Couple begins business to help seniors downsize, relocate

'The most important thing is to help people see the value of their life experiences even without the material items'
Thursday, November 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA —Imagine weeding through a lifetime of material possessions, trying to figure out what to keep and what to part with before moving to a new home. Help could come in handy.

After retirement, Mickey and Ralph Havener decided they were too young to sit around and not work. In May, the couple opened Smooth Transitions of Mid-Missouri, a service that helps elderly people downsize and move into retirement communities or assisted-living facilities. The company also offers estate dispersal services.

The down-sizing process

Ideally, the Haveners like to have six weeks to move a person but are prepared to work more quickly if a job demands. Here's a breakdown of the process:

  • Once a person inquires, the couple sets up a free, one-hour consultation to provide a price estimate and an idea of what work needs to be done.
  • If customers want to hire Smooth Transitions of Mid-Missouri, he or she signs a contract. The list price is $55 per hour, but the price is negotiable depending on the size of the job. The Haveners are willing to teach others how do to things themselves to help reduce the cost.
  • Next, the Haveners look at the new space and try to recreate a familiar environment. Of course, the challenge is to do so with fewer items. The couple helps the client compact, pack, move and sell items.
  • To save space, they suggest taking photos out of frames and putting them into photo albums and getting rid of unnecessary clothes, books and china. Money that clients make from the sale of unwanted items can help cover the cost of the service.

Mickey said she and her husband love older people and needed the supplemental income, so the business seemed like a good fit. A retired hospital and hospice chaplain, she views the work as an extension of her ministry.

"One of the reasons elderly people don't move is because they are overwhelmed by the thought," Ralph said.

Other reasons seniors avoid downsizing are a lack of family members to help and personal physical disabilities. The Haveners said their goal is to take care of the move so adult children can spend more time with their aging parents and vice versa.

The couple helps older people determine what they need, what they want to give to their family, what they want to donate, what they want to sell and what they need to throw away before a move. They can also help people choose a place to live and find someone to shred the unneeded paperwork that may be hidden away in the basement.

The couple moved Ralph's mom and aunt and Mickey's sister into retirement communities, helped move Mickey's stepfather and dealt with Mickey's mother's estate after her death. Also, the Haveners have downsized from a house to a condominium, a move they credit as one of their greatest learning experiences.

"The most important thing is to help people see the value of their life experiences even without the material items," Mickey said.

Mickey said "hanging on" to personal items is a matter of security and validation of life experiences. Although their clients have to part with some material belongings, their memories cannot be be taken away from them.

The couple said the hardest part of moving is the thought of leaving behind memories of home. Mickey said it helps for clients to have relatives nearby to remind them that their memories are still alive, even if they are no longer living in the place where the memories were created.

The couple uses confidence-building techniques, offers support and patience and presents options — anything that helps clients feel a part of the process. In order to help ease the transition, the Haveners offer photo preservation, pastoral care and ethical wills, which are records of the values people wish to pass onto others.

The couple learned many of these skills at past jobs. Most recently, Mickey worked as a hospice chaplain for Boone Hospital Home Health Care, and Ralph retired after a career as the director of archives for the University of Missouri System.

As an archivist, Ralph said he helped many retiring professors determine what parts of their research they needed to keep, store, pass on or throw away. The skill translates well into helping aging individuals decide which documents are necessary to keep and which can be destroyed.

The idea for the business came about in the late 1980s, when the couple moved Ralph's mother and aunt. They began searching online and stumbled upon Smooth Transitions, a Louisville, Ky.-based company, which Mickey said lined up well with their personal values.

Smooth Transitions has operations in 19 states and one in Canada. According to the company Web site, each location is a locally owned and operated and can use the Smooth Transitions name, training, logo, artwork and Web site. To become a licensee, each location pays a one-time fee based on the territory size it serves.

After Mickey retired, she and Ralph traveled to Louisville for training with Smooth Transitions founder Barbara Morris. While there, they learned Morris' system for moving people, watched demonstrations and heard lots of stories about her experience in the business.

The couple said Morris sends them regular e-mails with new information in the field. She also encourages licensees to join the National Association of Senior Move Managers, which the couple said they will join as soon as they are eligible. To become provisional members, companies must have moved three non-relatives, provide proof of insurance and develop a marketing plan.

"It has taken us a while to get going," Mickey said.

Since May, Smooth Transitions of Mid-Missouri has picked up two non-relative clients and has had meetings with five potential clients. Prospective clients often need extra time to think over their decision.

In terms of marketing, the Haveners attend monthly Senior Network meetings at the Columbia Area Senior Center, work with trust officers at banks and distribute materials at doctors' and estate attorneys' offices and locally owned pharmacies. They also rely on word of mouth to publicize their services.

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julie marty November 26, 2009 | 12:14 a.m.
This comment has been removed.
Charles Dudley Jr November 26, 2009 | 3:52 a.m.

What a great service to the entire community.

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