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Moving pros help pro athletes tackle those unexpected moves

Athlete relocation specialist Ikem Chukumerije poses with his clients, Duane Brown of the Houston Te
Athlete relocation specialist Ikem Chukumerije with his clients, Duane Brown of the Houston Texans and his wife Devi, outside of the couple’s new home.
(Ikem Chukumerije)

The call can come at any moment: Pack up your stuff; you’re moving across the country.

In a matter of hours, professional athletes hop on the next plane to join a new team in a new city.

Plenty of perks come with being a professional athlete, but permanence is not among them. Players are traded, dropped and picked back up again with the same swift, unsentimental nature of moving pawns in a chess match.

On top of the pressures of joining a new squad, players are tasked with moving their entire lives — their families, their belongings, their fleets of cars — across the country in a matter of days.

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That’s when athlete relocation specialists step in. Marketed as a catch-all service for a player’s every need, athlete relocation is a growing industry designed to help players resolve the logistical headaches involved with a big move.

“When I started out, there were maybe three to four athlete relocation businesses in the entire country,” said Ikem Chukumerije, who founded Athlete Relocation about a decade ago. “Now you can do a quick Google search and find hundreds.”

Chukumerije’s recent clients include Sammy Watkins of the Rams, Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets and Rudy Gay of the San Antonio Spurs. He charges $3,000 to $25,000 for a relocation, depending on distance and volume.

“Setting expectations is so important,” Chukumerije said. “My clients tell me exactly what they need, and I walk them through how it’ll happen, and then we make it happen.”

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Services vary from athlete to athlete. Younger players might want to find a chic penthouse in the city, whereas older, established athletes may want to find a home in a good school district.

“When you’re moving across the country, a sense of urgency and a high level of attention to detail is incredibly important,” said NFL player Duane Brown, who enlisted Ikem’s services after being drafted by the Houston Texans.

Brown said being able to walk into a new home and have everything unpacked and set up made his life much easier.

Chris Dingman is president of the Dingman Group, which has provided more than 500 relocations in the sports world this year. The group prides itself on coordinating every aspect of a player’s move — from boxing up household goods to making sure an athlete’s car is waiting for him or her in the stadium parking lot of the new city.

When Dingman pinpoints exactly what a client needs, his team of around 10 contracts out the duties to its network of nationwide vendors and deals with the oftentimes nuanced billing process. For example, if a team trades a player, it is usually on the hook for the relocation expenses. If a player gets cut, he’s on his own.

Despite more and more firms entering the relocation game, business is aplenty. The Chargers’ move from San Diego to Los Angeles this off-season represented an extraordinary opportunity for the industry, with more than 90 players and team staff looking for new luxury housing in Orange County.

Luxury real estate specialist Jeff Katz, who anticipated the mass exodus, was quick to pick up the phone.

“There was a flood of people heading to the same city, so the key for my clients was to get a head start before the community and other Realtors realized the team was moving,” Katz said. “Once word spread, prices started to increase, and supply diminished.”

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Katz ended up taking on five Chargers as clients, including tight end Antonio Gates, wide receiver Keenan Allen and defensive end Joey Bosa.

“At the end of the day, these are human beings trying to find a home their wives and kids can make memories in,” Katz said. “They’re no different from anyone else.”

hotproperty@latimes.com

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