Moving can be stressful for anyone, but for seniors who have spent most of their lifetimes in one home accumulating decades worth of furniture and belongings – not to mention memories – it can be even more daunting.

Many older homeowners who decide to sell their longtime homes often have trouble deciding which retirement community, assisted living facility or condominium complex to move into.

“The majority of seniors I’ve met have never made a move, so it’s overwhelming. It’s psychologically difficult,” said Jean Cherni, a Branford resident who founded Senior Living Solutions in 1999 to provide retirement advice and other services.

Cherni had noticed years ago that there really wasn’t any help for people who wanted to move to an assisted living community or retirement community. Real estate professionals aren’t tremendously knowledgeable about such places, according to Cherni, because unlike nursing homes, they aren’t regulated.

“Choosing them can be very difficult,” she said.

That’s part of the reason Cherni partnered with H. Pearce Real Estate Co., a North Haven-based firm, to develop the Senior Services Program. Launched by H. Pearce seven months ago, the program connects seniors with a counselor who serves as a single point of contact to address all their housing-related needs and issues. The counselor provides information and guidance to seniors who are pondering selling their homes and those who already have made the decision to move.

Today, more real estate brokers are focusing on offering specialized services to this target population, which is expected to grow within the next decade. Thousands of real estate agents have taken courses offered through the Senior Advantage Real Estate Council, a California-based group that was established in 1998, to earn the Senior Real Estate Specialist, or SRES, designation.

Agents earning the SRES designation are trained to counsel senior clients through major financial and lifestyle transitions involved in relocating, refinancing, or selling the family home. There are currently 127 agents in Connecticut who have the SRES designation.

‘A Lifestyle Change’

As part of its own program, H. Pearce has trained about 30 different agents in its six offices to understand the needs of seniors and serve this population. Counselors connect seniors with these specially trained agents – along with other vendors like movers – once they are ready to sell their homes.

“It’s a challenging program,” said Thelma Fritzell, an agent in H. Pearce’s New Haven office who underwent the training “You have to love people and you have to have the desire to help people and if you have that then it can work.”

Fritzell is currently helping a Hamden couple that is moving into a retirement community called Whitney Center sell their 2,100-square-foot Colonial. When the couple signed the listing agreement, Fritzell said the husband and wife had tears in their eyes.

“It’s very challenging to help people who are making a lifestyle change,” said Fritzell.

Maureen Campbell, vice president of corporate and relocation services for H. Pearce, said the company saw a need for such a program because many aging seniors, along with their family members, struggle to determine what is the most appropriate housing at that point their lives. “We’re reaching out to seniors who really need assistance,” she said.

Campbell said counselors in the Senior Services Program work with elderly people who are sometimes not ready to move but just need some advice. The company put together a resource guidebook, “Moving Made Easy for Seniors,” to help clients during the decision-making process.

The guide features a list of assisted living facilities and retirement communities and a checklist that is designed to help homeowners determine whether their current housing is meeting their needs, said Campbell.

Campbell and Cherni have been trying to reach out to the community to make them aware of the program. “[The program is] still in its infancy but all the components are in place,” said Campbell.

To attract clients to the program, H. Pearce has partnered with assisted living facilities and retirement communities like the Whitney Center in Hamden. Representatives from those communities refer seniors who need help selling their home to H. Pearce’s Senior Services Program.

In addition, H. Pearce provides presentations to employees who work at companies that utilize the real estate firm’s Relocation Division and have older parents who are confronting housing issues.

The company is currently trying to expand the program by partnering with other real estate companies in other parts of Connecticut that are interested in serving older home sellers. Campbell, who has done several presentations on the program, said H. Pearce would provide the counselor through its Senior Services Program and then connect home sellers with agents at real estate firms that are H. Pearce partners.