith had always thought of themselves as in the "we're going to die in the house" scenario.
Then Margaret hurt her knee -- and suddenly gardening in the Woodside home where they'd lived for 42 years wasn't quite so attractive.
Oddly, the very day she fell, the Smiths had arranged to have a conversation with Kaye Sharbrough of Senior Seasons, a home referrals and resources company.
They figured they could stay in their home for another five years, Margaret said.
"Then I fell, and I realized it was a fantasy," she said. "Even though we had prepared the house with all the things older people need -- we were in our 80s -- life changes."
Soon they were checking out The Meadows of Napa Valley, a retirement community not far from their son and his family. And they realized they'd need to sell their Woodside home quickly.
Sharbrough introduced them to Chris Iverson, a sales associate with Dreyfus/Sotheby's International Realty in Menlo Park, who offers a free report on downsizing at StressFreeMove.info.
Iverson likes to call himself "a matchmaker" or "the quarterback" or "the catcher."
He's been in the real estate business for about 10 years after working for IBM, consulting in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, and he finds many older people are stymied about downsizing from the family home.
In the past, he said, people would downsize in steps, first moving to a place where they could get help with cooking and cleaning while they "did the fun stuff. Now people are pushing back, skipping independent and going straight to assisted," such as Sunrise of Palo Alto, an assisted-living community.
"I deal with people who wait too long," he said, describing a situation where the homeowner had caregivers 24/7. While the caregiver stayed in the master bedroom, the homeowner had a smaller bedroom, sat and watched TV all day and subsisted on Spaghetti-Os.
His preference is to work with people long before the kids need to intervene.
That's what he found with the Smiths.
"We looked around at 40 years of stuff. That's where it all kind of gets stuck," Iverson said.
"That was the only thing they were worried about -- not what the house would sell for, expenses like Realtor commissions, just how do we actually accomplish this? ... How do we get from sitting here with a houseful of stuff to a two-bedroom condo in Napa?"
Iverson connected the Smiths with Managing Moves and More, a Mountain View company specializing in expediting the moving process.
"These people come in and all we have to do is stick dots on 'what I want and don't want'; they worry about the logistics," Iverson explained.
"Putting dots on is easy. Acting on those decisions is difficult because it's boring and slow," he said.
For some clients, that process is very freeing, he said, noting that the moving pros coach along the way, asking such questions as, "When was the last time you wore the sweater with the reindeer on it?"
"Shoes are a classic example. Very few 75-year-olds need high-heel shoes. You can really divest yourself of a lot of shoes," he said.
The moving company deals with the issues of what can be kept (and moved), what can be sold at a consignment store, what can be donated and what recycled.
"Both companies (also On the Move in Woodside) try to have zero go to the landfill," Iverson said.
"I'm from a long line of Yankee tinkerers," said Roger Smith, a former minister at Woodside Village Church and retired psychotherapist. "I have a reason to save things because I could find a use for them. I squirreled away a lot of stuff. It was overpowering. Chris has a mantra: 'Take what you want, the rest will simply disappear,'" he said.
Margaret was no slouch herself when it came to accumulating stuff.
"I had so many unfinished projects ... (like) inkle-loom weaving," she said. "I had a lot of things I was going to do someday -- that was 30 years ago."
The couple had self-published memoirs from their parents as well.
"I want to work on my memoirs now. I could do that once we left the house."
The Smiths needed to put the house on the market quickly.
"It was August. We never would get Roger out unless we moved within three weeks," Margaret said.
At first, Margaret was resistant to staging.
"Chris helped me understand what it was for. He shared market information," she said, and he helped the Smiths finance the upfront costs (about $20,000).
"We certainly were in the totally retired category, not rich Woodside folks," she said.
"We didn't have to do anything except do some packing," she added, with help and a lot of direction from Managing Moves' staff.
In the meantime, Iverson was working on selling the house.
The house was painted, inside and out; people came in and freshened the yard; and the interior was staged.
The house was built in 1928. The buyer "had to be someone with a sense of 'here's what can be done with this place.' It was a problem property as far as I was concerned," Roger said.
"After being there for 40-some years, I didn't know anything about selling property," he said, adding that escrow closed 71 days after Margaret fell. (The house actually sold in 54 days, he said.)
Then the Smiths were hit with capital-gains taxes.
But, Margaret said, although the taxes were huge, "the sale of the house could pay off all debts and still have resources ahead to take care of us in a continuing-care community. That was one of our goals. Honestly, until we met Chris I had no idea how to do it."
Looking back, a year and a half later, Roger said: "It's important for people who are thinking of a downsize move: Do it before the crisis hits. And you never know when that will be. As you get older, stuff happens."
"When you get to be 80, it pushes the frailty index a little higher," Margaret added. "Think about moving while you're still mobile. It's really tough on the body, on the mind. It's taken us about a year to adjust to a whole different lifestyle."