After a year or two of anguishing over it, Charlotte Parr decided in April she would make the move from the two-story house in Greenville that had been her home for 35 years into a retirement community.
At 86, she had lost her husband five years earlier; and although she felt she had done very well on her own, the steps were getting hard to manage. She finally conceded she needed to be “somewhere where if anything happened I would be where I could get care.”
Still, after agreeing to move to Cascade at Verdae, a Greenville senior living community, she had one last demand of the sales agent.
“I told her at the time that I didn’t want to move until November because I wanted to spend the summer in my own place where I have a lot of trees, blossoming foliage and birds. I wanted to stay and enjoy that.”
That is typical of the emotional ties that make moving from memory-filled homes so wrenching for seniors, said Catherine Flagg, who helped Parr get through the move as a professional senior move manager.
A Box of Kleenex, Please
This fall, Flagg became Upstate project manager for Senior Move Managers, a company begun in 2009 in Hilton Head by Elizabeth Tate. Tate also added a representative in Columbia.
It was a natural move for Flagg, who, in 2009, left her job as an advertising representative at Community Journals, publisher of this newspaper, and started taking care of seniors in their homes.
She linked up with Tate after helping a friend move her 81-year-old mother, Betty Usher, from Savannah, Ga., where she had lived in the same house for 40 years, to Rolling Green, a Greenville retirement community.
Asked about her experience, Usher said she’d “probably need a box of Kleenex to talk about moving from a house with memories. It was extremely difficult.”
Helping seniors through those rough days is where Flagg comes in.
“We are the advocate for the senior 100 percent. That’s the first thing I make clear. I am here for you. I am not here for the daughter. I am not here for the son, your nieces and nephews. What you say goes.”
This, she said, makes seniors feel empowered “because for a lot of time, the last five years or so, they’ve been told what to do.”
Aging Population Creates Need
It’s a new business spawned by an aging population choosing or being forced to give up their single-existence, as is usually the case, to move in with adult children or into retirement communities with their escalating levels of care.
While helping seniors work through the emotional part of the move, move agents such as Flagg do far more: they work with seniors on the selling and buying end, coordinate with adult children, pack and unpack and, invariably, winnow down decades of stuff to fit in smaller quarters.
“We have to be able to do everything from soup to nuts,” said Tate.
“It is hard to move when you are in your 20s; when you are in your 70s or 80s you are moving from a home you’ve lived in for 50 years and undoubtedly have lost a partner, and somebody is packing up your memories,” said Flagg.
It Takes Awhile to Adjust
Parr is typical. Her husband died five years ago and she is moving from 3,000 square feet to 1,647 square feet.
“She decided she was taking it all with her,” said Flagg, who helped Parr make the difficult choices.
“I’m afraid it would have been mind-boggling if I would have had to do it myself,” said Parr.
She moved into her new place Nov. 1 and still misses her old house but is adjusting. She cut short the interview with the Journal because she was late going to bowling.
“I am sure I made the right move, but it takes awhile to get used to it.”
Suzanne Todd needed the help of Senior Movers to combine households. She has a 15-month-old, and was moving her family from Columbia and her parents from their Greenville home to Travelers Rest.
“There was no way I could pack everything in the amount of time we had,” Todd said.
Because of health problems of her father, it was apparent her mother needed help caring for him, and, after consultations with her parents and other family members, it was decided to combine the two households.
“I started one day, and every time I looked at it was just more and more stuff, and I yelped,” Todd said. Flagg and her team packed everything.
‘You’re Telling Mom, Not Me’
She said it helped having a third party convince her parents to part with 35 years of accumulation. That reality became clear as she and her mother were going through clothes.
“I said, ‘Mom, get rid of the turtleneck, it’s got a hole in it.’ She was tearing up over a turtleneck and, OK, I thought this is a little more than I bargained for. It was nice to have someone else but me say, ‘hey, this is what you need to do.'”
She recalled telling Flagg several times, “You’re telling Mom.”
Tate, 57, began Senior Move Managers after a career in interior design and corporate re-location in Atlanta. When she moved back to Hilton Head, she was volunteering for Memory Matters, an Alzheimer’s Day care center founded by her mother. A light went off when the director told her about the difficulty seniors face having to downsize from their homes of decades to retirement communities.
She recalled how overwhelming her own move from Atlanta was. “I said, ‘Gosh, I know how to do this; and if I am having a problem with it, seniors might really have a problem with it.'”
The business of helping seniors move has been in existence only seven or eight years, she said. Before starting her own business, she rejected signing on with a couple of national franchises because they are “unbelievably expensive, like $50,000.”
As members of the National Association of Move Managers, Tate and Flagg have access to a network of 500 NAMM members across the country to coordinate both ends of a move.
After completing her first move of Betty Usher, the 48-year-old Flagg “realized this is what I was supposed to be doing with my life.”