Specialized moving company turns a fearful time into adventure

The Roanoke TimesThe following article appeared in the July 3, 1999 edition of The Roanoke Times.

Moving old folks to new homes

Familiarity is in attention to details, Patrice Saul says. She puts magnets made by grandchildren on the new refrigerator.
By Amy Kane

Moving Services
John Girard, left, and John Saunders, who work for Premiere Senior Relocation Services, move and arrange furniture according to floor plans the company provides, saving time on moving day and freeing the clients from having to watch the movers.

Janet Lemons was worried. Her mother was moving from one retirement community to another. Maybe the movers would not show up on time. Something might get broken.

Lemons’ fears were replaced with surprise when she saw the job they had done.

“When they left, my mother had an apartment she could live in,” she said.

The movers had put her mother’s clothes in the dresser drawers and removed all the boxes. The apartment was completely set up.

“They took notes where she kept things so they could put them back how my mother liked,” she said. “I’ve moved eight times and I’ve never had a mover do that.”

Lemons had hired Premiere Senior Relocation Service, a local company that specializes in moving the elderly. The company is mindful of the concerns senior citizens have with moving.

“It’s easy to get disoriented when they get to a new place with a third of their stuff,” said Patrice Saul, a mover with Premiere. “We try to keep the air of familiarity.”

Keeping a sense of familiarity is in the attention to details, Saul said. She puts magnets made by grandchildren on the refrigerator, sets a favorite mug by the coffee maker or places eyeglasses and crossword puzzles next to the easy chair. With the details resolved, moving becomes a little easier.

“Many have been in the same house for 30 to 50 years,” said Saul, whom clients playfully call “Patty Packer.” They first moved into their homes as newlyweds, they raised their children in the house, they’re noticeably downbeat when moving out, Saul said.

“Often we’re dealing with years’ worth of concerns and emotions,” she said.

In addition to bubble wrapping mementos and boxing up furniture, Premiere’s movers must dispel fears of moving into a new environment.

“They associate assisted living with a nursing home, with the end,” she said. “I turn it around so it becomes an adventure.”

Premiere’s president, Linda Balentine said her clients are hesitant to move for a variety of reasons.

“Generally they move when they don’t want to,” she said, “when they become unsure of living securely by themselves.”

They are pressured by family members or forced by illness to “downsize,” said Balentine, “Moving from three- or four-bedroom homes to one- or two-bedroom condos or apartments or assisted-living communities.”

Clients need to “liquidate” what won’t fit into their smaller homes, she said. Premiere’s movers will put items into storage, drive them to other family members, or take items to be sold or donated to charity.

“They have a lot of precious things they never planned on giving away,” John Girard said.

As a mover with the company, Girard has moved a collection of nearly 200 glass paperweights, Andy Warhol paintings and many pieces of antique furniture – too large to fit through today’s staircases but too sturdy to be disassembled, he says.

To make sure clients can fit their favorite pieces of furniture into their smaller homes, each item is measured. Balentine then draws several to-scale floor plans on the computer.

Her movers set up according to these plans, saving time on moving day and freeing the clients from having to watch the movers. When clients arrive at their new home, everything is in place precisely to the plan, Balentine said. The move is completed with no telltale remnants – no boxes, no packing peanuts, no tissue paper.

As a business consultant for another moving company, Balentine discovered that senior citizens were a segment of the moving population with special needs and concerns. She started the company three years ago. She reports her crew of six, double that number in the summer, is busy almost year-round, with an average of two moves a day.

Balentine said the cost per hour – $75 – is competitive with other companies, especially considering the care and service given. That cost includes insurance that guarantees to repair or replace anything damaged in the move. She said the insurance costs extra with most other moving companies.

“Some local movers don’t have the wherewithal to offer it,” Balentine said. “The only reason I can do that is because we have such a careful crew.”

Balentine said she intends to open offices next spring in Richmond, Charlottesville and Northern Virginia, but she would like to open franchises in every American city. After the franchises are set up, Balentine said she will add a division to her Roanoke office that would specialize in moving corporate executives, because, she said, everyone deserves the detailed services her movers provide.

For the next few years, her clients will be predominantly senior citizens.

“Someone should be looking out for them”, Balentine said.

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