Because no money changes hands, many home exchange partners work out the details casually and forgo written agreements altogether. But being too casual can lead to misunderstandings and disappointments. Even a simple written home exchange agreement helps firm up everyone’s commitment and clarifies important issues.
Home exchange agreements typically include:
- The dates of the exchange and the street addresses of the exchange properties
- The names of the adults who will stay in each home and the ages of any children
- A commitment to provide the essentials needed for daily living (sheets, towels, dishes, cookware, etc.)
- Other key amenities the parties have agreed to provide (an outdoor grill, high-speed wireless Internet, or passes to the building’s gym)
- What the parties have agreed to do while living in one another’s homes (collect the mail, water the plants, care for pets)
- Who will be responsible for paying home expenses (utilities, gardener, housecleaner)
- An agreement to reimburse one another for any damage
- What happens if either party needs to cancel at the last minute or return home unexpectedly
- Any prohibitions (no smoking, no loud parties)
- Details of the car exchange, if any
Be clear about the dates
Here’s something to think about: Your flight to India is at 7 a.m. tomorrow, and you’re only halfway through your packing. The doorbell rings. There on your doorstep is a smiling couple surrounded by suitcases. They’re your home exchange partners, who have arrived a day before you expected them!
That could happen if you and your exchange partners are not very careful to confirm and re-confirm your respective arrival dates. Your agreement should specify the exact beginning and ending dates of the exchange – and perhaps, each party’s arrival and departure times.
Include complete street addresses
Have you ever spent hours searching for a place you couldn’t locate? An incomplete or inaccurate street address can leave you or your exchange partner stranded. Put the addresses of the exchange homes in the agreement, and double-check to be sure they are correct.
Specify who will occupy each exchange home
Your arrangements are with the individual or couple with whom you are exchanging homes. But your exchange partner’s party may include other people. Instead of simply saying, “six people,” include the names and addresses of each adult and the ages of their children. Putting those details in writing reminds both you and your exchange partner to abide by the maximum number of people you’ve agreed upon.
Confirm that each home will have the essentials
People naturally assume that an exchange home will have sheets and towels, cookware and dishware, bath soap and cleaning supplies. Instead of relying on assumptions, you might want to include a brief statement in your agreement to that effect.
Mention key amenities each party has agreed to provide
Misunderstandings around amenities are not uncommon in home exchanges. To avoid disappointments, confirm what each party has been led to expect, such as expanded cable TV, an outdoor grill, a washer and dryer, lift tickets, the use of a community pool, or access to a private health club. You might also mention any commonly expected amenities – such as wireless internet access or a television set – the exchange does not include.
Describe what you both agreed to do while living in one another’s home
Home exchange partners usually expect to do simple household tasks such as picking up the mail, watering the plants, or, in some cases, caring for pets. It’s also not a bad idea to include a statement that each exchange partner agrees to be respectful of neighbors and abide by any HOA or Coop rules and regulations. Attach a copy of those rules and regulations or leave a copy in your home.
State who will pay for home expenses and repairs
Exchange partners normally pay their own utility bills and other ordinary household costs, although you might want to set limits on the use of air conditioning or pay-per-view TV. Each party usually pays for repairs that might be needed while they are away, except for damage caused by the other party. If either or both of you plan to pay for a housekeeper, mention that in the agreement.
Specify what happens in case of damage
We once arrived home after a month-long stay in a beautiful Paris home to find a baseball-sized hole in the plaster behind our bedroom door. Our exchange partner quickly and willingly reimbursed us for the repair. (We had also replaced an expensive carafe we’d dropped on her kitchen floor.)
It puts a damper on your trip to come home to holes in the wall, stains on the carpet, broken dishware, or cracked windows. When you rent out your home, you collect a deposit to cover those kinds of costs. For a home exchange, you’ll need to agree about how you and your partner will reimburse one another for damage.
Spell out any prohibitions
Include anything that you and your exchange partner have agreed not to do, such as park in neighbors’ slots, smoke on the premises, use a specific area of the home, or hold late-night parties.
Address the “what-ifs”
An accident or illness might force you or your exchange partner to cancel at the last minute or return home early. A fire or natural disaster might make your home or the exchange property uninhabitable. Discuss how to handle emergencies, and put those terms in your agreement. You might also consider travel insurance that covers some expenses if one of you is forced to cancel or cut your trip short. The cost may be well worth it.
Specify details of the car exchange, if any
Some home exchanges include a car exchange. If that’s the case, include a statement what happens in case of damage, any limitations on mileage, and anything else you’ve agreed on.
What’s Next: What to include in a short-term rental agreement