Making The Move Senior Move Managers help older adults facing challenging transitions

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Graphic for seniors moving or changing homes
Image via Getty Images

Millie Devereaux’s bubbly personality is infectious. It’s easy to see that the 74-year-old enjoys life, especially spending time with her children and grandchildren. But things weren’t always so rosy for Millie and her family. When her husband was diagnosed with cancer, the couple downsized from their Havre de Grace home to a condo closer to her son and family living in Baltimore. But after surgery a few years later, her husband died and Devereaux was alone in their Mays Chapel home in Timonium.

“I’m in Baltimore County in this condo without him and I’m devastated,” she says. “But my grandkids kept me going. Four days a week, I would pick them up after school, and they’d come to my condo. And then the pandemic started, and all that ended. I was alone again.”

She desperately wanted to move back to Havre de Grace, but she couldn’t imagine how to tackle such a move by herself.

“How can I do this without my husband?” she recalls. “I mean … I worked, I taught school. We watched the grandkids together. But finances and things, my husband did it all. And I
was terrified.”

Move Coordination Services for Seniors

A recommendation by a friend led Devereaux to Abilities Network in Towson, where she discovered its Senior Move Management program. Founded in 1964 as the Epilepsy Association of Maryland, the nonprofit expanded its services to adults and seniors with diagnosed disabilities and other at-risk populations, according to the director of move management services, Heather Murphy. The name change came in the early 2000s.

“Our services for adults with disabilities program is still our largest program of services,” she says. “Senior services were added in 2011, providing move coordination services to seniors.”

Heather Murphy Abilities Network Director of Move Management Services
Heather Murphy | Provided Photo

Like other Senior Move Managers, Murphy directs a team that assists with every aspect of relocating or downsizing, which can be overwhelming for anyone, but often especially so for seniors. Having to sift through a lifetime of belongings and memories can be tough, not only on the senior, but also on family members, who may disagree on what to keep and what to let go. Senior Move Managers can act as a buffer, an unbiased ear and a professional opinion on sellable items.

Seniors considering a move with Abilities Network first have phone and in-home consultations, where Murphy or a project manager meets with the senior, tours the home, talks about the move timeline, delves into services and costs and prepares a game plan.

“Then we start figuring out their layout and floor plan—what furniture is going to fit,” Murphy says. “That’s the most important first step, because you start with a big picture in mind and you work your way down to the smaller things.”

Senior Move Managers work in the home with the senior every step of the way. The “soup to nuts” process includes one-on-one help with sorting and organizing, donation and disposal, packing, unpacking and setting up the new home.

If a senior has the luxury of access to both properties for a period of time, Murphy says this arrangement can reduce the pressure of getting everything organized, sorted and donated or disposed of by moving day.

For Devereaux, and her move from Mays Chapel to a Havre de Grace condo overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, the Abilities Network’s senior move management program was a lifesaver.

“These people are amazing,” she says. “Heather and her company put me at ease. I would advise this for any person or anyone over 60 years old who is going to move and they want
to be less stressed.”

Trends That Get Individuals Moving

Like many Senior Move Managers, Charna Kinneberg founded her senior move management business, Senior Transitions Inc., after helping her widowed father move to rehab, then to assisted living. Seeing how much a Senior Move Manager helped her family, Kinneberg began considering a career change.

Charna Kinneberg founder Senior Transitions Inc
Charna Kinneberg | Provided Photo

She founded the company in 2002, and 20 years later, she employs about a dozen staffers covering the Baltimore metro region up to Cecil County and into Delaware, Carroll County and sometimes the Eastern Shore.

“Our services are assisting them when they’re moving or when somebody has died and the family has an estate they need to clean out and sort through,” Kinneberg says. “Or, if they’re staying in a home and it’s cluttered, and they need somebody to declutter and make it safe, we can do that. It’s organizing; it’s right-sizing.”

During her two decades as a Senior Move Manager, Kinneberg has witnessed a few trends. Recently, the hot housing market has prompted some seniors to sell their longtime homes for top dollar, sometimes necessitating quick moves and expert help from Senior Move Managers to keep everything on track and on time. Kinneberg notes that the age when seniors decide it’s time to downsize or move is coming later.

“The trend originally was they were moving in their 70s. Now they’re moving in their 80s and 90s. People will wait,” she says.

But one global event has gotten people moving sooner than they perhaps planned: the COVID-19 pandemic. Many seniors, like Devereaux, who were cut off from frequent assistance from family and friends, realized how vulnerable they were. Several move managers say that business was brisk before the pandemic and crazy-busy since.

“We usually are the busiest in September,” Kinneberg says. “Well, this year, we had September on steroids. Every month looked like September. We were booked solid with a waiting list.”

Twenty years ago, seniors might downsize to an apartment or condo and then to a nursing home. Now, more senior-specific living choices exist, including 55-plus communities, golf-course communities, subsidized senior housing and continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), where seniors can transition from independent apartments to assisted living or nursing or cognitive care.

Jennifer Pickett National Association of Senior Move Managers
Jennifer Pickett | Provided Photo

Kinneberg was a founding member of the National Association of Senior and Specialty Move Managers (NASMM), a group of like-minded Senior Move Managers that found each other through an internet chat room and launched the association in late 2002. NASMM has 1,000 members in the United States, Canada and abroad.

NASMM’s associate executive director, Jennifer Pickett, says that with the so-called “Silver Tsunami” underway, as baby boomers age, senior move management, like many businesses serving the older adult population, “is a very viable business.”

“The very first baby boomers turned 75 last year,” she says. “We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of individuals who will require some type of downsizing service, whether that’s downsizing to remain in the home safely or downsizing to relocate.”

Pickett adds, “We’re very excited about the future. We felt a change in energy for the last couple of years. Through the pandemic, we continued to pull our community together so they didn’t feel isolated. I think we all came out smarter and stronger. We’re looking forward to what the future holds.”

For Devereaux, the future is now. She’s glad she found a Senior Move Manager to ease her transition. “Honestly,” she says. “I was happy I did that.”

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