Thinking about doing a home exchange? It’s a great way to travel. You’ll save money on lodging and food, be more comfortable, and get a chance to see how other people live. But doing a home exchange can be a little scary, and, truthfully, it’s not always successful. Avoid these common home exchange mistakes so you can make sure your experience will be what you want it to be.
1. Not knowing whether you’re allowed to do it
Do you belong to a Homeowner’s Association? Is your home part of a Coop? Are you a tenant? If the answer to any of these questions is, “Yes,” find out whether you’re allowed to have strangers strangers stay in your home while you’re not there. Although exchanging isn’t typically subject to the same kinds of prohibitions and limitations as short-term rentals, it’s a good idea to check.
2. Not making sure your insurance remains in effect
What if a guest slips on the front walk or there’s a fire while you’re away? My understanding is that most homeowner’s policies remain in effect when an exchange partner is living in your home. (That’s not necessarily true for short-term rentals.) But there are exceptions. To make sure you’ll be covered for damage and liability, read your policy exclusions carefully. Even better, have a chat with your insurance agent.
3. Not getting to know your home exchange partner
Home exchange is generally accepted as a safe way to reduce the costs of travel while keeping your home secure while you’re away. Most people are honest and responsible. You can believe what they say about themselves and their home, and you can trust them to take good care of your place. Still, the more you know about the people you welcome into your home, the less chance you’ll encounter unpleasant surprises. Look people up on social media. Ask for documents, such as drivers’ licenses or passports. Question any inconsistencies between what they tell you and what you’ve read about them or their home.
4. Not sharing expectations
The majority of home exchange problems result from poor communication. Talk with exchange partners on the phone or via Skype so you can both ask questions about what’s important to you. Ask for specifics: How far is the home to the beach [or event site, or downtown center]? Does “20 minutes away” mean a 20-minute walk, a 20-minute drive, or a 20-minute bus ride? Do “laundry facilities” mean a washer and dryer right in the home or a coin laundry in the building basement? Is the Internet connection high-speed wireless or broadband? Is the bedroom a separate room with a door or a windowless alcove with a curtain? What is in included in the “fully equipped kitchen?”
Encourage your exchange partners’ questions and answer them honestly: Yes, the stairs are steep; the view of the lake is partially obstructed by trees; there is no smoking and no air conditioning; the street can get noisy at night. Explain anything you’d like guests to do: take in the mail, water the plants, park only in the assigned spot. The more you and your exchange partner know about one another’s homes, the less likely it is that one or both of you will be disappointed.
5. Not having a written agreement
“He said…she said…” It’s all too easy for people to misunderstand one another by making assumptions or simply forgetting what was said in a casual conversation or one casual email in a long email stream. Misunderstandings can torpedo an otherwise successful home exchange. A written agreement signed by both parties helps ensure that both you and your exchange partners have the same understanding of arrival and departure dates, maximum number of people who will stay in the exchange home, prohibitions (no smoking), critical expectations (no loud TV or music after 10 pm.), and so on.
5. Not arranging for a local contact person
Things happen while you’re away: the washer overflows, the Internet stops working, guests lose their keys. It’s very hard to deal with problems if you’re a continent away. Make sure guests have someone to call if something goes wrong.
6. Not alerting neighbors
People are nervous these days. Watchful. It’s understandable that your neighbors might feel uncomfortable or suspicious if they notice strangers in the building or on the street. It’s good practice to let neighbors know that people will be staying in your home while you’re away. Give them your contact information and ask them to get in touch if there are any problems. It’s also a good idea to give close neighbors your guests’ names and phone number in case of an emergency.
7. Not fixing things that could be dangerous
Maybe you know to be very careful when you step on the third tread of the back stairs because it’s been loose for years. But your guests don’t know about it, and everyone will be unhappy (or worse) if they get hurt. Take a tour around your home, inside and out, and look for things that must be fixed before your guests arrive. Replace smoke alarm batteries, tack down floppy carpets, and repair broken window frames. You and your guests – not to mention your insurance company – will be glad you did.
8. Not protecting valuables and privacy
Most of us have things we want to keep safe from damage and information we want to keep to ourselves. But it’s not fair to expect guests to treat every delicate object in your home as if it were their own, and some people can’t resist the temptation to peek at personal papers left lying around. For everyone’s peace of mind, put away your grandmother’s quilt, your tax returns, and anything else you really care about.
9. Not leaving a “user guide”
When you stay in someone else’s home, it can be confusing to figure out how everything works. Help guests out by providing clear instructions that tell them how to do such things as adjust the heat or air conditioning, where to put the garbage, how to use the TV, how to find the circuit breakers, and how to reset the modem if the Internet goes out. Mention important “quirks,” such as a toilet that easily overflows. Tell guests what you want them to do when they leave. Include your home’s rules, such as no smoking, shoes off at the door, no parking in other residents’ spaces, or no loud music.
For more, see “Give Guests a User Guide to Your Home“
10. Not leaving the home clean and tidy
Your exchange partner won’t expect a hotel-perfect home. But no one wants to stay in a dump. Clear away the clutter, such as almost-empty shampoo bottles and piles of unread newspapers. Store some of your shoes. clothes, and toiletries in plastic boxes to make room for guests’ things. Then clean the home thoroughly before your guests arrive.
11. Not checking in with guests after they arrive
It’s considerate to drop your guests a quick text or email a day or two after they’ve arrived to see whether they have questions and wish them a good stay. It won’t take much time and your guests will appreciate it, especially if they can’t find the extra blankets or figure out how to light the stove.
12. Not following up with guests after you get home
Soon after the exchange is over, drop your guests a quick note saying how much you enjoyed their home (if you did) and thanking them for taking such good care of yours (if they did). If all went well, ask them to post a review on your listing site and do the same for them. If it didn’t, think about what you learned from the experience so you can do better the next time.
Have you exchanged your home? What other tips can you share to help other exchangers avoid mistakes?