A home listing is a marketing tool that helps you connect with people who might want to stay in your home. But it’s not easy to decide which listing site to use. There are lots of sites available, and they differ in some very important ways.
About Listing Site Options
I first became aware of home exchanging when a glossy catalog arrived in the mail, filled with gorgeous photos of homes all over the world. Then I noticed tiny ads in the New Yorker for short-term rentals in cities like Paris and New York. In ancient times (pre-Internet), reaching potential exchange partners or tenants meant advertising in the newspaper or buying space in a print publication. The cost was high and the number of people we could reach was severely limited.
How times have changed! Today we have an increasingly wide choice of websites on which to advertise our homes. Some are free, while others charge a listing fee or a commission on bookings. Some reach people just about everywhere, while others target a specific region or audience. Some are attractive and easy-to-navigate, while others are bare-bones with a minimum features. Some offer lots of resources and support. Others leave us pretty much to our own devices.
Your choice of sites depends on several factors: are you looking for an exchange partner or a tenant? What are the demographics of your target audience? Do you want to communicate directly with potential guests before they book? How much are you willing to pay?
Here’s a quick look at some of the options.
Dedicated Vacation Rental and Home Exchange Sites
The visibility and popularity of a site determine how many people are likely to see your listing. Do a search for “home swap,” “home exchange,” “vacation rental,” or “short-term rental.” The sites that consistently appear at the top of the search results are likely to be the largest and most popular dedicated sites. (As you’ll see, that doesn’t automatically mean they’re the best for your purposes.)
As I write this, the most popular short-term rental sites for owners (as opposed to brokers) include the jointly owned VRBO (www.vrbo.com) and Home Away (www.homeaway.com) , Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) , and Trip Advisor’s Flip Key (www.flipkey.com). For home exchanges, the Home Exchange Network (www.homeexchange.com), Love Home Swap (www.lovehomeswap.com), and Intervac, (www.intervac-homeexchange.com)often are the first to come up when I do a search, but there are lots of other options.
These are not free sites. Home exchange sites charge membership fees that range from $29 to $350 per year. Short-term rental sites operate on one (or both) of two business models: They charge an annual listing fee of $300 or more, or they charge both you and the guest a 3 – 12% commission on bookings.
In return, the best of the dedicated sites offer numerous advantages:
- They are attractive, well organized, and easy to navigate
- They offer tools for creating a listing that presents your home at its best
- They have a messaging system so prospective guests can contact you through the site, which lets you keep your personal contact information confidential if you wish
- They can accept and process electronic and credit card payments
- They work to screen out scammers and untrustworthy home-seekers
- They may offer some guarantees or insurance that can help you recoup losses from lost payments or damage to your property
Classified Ad Sites
The most widely used ad site is Craigslist. It’s bare-bones (remember classified ads at the back of newspapers?) and offers little support, but it’s free (mostly), and popular. There are Craigslist sites throughout the U.S. and in many regions of the world, country, and city. On most Craigslist sites, people can search home swap, home exchange, short-term rental and/or vacation rental listings by by number of bedrooms, square footage, and price.
Sites like Craigslist have few if any special features and offer little in the way of support. But don’t be put off by the bare-bones look; the sheer number of visitors to these sites makes them a great marketing tool.
The biggest downside is the high incidence of scams. Scammers are always looking for the chance to make a buck, and free ad sites are their prowling ground. We never put personal details in our listing, using the site’s anonymous email address instead. The map link in the listing shows the approximate location of our home, but not the exact address.
There are other disadvantages. A posting in one region, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, shows up only in that region, so you might need to post in more than one area. You have to renew your posting regularly as long as you want to keep it active. The biggest issue is that in cities like New York, the site is packed with brokers’ listings. Still, we’ve found great tenants through Craigslist, and we know people who have also found exchanges through the site.
Some sites cater to specific audiences, such as seniors, educators, members of alumni or professional organizations, medical professionals, business travelers. Some large bookstores have online newsletters read by frequent travelers. Community newsletters may bring your home to the attention of locals who need a temporary home for themselves or visitors. Your listing will reach fewer people, but they might be just the people with whom you want to connect.
Your Own Web Site
Even though your own listing site is unlikely to show up in searches, at least not anywhere near the top, it can be useful to help with your marketing. You may be able to include a link in your other listings (except for fee-per-booking sites), and you can send a link out to your social network.
Keep your site simple, attractive and easy to navigate. You want to provide essential information about your home while inspiring confidence that it will be comfortable, pleasant, and well-maintained – and, for an exchange, that you will be an excellent home exchange partner.
Take a Tour
A good way to learn about the various listing sites is to pretend you’re looking for an exchange or rental, Do a search for home exchange and/or short-term rentals (depending on which you plan to do), and visit a few sites. Notice the following:
- What’s your initial impression? Is the site attractive? Well-organized? Easy to navigate?
- How many listings and how many visitors does the site have? The most established and popular sites have lots of listings and lots of visitors, and they may display those numbers prominently. Unfortunately, this information may be difficult to find on some sites.
- Is there too much obtrusive advertising or too many pop-up windows? Those things are distracting and make it hard for prospective guests to find what they’re looking for.
- What filtering options does the site offer? The best sites let searchers filter listings for such features as neighborhood, price, size, dates available, type of property, and amenities so they can pinpoint homes that will meet their needs.
- What are the costs? Is there an upfront listing fee? A commission on rentals? Can visitors search for free, or do they need to become members? What if you can’t find an exchange partner or tenant during the initial listing period – will the site extend your listing for free?
- How can you and potential guests contact one another? Most home exchange sites and rental sites with a listing fee serve as middlemen: You and other prospective exchange partners or tenants can choose whether to communicate with one another directly or through the site. Sites that work on a fee-per-booking model control all pre-booking communication, so you can communicate with prospective tenants only by email through the site and won’t be able to exchange phone numbers or email addresses until after a booking is made.
- Can you remain anonymous if you choose? No matter where you list your home, protect yourself by keeping private information confidential until you are ready to reveal it. Make sure that you have the option of exchanging messages through the site instead of publishing your name and contact information for all to see.
- What can you include in your listing? How much space will you have to describe your home, your area, and yourselves? How many photos can you post? Can you include a link to a web site of your own? Add testimonials from satisfied guests?
- How easy is the listing process? Are there clear steps to follow? Do the instructions seem easy, or do they strike you as overly complicated?
- What support does the site offer? Is there a detailed set of FAQs? Tips for writing descriptions, taking photos, and responding to inquiries? Can you contact support people by phone? Via online chat? By e-mail?
- Are there any fraud or spam screening mechanisms? The best sites do what they can to screen out spam, fraud, and untrustworthy home-seekers. Find out what precautions they take.
- Can the site process payments for rentals? Is there a fee? Unless you’re set up to take credit cards, it can be easier and safer for tenants to pay by electronic payment or credit card or through the site than by personal check or wire transfer.
- Does the site offer any guarantees? Increasingly, established sites offer guarantees that provide at least some coverage in case of cancellations, misrepresentation, damage or lost rent. Most of these “guarantees” are actually insurance policies that you pay for, but the security they offer might be worth the cost.
Narrow Down the Options
You may already have decided which site (or sites) would be best for you. If not, ask yourself:
- Which sites are most likely to reach your target guests?
- Which sites look the best and are easiest to navigate?
- Which sites make it easiest to list your home?
- Which sites offer the best support?
- Which do you prefer: free to list, monthly or annual fee, or per-booking commission?
Other Ways to Advertise Your Home
Besides listing your home on a web site, you can also try:
- Letting people in your social network know you have a home for exchange or rent
- Putting up flyers on bulletin boards in supermarkets, cafes, community centers, and other places where people congregate
- Contacting university and medical center housing offices of local universities that may keep lists of temporary homes for graduate students, visiting faculty, patients’ families, and others
- Sending notes to local realtors who might have clients needing a temporary place to stay
What’s Next: How to create a great listing