If you have ever wondered about doing a home exchange this post is for you! We have officially made it to the year point as Home Exchangers. In 2017 I signed us up for HomeExchange.com. My husband was not really on board, but I slowly got him excited about the idea (mostly the money saving part). So far we have done two home exchanges: one in Sayulita, Mexico and one in Costa Rica. Our experience so far has been amazing. We have had so many people ask us questions about it that I thought I would do a post on the how-to’s of home exchanging. I’m doing it Q&A style with all the questions I’ve been asked this year.
What is Home Exchanging?
Home exchanging is the exchange of a primary home, or second home with another homeowner. You can exchange either simultaneously or non-simultaneously. There is no exchange of money for these exchanges. They are done with expectations on each side on how to care for the other’s home and sometimes animals, while the exchanges are completed. Typically Home Exchanges are done through websites that are designed to connect people for these exchanges. We use HomeExchange.com, but there are many such as LoveHomeSwap.com, Guest To Guest, Intervac, and more. Some of them cater to different regions. We picked Home Exchange.com because it seemed to have a good balance of US properties and international.
What is the website like? How does it work?
The main thing I want to emphasize is that you have to pay to play. This is a good thing because only people who are serious about exchanging are going to fork over more than $150 dollars a year to participate. Once you have selected your home exchange company, you’ll set up a profile for both you and your home. You’ll detail your hobbies, and your home’s unique traits. You’ll fill out a section of the place you want to travel to in the hopes that someone in those areas will find you and want to swap. Once you find a place you want to go, you can contact the home owner through the site. Once you find a match, you both agree to the details of the exchange. The final step (at least for us) is drawing up a contract agreement that states the rules and expectations for the exchange.
Do you get good requests?
Oh. My. Gosh. We get so many more inquiries than we could ever fulfill. Requests have come from Paris, Spain, London, Rome, Montreal, Vancouver, Portland, many towns in France, Costa Rica, Mexico, and more. I usually get at least one exchange request a week. Thus far, we have only been able to fulfill two! I wish I could afford to whisk my family off to so many of the destinations! That said, I live in San Diego, California which is a desirable place to visit. I’m sure there are places where it might be harder to convince someone to visit.
What do you look for in an exchange?
I look for primarily families with kids to do a home exchange with. There seems to be a big retired community on the site, which makes sense! But I also know that retired people probably are not as likely to want to exchange with a family with small, grubby children 🙂 Its also nice to find exchanges with families because the homes often have toys, scooters, trampolines etc. which is fantastic.
The other thing I really scrutinize are the photos of the house. If the photos show a messy house, I always say no. I figure if they are not putting their best foot forward in photos on a site where they are trying to “sell” their home to potential exchangers, I could not trust them to take care of my home.
How do you trust they won’t trash your house? What if they damage your property?
I think the bottom line is that there trust involved. You have to trust that the person you are exchanging with will take care of your home. But the great thing about home exchanging is that they are putting trust in you too! We also do a contract before exchanging which stipulates that if there are any damaged goods, the person will replace the item. We also get a house cleaner before our exchange, and so far the homes we’ve been to have also been immaculate.
Is it weird having someone in your house you don’t know?
It is a little weird. At first I was like “I don’t want someone in my bed.” But then, I travel ALL the time and last year I probably stayed in 15-20 different hotels and AirBnBs. To take away the more personal aspect of exchanging, before our exchanges, I gather up a good amount of stuff and personal clutter like jewelry, pictures next to bed, etc. It really doesn’t take too long, and I put everything into our master closet that we put an external lock on just for this purpose. Having a designated area that’s locked away is great for feeling better about leaving any expensive items, or thing that your kids don’t want other kids to play with like lego sets, or special dolls.
What is the best part about exchanging?
There are so many great things about exchanging. Here are my top three:
1) Money saved. Its amazing to go to a destination and not have to pay for lodging. Just think about that. You can save thousands of dollars a week just by exchanging instead of paying for a hotel.
2) A home instead of a hotel. Hotels can be nice, but longer term I want to have a kitchen, some space for my kids to play. Going to a home with all the amenities of a house make vacationing that much better. Also, as mentioned earlier, having toys and things to play with at some of the homes have been awesome. In Costa Rica, my kids jumped on the trampoline outside for hours! In Sayulita our host had boys the same age as my son and their book collection was amazing. My son was ready Wimpy Kid for hours!
3) Seeing a place from a local’s perspective: In our home exchanges the hosts typically leave a very detailed guide of the area. This is so awesome! We have loved the recommendations of our hosts for everything from beaches and surf spots to restaurants.
What are the negative aspects of exchanging?
To me the only negatives are the amount of cleaning before an exchange. I want to have my house spotless for guests and also, for security putting away all our possessions that we don’t want to leave out can take some time. The other negative for us can be pets. My husband is allergic to cats and my son is really allergic to dogs. We have to pass up some exchanges because of this.
What kind of house do you need to have?
Contrary to what I think a lot of people believe, the size or opulence of a home doesn’t seem to matter. I see homes of all sizes, shapes and value on the Home Exchange site. That said, Its likely someone with a million dollar mountain ski house is going to be pretty picky about who and where they exchange. But, we have had some inquiries from families with MUCH nicer homes than ours because of our home’s location. My advice is to stage your home like you would want to do if you were to sell it. Make the photos look nice, show off the great parts of your home to make it more attractive to potential exchangers.
Do you need to live in a big city?
Not necessarily. Obviously vacation spots like where I live are probably easier to secure interest, but people are interested in seeing all sorts of places. I have noticed some people want to exchange with cities where their children go to university. Every city or town has something to offer, make sure when you reach out to exchange that you sell that particular aspect. For example, when I reach out for an exchange, I point out some of the highlights that would make a home exchange more attractive. I write that we live just a few miles from some gorgeous beaches, walking distance to hiking trails, minutes from Lego Land and an hour from Disneyland etc.
What do you do with all your stuff?
As I pointed out earlier, when we do a home exchange we lock the stuff we really want to keep safe. I then make a very detailed list of how we like our house to be taken care of. For example, we don’t allow shoes to be worn upstairs. We ask that people not use my husband’s surf boards, etc. Overall, I have kids, therefore, I don’t have a lot of expensive things that can get broken, or pricey furniture I’m worried about. This is likely why most retired people see my profile with two kids and turn us down 🙂 I get it, I really do.