Facing the Major Home Cleanup

By:  Tracy Liston

Are you facing a major cleanout of either your own home or that of a relative because of a death, divorce, or downsizing?  You are not alone! And even though the “less is more” attitude is prevalent today, no one wants to give away for free items that may have monetary value. But how do you know what an item is worth and how do you go about such an overwhelming task? Luckily there is help right around the corner in Somerville.

 If You Have a Few Items

“Every single day we have several people come in and ask about the value of something they have discovered while cleaning out their home,” says Denise Cary, owner of Elysium Antiques at 25 West Main Street in Somerville. “If they don’t have the item with them, I suggest we start by having them email me a picture of it.” Cary can then research online to determine an approximate value for the item. But, she warns, what an item is “worth” versus what price it will actually sell for can differ dramatically. “If you are computer savvy you can even do some of the research yourself, especially on E-Bay,” she says. “But don’t go by what price an item is listed for, look for what it actually sold for.” 

If a client is unable to email photos or if Cary needs more information, she or her husband will make a complimentary visit to the person’s home. Cary will sometimes offer to sell a customer’s merchandise on consignment, charging 30 percent of the sale price. If a person has a large amount of merchandise they can rent space in her shop for a monthly fee. “I have seen people be drawn into this business after inheriting a large amount of furniture or antiques,” she said. “They catch the fever.” Cary also will refer customers to an auction house if appropriate.

Free appraisals are offered 1-4 p.m. the second Saturday of every month at Elysium Antiques. “We get a lot of people who take advantage of this service,” Cary admits. “Our appraiser often has a line waiting to speak to him.”

 If You Have a Lot of Stuff

But what should you do if you have more than a few items in question? Say an entire house filled with potential treasures? Bonnie Allen, owner of Central NJ Liquidators and Somerville Center Antiques, located at 34 West Main Street, recommends a three-part process. “Gone are the days when you put a sign at the corner advertising a house sale,” she says. “You need to be able to reach the masses.” A liquidation service or professional estate salesperson can help with this.

The first step according to Allen is to identify what you have and determine what is sellable and what is disposable. Often she finds what people think is “junk” is actually the most valuable. “Your money is in your attic or basement,” she says. “Do not be quick to dispose of something before talking to a professional.”

Cary affirms that notion. Hot items in her store include anything chrome, medical devices, tattoo and carnival-related items, anything from the 1920’s and the “bizarre” she says. Vintage clothing also sells, and Cary has connections with Broadway and movie set designers who purchase from her. What doesn’t sell? “Little tchotchkes, small glassware, and lamps,” she says.

Allen finds a limited market for dining room sets, entertainment centers, pool tables, and pianos. Expect to get less money than you originally think for those types of items. “If you can’t get good money, try to find another home for it or donate it, “ Allen says. “But don’t put it in storage. It doesn’t make sense to spend money just to keep it.”

Next, Allen helps the homeowner determine how they are going to sell the merchandise and will develop a marketing strategy to obtain the best selling price. “This is very difficult for a person to do alone,” she says. Possible options are estate sales, auctions, and on-line sales. In the case of an estate sale, display cases are brought in and items are arranged and staged for optimal viewing. Everything is photographed and posted on a website and also sent to private mailing lists. “Our goal is maximum exposure for the seller,” she said.

The final step is what Allen calls her “post-sale services.” This includes figuring out what to do with merchandise that did not sell and possibly a final cleanout of the home to prep it for sale. “There are after-sale buyers who buy in bulk and of course there are charities who will take household items.”

 Every liquidator has different fees and commissions and offers different services, according to Allen. She recommends the website EstateSales.net to help a person find the right professional for his or her needs and to compare fees and services. “This site is great because it covers the entire country, “ she says. “You can also use it to preview items at an estate sale before driving to it.”

 Death and Downsizing

Both women concede that if the death of a loved one is the impetus for selling one’s possessions, grief and family politics can play a huge part in the entire process. Some people are so paralyzed they can’t even begin to clean out a home. Other families bicker over “who gets what.”

Allen recommends having all items appraised before family members claim pieces, besides what may be outlined in a will. This can prevent resentment in the future. She also suggests family members should identify “memory pieces” in each room – things they could not imagine parting with. “A lot of people can’t let go of items,” she says.

 If family members are totally overcome with grief, Cary sometimes suggests they hold off selling anything for a while. “Once it’s gone it’s gone,” she said, “And I have seen people who are sorry later that they sold something.”

 Downsizing to a smaller home or apartment brings with it an entirely different set of concerns. “The biggest problem I encounter with empty nesters is that about 50 percent of them do not know where they are going after they sell their home,” Allen said. “And if you don’t know where you are going you don’t know what you will need.” Her advice is to determine exactly where you will be living and to have a floor plan in mind to help decide what you will keep. “Years ago most people stayed put as they aged” she says. “But today there are so many wonderful options such as active adult communities, condos and townhouses.”

 Even though the economy has led to less disposable income for people to spend on antiques and collectibles, Cary feels there is still a market for quality older merchandise.  “ I think there is a movement of people who do not want new stuff from China,” she says. “They are starting to appreciate the older stuff again.”  And that is why enlisting the aid of a professional can help you obtain the best price for your home’s hidden treasures.

 For More Information

 Elysium Antiques

25 West Main St.

Somerville NJ 08876

(908) 307-3376



Central NJ Liquidators and

Somerville Center Antiques

34 West Main St.

Somerville NJ 08876

(908) 625-1622




Are You Livig in a NORC?  Naturally Occurring Retirement Community

By: Adriane G. Berg

CEO, Generation Bold

Are the people living in your community predominantly over the age of 60? If so, you are probably living in a NORC, a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community.

NORCs arise when a preponderance of the population are aging-in-place. When the population becomes conspicuously older, younger people feel outnumbered and move out. So too, older people may feel more comfortable and move in. The percentage of older residents grows exponentially.

AARP suggests that there are thousands of U.S. communities that can be classified as NORCs. There are at least 300 officially designated NORCs, with organized services for people over the age of 60, often subsidized by state, federal and non profit programs.

Types of NORCs

NORCs are categorized by types of residential development. Single family home neighborhoods are called “open” or “horizontal” NORCs.  High rise ownership of condos and coops in cities like New York and St. Louis are called “vertical,” “closed” or “classic” NORCs. Rural area NORCs are called NORRs, Naturally Occurring Retirement Regions, because they cover so much territory.

How many people over the age of 60 make a NORC?

Title IV of the Older Americans Act,qualifies communities with at least 40 % older households for certain social service entitlements. New York City, which funds a variety of high rise NORC programs, requires that 500 housing units in a complex be owned by people over 60, or if there are only 250 units owned by elders, then at least 45% of all units must have a 60 plus head of household.

These numbers are important because the object is to qualify under a funding rubric to create NORC programs.

What is a NORC Program and why would you want one?

While there are many models, most established NORC programs have two aspects in common; they coordinate existing social and health services, public, private and non-profit, and they create a place where elders can engage in their community.

Each community has its own challenges and solutions from which programs develop. For example, in the oldest NORC, Penn South, in New York City, residents were concerned over the cost of non-Medicare covered expenses like eye glasses, dentistry, travel and food. Nat Yalowitz, credited with creating the first NORC program, asked me to work on NY HOPS, a Penn South membership discount program now run by Presbyterian Senior Services.  I had an inside look at a vertical NORC. Penn South is spread over ten blocks, with 3,000 residents, a senior center, a full time social worker, and numerous lifelong learning opportunities available on site.

Several blocks uptown you’ll find Project Open, a non profit formed in 1990 for residents of Lincoln Towers, with one full time social worker, over 50 community volunteers, a socializing space and other social services coordinated by JASA. Classes are taught by residents, including a retired classics professor deconstructing plays by Aeschylus.

On the West Coast the Diocese of Stockton, California sponsors a three-year Older Adult Outreach and Engagement Project in collaboration with Tuolumne and Calaveras County's social service agencies, the Area Agency on Aging, and community organizations supporting the needs of older adults. The approach is to expand the current Older Adult Outreach and Engagement Program by adding new services and strengthening existing ones.

In Texas, the Aging Agenda for Houston and Harris County is a project creating a new role for Senior Centers serving NORCs with a menu of evidence-based health promotion programs, such as case management teams that include certified community health workers, elder-care field specialists, and neighborhood Elder-Care Action Teams. 

The Jewish Federations of North America programs  establish NORCs nationwide. Looking at a map of their communities shows how varied in location, from rural, to urban, to suburban NORCs can be.Top of Form

NORCS and the Longevity Dividend

Dan Buettner, author of "The Blue Zones," emphasizes that daily interaction in a comfortable social setting creates a longevity dividend, such as enjoyed in areas like Ikaria, Greece, Corsica and Loma Linda, California, where a majority of the population live past 90.

"Blue Zones" offer a sense of community and belonging as we age. Mario Garrett, a professor of gerontology at San Diego State University, reasons, "That's why they're living longer as a cluster. If there was no social [environment] we would find [centenarians] scattered across the world."

Ninety-year-old Ida Seltzer, resident of Park West Villages, attends knitting and crocheting circle and riding a metallic red motorized wheelchair. "Sometimes I get depressed and feel like giving up," she says, "but the NORC ... makes me feel more like a person and keeps me in touch with other people."

How to create a NORC program in your community

First, be sure that you don’t already have access to NORC programs. Call your local Area on Aging to find out.  If you need to start from scratch, use United Hospital Fund’s NORC Blueprint, with a complete toolbox to create a three tier strategic alliance.



Here the power is truly in the people. If your 60 plus population is not interested in a NORC program it won’t happen. In one New York high rise, residents felt that that getting counseling would stigmatize them. Those that did use the services did not want others to know. After 18 month the program was abandoned. The senior center space is now a playroom for young families to use; as the elders have left for more institutional care.

By contrast, Bloomingdale Aging in Place, on 102nd street in New York which encompasses 2,500 homes, is run by 70 volunteers escorting elders to the bank and food shopping. But the greater benefits are social and emotional.  “We wanted to help ourselves stay,” said David Reich, 74, a retired researcher for I.B.M. and one of the group’s founders. “For many people, the desire is simply to connect with other people and get neighborly help when needed.”

Once the community is interested, the next step is to connect with your local legislators at the appropriate level. In Mercer County, New Jersey,  Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), is a sponsor of a bill to provide assisted-living type services to those who either cannot or do not want to move out of their homes. In Rockland County, New York, I worked closely with Harriett Cornell Chair of the County Legislature to create a Summit and series of meeting attended by County stakeholders and seniors. The result was a 65 page report, Project Tomorrow, for the future of aging in Rockland.



When community stakeholders and residents are committed to a NORC program, funders can be found through a combination of private, public and charitable grants. For example, a St. Louis program cost $300,000 a year, or $500 per member. Seniors pay $30 per person or $45 per couple, annually. The rest comes from a $127,000 state grant and foundations. Jill Schupp, a Missouri state representative whose district includes the NORC assets, "I'm hopeful that we will be smart enough to recognize that, dollar for dollar, this is a great use of our taxpayers' money."


The NORC Aging in Place Initiative, a program of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), is a network of 1300 health and social services providers creating NORC programs and sharing experiences. You can see projects and models funded under the Community Innovations for Aging in Place Initiative (CIAIP), authorized by Congress under the Older Americans Act (OAA).  

In all cases, the strategic alliance triangle worked because there was a genuine need, and a genuine interest. As an advocate for successful aging, I know that communities can be in denial of their aging and fail to take united measures that will make a difference. NORCs will atrophy if we stay behind closed doors. Let’s connect behind an age friendly future.