One of the first questions people ask when we tell them we welcome strangers into our home several times a year is, “Is it safe to rent out or exchange my home? How do I know that my guests are responsible and reliable? What if they steal my grandmother’s silver or hold wild late-night parties?”
You’ll find these kinds of questions in every home exchange or short-term rental forum. Sure, there’s always a risk when you let strangers stay in your home. Over the years we’ve found that most people are generally honest and trustworthy, but we know that’s not true of everyone. So to build trust and protect ourselves against those who might not be who they seem to be, we take several common-sense precautions. Following these precautions will help you stay safe when you hand over your house keys to guests.
1. Protect your privacy
We never put our e-mail address, phone number, full names, or other personal details in our home exchange and short-term rental listings. We use the site’s anonymous email address and, if the listing site allows direct communication (see below), we ask people who are seriously interested to send a phone number so we can initiate a conversation.
2. Screen guests carefully
We always screen prospective guests very carefully so we can be sure they are reliable and trustworthy – and are who they say they are. We look Google their names and look them up on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites. Before accepting a deposit and signing an agreement, we ask for copies of their driver’s licenses or passports, get references, and more.
3. Take your time
In all the years we’ve been exchanging and renting out our home, the few problems we’ve had – and they were relatively minor –happened because we were rushing and anxious to get everything settled so we could focus on our trip. Now we fight the panic that sets in when our departure date looms and we still haven’t set up an exchange or found a short-term rental guest to stay in our home. It’s better to leave the house empty or get a house-sitter than to hand over house keys to exchange partners or short-term rental guests we do not completely trust. It ends up costing us more, but it saves us a lot of worrying, or worse, and lets us enjoy our time away. And isn’t that the point?
4. Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more
Scratch an unsuccessful home exchange or short-term rental and chances are you’ll find poor communication: hosts and/or guests didn’t convey expectations or concerns clearly, didn’t listen carefully for the “red flags” that can indicate possible problems, and didn’t bother to confirm and reconfirm agreements. We do everything we can to build trust and confidence by communicating as clearly as possible throughout the process, from the initial inquiry right on through.
5. Store our valuables and private papers
All of our guests have been careful with our things and, as far as we know, have respected our privacy. But things happen. A few days before we leave, we put away things we don’t want broken or damaged. We also store any documents we don’t want guests going through when they’re looking for the appliance manuals.
What’s Next: Is swapping or renting out your home right for you?