For the past six years, senior move management company Smooth Transitions of the Inland Northwest LLC has been helping seniors to make some of life’s hardest transitions.
Owner DeAnne Wilfong says her company completes up to 52 moves each year, offering clients assistance with services like household downsizing, move coordination, and estate dispersal.
“Seniors are a growing population,” says Wilfong. “The Spokane area offers excellent health care services and over 120 retirement communities. This business will only grow as more people age, looking to downsize and move to smaller spaces.”
Smooth Transitions is what is known as a licensing program, offered through international licensor, Smooth Transitions LLC, a Louisville Ky.-based company started by Barbara Morris in 1995.
Wilfong and her husband, Ralph, paid $4,500 for the initial license to own and operate a move management company under the name Smooth Transitions of the Inland Northwest LLC. That also gave them a protected franchise territory in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
Wilfong says each licensee is required to use the name Smooth Transitions, plus a location or something else that distinguishes them from the licensor.
“Smooth Transitions is generally categorized as a move management company but we are not governed as to what services within the scope of move management that we offer, or how we advertise, price, market, and otherwise operate the company,” she says.
Wilfong says Smooth Transitions is bonded, insured, and a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, or NASMM. It claims to be the largest senior move management company in the nation, with offices in 24 states, Canada, and New Zealand.
“Both Smooth Transitions and NASMM are such great support networks,” says Wilfong. “They’ve helped me get through some tough situations over the years, brainstorming new approaches and just being there to listen.”
Originally from Iowa, Wilfong studied at various colleges, but it wasn’t until 2002 that she decided to complete her education with a certification in economic development finance and project management from the National Development Council, a nonprofit community and economic development organization.
Over the years Wilfong has gained experience in business planning, grant writing, tourism, historic preservation, real estate, housing and economic development.
Having tried retirement in 2006, Wilfong discovered she wasn’t content not working and by 2011 had started the business.
“It’s a lot of fun, and I’d never thought I’d be doing it as a job,” she says.
Wilfong says she was looking to start a new career with an emerging business, that didn’t require a lot of startup capital or a big learning curve, and one she could easily operate from home.
“It’s called a lifestyle business, one of the fastest-growing types of new business,” she says. “This is also an industry that hasn’t been so developed yet as to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.”
Besides Wilfong and her husband, the company has two other employees, one of whom assists with decluttering and packing efforts for clients, and another who acts as a friend to senior clients, keeping them stay calm and occupied during moving transitions.
In addition to her work helping clients declutter and move, Wilfong also gives lectures at retirement communities, retiree group meetings, churches, nonprofit and charitable organizations, senior centers, professional organizations, trade fairs, and care giver and hospice training sessions. This year, she has 19 presentations scheduled.
Wilfong, at 76 years old, says she feels she is well suited to her chosen profession, as she is able to see the viewpoint of both clients and their adult children.
“I would say about 50 percent of what I do is mediation, with adult kids asking their aging parents to downsize and dispose of what they see as junk,” she says.
Because many of the calls she gets are from adult children with care questions, Wilfong says she tries to make sure her website has educational and accurate information, as well as resources listed.
Aside from the children of seniors, her clients tend to be older females looking for a home that better suits their needs.
“Most clients are referred to me through attorneys, financial planners, realtors, or people in retirement communities, or those who have seen me in a workshop or seminar,” she says. “I would say most, probably 75 percent are women, as women tend to do better on their own in their homes for longer.”
Wilfong says the typical client is usually a female in her 80’s, although she does get some couples who are either snowbirds looking to downsize, or a caregiver partner looking to find a community that meets the needs of both.
“About 25 percent are moving simply because it’s about time to move, 50 percent have experienced some kind of crisis, and the remaining 25 percent are moving because their house no longer fits their needs or is unsafe,” she says.
Wilfong usually works six days a week, and although she can have up to 10 clients each week, she only allows for one full move package per week.
“During the week I can be multitasking, consulting with new clients, sorting and cleaning for others,” she says. “However for a full move I have to be there overseeing all aspects, and the client deserves my undivided attention.”
There is no fee for the initial consultation, at which Wilfong meets with the client to discuss their options and find a plan that fits their needs, whether it’s downsizing and decluttering, aging-in-place, or moving to a smaller space, a retirement community, or an assisted-living facility.
“The majority of people want to stay in their own home, but realistically only about 3 percent end up being able to do that,” says Wilfong.
She says many clients haven’t considered their options, until they experience a health crisis and realize they might need additional help.
“These moves are often very emotional, because they follow things like the death of a spouse, physical injury or surgery, and the client is already struggling to process those changes,” she says.
Although she declines to disclose her annual revenues, Wilfong says she typically charges about $48 an hour. Total hours needed for transition services can run from 15 to 35 hours per client depending on the size of the space a client is moving into. Each phase of a client’s plans is carefully budgeted out according to time, services needed, and affordability.
For moving plans, Wilfong says she first considers the floor plan of the new space, and whether a client’s possessions will fit nicely, or if they will need to downsize.
She then recommends movers who will pack and unpack items, taking the stress off the client.
Wilfong also provides her clients with information to assist in the sale of a home, referring the services of a real estate agent, home stagers, landscapers, painters, flooring contractors, and handymen as needed. Final cleaning services also can be arranged.
During the move, Wilfong has someone available to keep the client company, and also can arrange for pet care if needed.
When a client has moved, Wilfong sets up the new space, including shopping for needed furniture and household accessories, decorating, and arranging for electronics to be set up.
If a client needs to downsize, Wilfong will help them sort which belongings they would like to keep, donate, or gift, and arrange for them to be stored, shipped, donated, or sold.
She also refers clients to a photographer who can organize old photos, take pictures of sentimental items, and save all photos onto digital devices.
Wilfong says she typically likes to have two weeks to help a client transition completely, but when necessary has been able to relocate a client in as little as three days.
“I do leave some extra time between clients during the week, in case I get one of those crisis calls where a client needs to be moved as soon as possible,” she says.
Wilfong says about 40 percent of her clients are referrals from retirement communities, or people she meets through presentations she’s given. Most other clients are referred to her through people she works with in funeral planning, fiduciary services, and real estate markets.
“We coordinate particularly well with real estate agents,” she says. “Many times, we help to schedule so that the client can be moved out of a home, and the home can be cleaned, staged, and ready for resale quickly.”
Wilfong says while many seniors are reluctant to move or downsize their belongings, they are often surprised at how much it can help.
“So many people are afraid of losing freedom, when actually once they’re rid of all that stuff, they suddenly find they have more time to be active, socialize, and just enjoy life,” she says.
Wilfong has both good stories and bad, having assisted clients who have hoarding and mental health issues, hidden money stashed away, or are insistent upon finding a home for their treasures.
“What I love is that each client is unique, and every day is different,” she says. “I love to hear their stories, find their personality, and create a smaller, more manageable space that speaks to it.”
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