Their Specialty? Anything Gray
By ELIZABETH POPE
THE graying of America is creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to provide new services to older people. These businesses, a relatively recent phenomenon, are helping clients create their ideal retirements, manage their daily finances and sell their homes or find smaller ones, among other services.
Statistics on these specialized businesses are hard to find. Many of them were started by people who dropped (or were kicked) out of corporate culture, or who decided to change careers in midlife, said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. "These entrepreneurs saw a need, started small and went after a niche, then discovered it's bigger than they imagined," Ms. Timmermann said.
Here are some of the new specialties:
Transition coaches, the latest incarnation of personal or life coaches, have emerged to help people retire.
"A lot of my clients in their 50's and 60's either have to leave work or want to," said Constance Adkins, 61, of Newton, Mass., a social worker who counsels people about retirement issues. "They feel restless, anxious and a bit at loose ends."
Ms. Adkins and others like her use a variety of methods, including written exercises, readings and close questioning, to help clients clarify their goals and develop strategies to meet them. Ms. Adkins's clients report to her weekly, which, she says, adds accountability to the collaborative process. "Coaches don't nag," Ms. Adkins said. "We work with the client to lay out options and have them make conscious choices rather than falling into something without giving it attention."
Like many transition coaches, Ms. Adkins offers an initial free telephone consultation, then charges $300 to $400 monthly for her services, which include a weekly 30-minute phone call and unlimited e-mail exchanges. Relationships with clients usually last six months to a year, she said.
Coaching is a vague specialty that is neither licensed nor regulated, and training varies widely, so it is recommended that clients shop carefully and enter any arrangement with their eyes open. It is increasingly popular, though.
"Retirement is one of the fastest-growing segments of the coaching industry," said Daniel Martinage, executive director of the International Coach Federation, an organization in Washington (coachfederation.org).
He recommends that potential clients check coaches' credentials, training and background. Most offer free introductory sessions so clients can get an idea of coaching style.It is typical for clients to create a patchwork of part-time work, volunteering, hobbies, late-life learning and travel, Ms. Adkins said.
She recalled a former client who abruptly quit a demanding job. Working with Ms. Adkins, the woman spent several months examining her life and discovering long-forgotten pleasures. Within six months, she had moved out of state, built a new house, found a new partner, began a consulting business and taken up lots of other activities. "She was like a kid - cooking, biking and knitting - all the things she never had time for," Ms. Adkins said. "That's when I saw the potential in this time of life."
As a remodeling contractor, Bill Bell, 45, of Millsboro, Del., worked on many houses that were being prepared for sale because the owners were moving into an assisted-living facility or nursing home. "I kept thinking if we just made a few changes, they could stay in the house, and wouldn't have to move," Mr. Bell said.
One thing led to another, and Mr. Bell is now known as a certified aging-in-place specialist after taking a three-day workshop held by the National Association of Home Builders. The course teaches universal design and building techniques for making a home accessible to everyone, regardless of age or disability.
"People think universal design is just ramps and grab bars, but good universal design is seamless and invisible," Mr. Bell said. Modifications include widening hallways and doors; adapting kitchens by adding multilevel countertops and easy-to-reach sinks and appliances; redesigning entryways to eliminate stairs and situating the master bedroom on the first floor, with a curbless shower and grab bars in the bathroom.
There are more than 600 certified aging-in-place specialists in the United States, said Therese Ford Crahan, executive director of the National Association of Home Builders Remodelors Council (nahb.org /remodelors). They come from various backgrounds and include architects, interior designers, builders and people who work in health care, Ms. Crahan said. The three-day course focuses primarily on design and building techniques, but also covers sensitivity training.
Mr. Bell, for example, was required to wear earplugs and sunglasses smeared with petroleum jelly to simulate hearing and vision loss. He was then asked to write down verbal directions. "It did put some things in perspective," he said.
Real Estate Specialist
Around the time when Mr. Bell became an aging-in-place specialist, his wife, Kathy Sperl-Bell, a real estate agent, decided to specialize in helping older adults relocate, refinance or sell their homes. Ms. Sperl-Bell took a short course offered by the Senior Real Estate Council to become a senior real estate specialist.
"Real estate transactions in general are fast-paced and very stressful, but the process can be emotionally draining for older people," said Ms. Sperl-Bell, 57. "My clients often have health problems or just lost a spouse. I've learned to slow down, be patient and listen."
Murky family dynamics often complicate matters and call for a combination of hand-holding, a diplomatic touch and "a little bit of social services work," Ms. Sperl-Bell said. Sometimes, one spouse wants to sell the house and the other is adamantly opposed. Some adult children urge selling the family homestead, while others want to keep it.
In the two-day online course she took to become a senior real estate specialist, Ms. Sperl-Bell studied the demographics and characteristics of the over-50 population, learning about financial options like reverse mortgages. When helping clients make decisions, she said she discussed the alternatives with them. "If the right answer is to remodel the house and stay put, that's fine," Ms. Sperl-Bell said. "But if the house really isn't going to age well with them, then we'll talk about selling."
Currently there are more than 10,000 senior real estate specialists in all 50 states, according to Nathan Booth, a spokesman for the Senior Advantage Real Estate Council (seniorsrealestate.com). "We discourage a lot of our top producers from pursuing this market - they want to be in and out in 20 minutes," he said. "For the older client, it's more counseling than hard sales. You have to slow down and win their trust."
Senior Move Manager
Moving is stressful for anyone, but older adults may be overwhelmed when leaving a beloved family home, unable to cope with the task of sorting and disposing of decades' worth of belongings.
The specialists known as senior move managers help clients sort through their things, get them packed and settled in their new setting. Often, clients are moving from a house to a smaller dwelling in a retirement community, or between levels in a retirement community. Relocation specialists handle the sale, donation or shipping of household items to family members. On moving day, they coordinate and supervise movers, but do not physically move boxes and furniture. When the client walks in the door, the pictures are hung, the beds are made and the boxes are gone.
"My best guess is that there are 400 such companies in the country," said Margit Novack, a founder of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (nasmm.org). Fees range from $30 to $75 hourly, depending on the part of the country and the move manager. The average cost of moving a one-bedroom apartment is $1,500; for a large, well-stocked house, the cost averages $5,000 or more, Ms. Novack said.
Daily Money Manager
Older adults want to retain their independence, but physical and mental health problems or the stress of caring for a partner can make daily financial tasks difficult. Or people may be too busy with travel or activities to spend time on bill paying, checkbook balancing and record keeping.
Daily money managers are a new breed of specialists who help older people - and many time-pressed younger people - manage their financial affairs. "I'm the missing link between your accountant, financial planner, broker, lawyer and insurance agent, "said Katherine DeWitt, 56, a daily money manager from Reston, Va. A former bank president, Ms. DeWitt meets clients once a month in their homes. She does an initial assessment of their needs, then tackles mundane matters like decluttering files. She will also give advice on long-range financial issues, and refer clients to professionals for legal, investment or tax advice.
About 600 daily money managers can be found nationwide, charging hourly fees from $30 to $100, said Pat Manalio, a past president of the American Association of Daily Money Managers (aadmm.com).
Ms. DeWitt, who is licensed and insured, studied to become a registered financial gerontologist to better understand the needs of her older clients. Because money is often an emotional subject, it requires a sensitive approach. "You inch your way in to sense a client's receptivity to discussing money," she said. "Do you take baby steps or plunge right in?"
Ms. DeWitt said her goal was to help her clients remain independent. "It's kind of a mission," she said. "I have one client, a widow who never balanced a checkbook in her life. When I leave, I feel so good because I know I've helped her feel a little more confident, a little less stressed and more stable."