real estate
Get help to make the move: Trio offers baby boomers, aging parents help getting into smaller living spaces
By Michael Moore
June 2, 2010

Marilyn Allen and Smooth Transitions can be reached at 822-2004. Joy Earls can be reached at Windermere Real Estate at 541-6550. And Mark Earls Construction can be reached at 721-4035.


Are you a baby boomer trying to help your aging parents decide what to do with the house they've lived in for the past 40 years?


Or maybe you live out of state and your mother lives here and needs to downsize but is overwhelmed by the idea of moving?


Or maybe you're 70 living in a house that's simply too big and no longer suits your lifestyle?


Well, three Missoula boomers have solutions for you. The three - Mark and Joy Earls, along with Marilyn Allen - aren't precisely in the same line of work, but their fields overlap enough to make business sense.


Joy Earls sells real estate for Windermere, while her husband owns a construction company that has lately focused on building downsized homes.


Allen's job is less traditional; she's in the business of "senior move management."


It's exactly what it sounds like, only more so.


"What I'm doing is helping older people move who don't have anyone to help them,"said Allen, whose business is called Smooth Transitions. "That can mean everything from helping them decide what they want to take with them to actually packing their stuff."


The central tenet of the trio's business is aging.


"Aging presents a lot of challenges in general, but issues regarding homes and where you live can really be difficult," Joy Earls said. "It's pretty easy to just get so caught up in the complexity of it all that maybe you do nothing at all. You know you want to move, but you're not sure what step to take next."


Sometimes, the right move is to some sort of assisted living. Sometimes it's simply a case of needing a smaller house that doesn't require as much upkeep.


In either of those cases, there's always the matter of what to do with all the stuff that's collected over a lifetime.


"I have something Icall a memory minder," said Allen. "It can be as simple as a photograph but as complicated as an armoire. The armoire may have a lot of meaning, but it's going to be very difficult to relocate. Sometimes my job is to help people work through what these things really mean to them. It can be quite touching at times."

Before people can start deciding what to take, they need to decide where to take it. Allen can help with the process of thinking through that, but Mark Earls can actually build you a new home.


Several years ago, he built a small subdivision off River Road solely for those 55 and older.


The homes were designed with gracefully aging boomers and their parents in my mind.


"It's amazing the problems a couple of six-inch steps can cause, so these houses are designed with that in mind," Earls said. "You can go from your bedroom to your car and the mailbox without having to go up or down a step."


Earls said building homes specifically for older folks isn't especially difficult, but it does require a lot of planning.


"You just have to think through the things that are potential problems,"he said.


Thus, such a home would have wider doors to accommodate a wheelchair. Lights that turn on with a simple press instead of a typical flip. Bedrooms big enough "so someone in a wheelchair could go in there and turn around,"he said.


"We make sure they have a real, full-size garage in case they just can't bear to get rid of all that stuff that's piled up over the years," Earls said.


Although Earls' subdivision is now full, he's built several other "senior" homes and sees it as increasingly his primary market.


"Ireally feel like that's where we're headed," he said. "And it's something you can do and really feel good about, knowing that you're really making life easier for people."


Joy Earls said that as she thought about the market for homes over the next few years, what struck her was the aging population.


"Ithink the need will really come as the boomer ages, but we're also seeing the boomers right now trying to help out their own parents," she said. "That just seems like a market that needs a little bit of specialization, and that's why we think our little group makes sense."


Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at mmoore@missoulian.com.


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