This spring, we spent two months in a wonderful Paris apartment that didn’t cost us a thing. It was a home swap. While we enjoyed our hosts’ Paris apartment, they stayed in our suburban Marin County home.
That was a wonderful match, one of our most successful home exchanges. Some of the others…not so great. We’ve stayed in places that were so cluttered we couldn’t put anything down, and in others with no comfortable place to sit and only one dented pan to cook with. One exchange home had a bed so narrow that my husband and I took turns sleeping on a somewhat lumpy sofa.
But doing something over and over again gives you the chance to learn. With each exchange, we discover more about what it takes to avoid a mismatched home swap.
Tip #1. Decide what’s important to you
No matter how carefully you plan, no home swap will be perfect. Experienced home exchangers agree that flexibility is key.
Still, you’ll be more successful if you are clear about your must-haves. For us, location is first and foremost. When we visit a city, we want to live a city life. That means being within walking distance of cafes, restaurants, museums, shops, open markets, and more, not being tucked away in the suburbs with a 30-minute ride to town.
We don’t need a TV, entertainment center, or spa. We don’t mind slightly shabby furnishings or slightly chipped dishware. But we must have a good bed, hi-speed wireless internet, and a decently equipped kitchen.
There’s one more thing. We want the place to be CLEAN!
Tip #2. Learn as much as you can about the exchange home
On a 2-week trip to Istanbul, we had to trudge up four long flights of very steep stairs to our apartment. We loved the place, which was spacious and overlooked a lively street, but hauling up our luggage and groceries was a chore. (This is good for us, we kept reminding ourselves as we stopped to catch our breath between flights.)
So we hesitated when our exchange partners mentioned that their Paris apartment was on the second (American third) floor, with two flights of stairs. Before making a commitment, we asked them for a photo of the stairs so we could see how steep they were. Luckily, they weren’t. We loved the apartment and the exchange went well—and the climb was good for us!
To avoid a mismatch, study the photos and the home description. Examine the map to make sure the home is where you want it to be. Ask about the bed, the stairs, the kitchen, and anything else that’s important to you. Your home swap partner should be happy to fill in the missing details.
Tip #3. Make sure your partner knows what to expect in your home
While surprises are part of every home exchange—sometimes the best part—no one wants to discover that their temporary home is not at all what they expected.
Try to find out what’s important to your home exchange partners. Answer important questions they might not think to ask. For example, if they’re coming to attend an event, alert them to traffic patterns or roadwork that might create delays.
It helps to keep in mind that people do not always read listings closely. Mention relevant facts about your home and furnishings, as well as the type of neighborhood you’re in, even if those details are in your listing.
Be sure to your exchange partners about anything in the listing, such as a community pool, that won’t be available while they’re staying in your home. Always alert them if a pet has lived in the home recently because many people are allergic to animals.
Tip #4. Have direct conversations with your home swap partners
As we move more deeply into the 21st Century, we’re increasingly using email and text to “talk” with others. But when it comes to getting to know people and managing expectations, nothing beats the nuanced back-and-forth of a direct phone (or Skype) conversation.
Think of conversations as part of the screening process. Talking directly helps you and your partner trust one another and gives you more confidence in the exchange. You can learn more about what your exchange partner expects in your home, find out whether the exchange home meets your must-have criteria, clarify details and clear up any misunderstandings. A direct person-to-person connection also makes it much easier to resolve any problems might come up during the exchange.
Tip #5. Confirm details in writing
There’s one last step for preventing a mismatched home swap: put the details into a written agreement to be signed by both partners. The agreement should summarize the key points from your email and direct conversations, giving the partners a chance to spot possible issues.
How you write the agreement is up to you. But to be useful, it should include at least…
- The dates of the swap
- The number of people who will stay in each home
- What each partner will provide (such as linens and basic supplies)
- A statement that each partner will leave their home clean and in good condition (e.g., with working heat, air conditioning, wifi, TV, and appliances)
- A description of who pays for what (such as utilities and damage)
- A statement of what happens in case one partner needs to cancel or come home early
It’s also helpful to include your “house rules,” such as keeping noise down after 10 at night or not parking in neighbors’ spaces, and a description of anything you’d like your partner to do, such as take in the mail.
Have you ever had a mismatched home swap? What might you have done to prevent it? Please tell us in the Comments or on our house rules page.