Thanks to veteran home exchanger Lauren S. Kahn for this post. The author of the blog AlteCocker Travels, Lauren has done 62 home exchanges in almost every part of the world, and she has 2 more in the works.
This all began in 1990 when I decided that I wanted to take my kids to Europe without breaking the bank at Monte Carlo. At the time there were only two home exchange services: Homelink and Intervac . I signed up for both services and have been a loyal member since 1990 of both of them. Recently I also joined homeforexchange.
When I began this adventure I had a 10-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son—both thankfully long since launched and on their own. I am divorced and now home exchange solo but occasionally a friend joins me (usually for only part of the trip). So, enough for background.
When you start on this adventure, you don’t know what you are doing, No one does. Most Americans join home exchange programs to go to Europe and are fixated on London and Paris. Europeans reverse fixate on New York and San Francisco. Forget your fixations. Your chances of snagging an exchange apartment/house in London or Paris on the Metro line are minimal. In 26 years of home exchanging it has never happened to me. When I got to both cities, I got homes in the suburbs—where most people live—and had to deal with transportation challenges. You don’t , however, always get those deals when you are looking for them. In 1993, my goal was to go to the Pacific Northwest; I got an offer from Paris. That’s how I got to Paris.
Having done this for such a long time, at this point, I don’t do a lot of looking and emailing anymore. I just wait to see what comes in. Now that I am retired, I generally go to Europe in the summer with two separate home exchanges (one in July and one in August). Yes, I would prefer to go in fall, but a good chunk of exchangers are people with kids. If I had wanted to just look for the fall, my chances would be much less. So, yes, I presently welcome kids because my house is big enough. No, I don’t necessarily like the increased cleaning that results from people with kids, but you have to be flexible to be successful.
The exchanges with people with kids will be ending for me after the summer of 2016 as I will be downsizing to a 2-bedroom condo. I worry about reducing my ability to get deals, but it has to be. How long can one senior citizen justify living in and maintaining a 4 bedroom townhouse? I simply do not need all the space anymore.
I almost never say “no” to the first person who writes with a proposed deal for a time slot I have available. I always say, “First one through the door gets the gold ring.” Once I have one deal in Europe in place for summer, I then see who asks for the other summer month. Ideally the exchanges would be somewhat near each other, but that has never happened. Summer 2016 is Iceland and Northern Italy. Well, as someone else pointed out, they both begin with the letter “I”.
Waiting for your ideal area could mean you end up with nothing. I tell that to new home exchangers all the time. They rarely listen—and then they complain they didn’t get anything.
Please be aware that a successful home exchange pairing depends on mutual need. Just because you want their house does not mean they will want yours. Your dates also may not match. Many people on home exchange sites are inconsiderate and do not respond to email. Expect that out of a hundred inquiries, you might get a 5% somewhat positive response rate. Remember you only need one “yes,” but you may have to deal with a lot of wishy-washy people on your way to a deal. By the way, if someone does not respond promptly to email, my advice is to ditch them. Some people agree to an exchange and then back out when they consider the air cost. It is a very bad sign if they sort of disappear online.
You will be more successful in finding a home exchange if you live in a prime tourist destination than in one that is not so attractive as a vacation destination. I live in a close in suburb of Washington, DC, and have never had any difficulty, and if you lived in Manhattan, you’d be inundated. It is, by the way, almost impossible to get a home exchange in NYC because many coops and condos view them as short-term leases and bar such arrangements. So, if you live in Europe and want to go to NYC, you had better think about a hotel.
Some destinations you will never get. Still on my list are Capetown, South Africa; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rio de Janiero, Brazil; Cairns, Australia; and Alaska. If you are interested in Washington, DC, and live in one of those places, you can email me at LaurensKahn@gmail.com. My likelihood of getting a deal in any of those locations, by the way, is slim to none because there simply are not very many listings.
Best of luck with your home exchanges!
Are you new to the game? Here’s how to find out if home exchanging is right for you.