Home Swapping on a Holiday? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Welcome to the world of home exchange.

You’re in the market for house swapping in order to:

  • Save some coin
  • Escape the mundane and experience the unknown
  • Stay in the warmth of a home, as opposed to an impersonal hotel room

Seems like house swapping has all the right reasons going for it.

However, if you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail. But thoroughness and a dash of homework (read: grasping this article) can set you up for success. 

Before House Swapping

Kudos to you for considering opening yourself and your doors up to the rest of the world. But don’t dive into the deep end without asking:

  1. Is house swapping right for me?

Just rented (yes, you don’t need to own to swap) your first apartment? Trudging through a mid-life crisis? Relishing the fruits of your labor in retirement?

The stage of life you’re in could steer your approach to the exercise.

Your home is your safe space. Allowing strangers to lie in your bed or step in your shower could be anxiety-inducing. But if you’re itching with excitement, it could be the adventure of a lifetime.

2. What type of home exchange will suit me?

Did “The Holiday” inspire you to try swapping? Are you picturing cozying up to a fireplace with a cup of tea while your exchange partner lounges in your backyard?

You don’t have the wrong idea. But there’s more than one way to do it:

  • Simultaneous exchange – The conventional trade where both parties occupy each other’s homes
  • Nonreciprocal exchange – You’re looking to inhabit a home for a few days; the residents will move elsewhere during your stay, and may or may not use your home later 
  • Hospitality exchange – You get to cohabitate with a family in their home (akin to couch-surfing but you get more than a couch)

You don’t have to pick a simultaneous exchange. Start with baby steps, especially if you’re riddled with apprehensions early on. You can always switch up your methods as you get comfortable.

3. Where do I want to go?

True, the journey is more important than the destination. But don’t drop the ball on the latter when swapping.

You don’t want to find out in the middle of a deserted road that you got mesmerized by a Victorian cottage with no way to reach it. Or that you signed up for a chalet in the woods – only to be surrounded by trees and no chalet in sight.

4. How long am I looking to house swap?

Don’t be that person who makes the homeowners scramble. 

Sketch out an itinerary so you have a better chance of aligning with home swappers who want to set out in the same window.

A typical exchange lasts between a few days and a few weeks, depending on how far you go, the season, and how much time you have on your hands.

If you’re keen on a long-term option, reach out to the owners to check their availability. With them on board, what’s stopping you from ticking off the fantasy of living in a different country for a year from your bucket list? 

5. What is my budget?

Home exchange is a give-and-take, so no rental fees are involved. That doesn’t mean it’s free.

While many home exchange platforms offer free trials, you can access more of the good stuff through a membership. The fee averages at $105-$120 per year, though premium websites can hike it up to $240.

The good news is that the membership charge is the only deciding factor with regard to expenses. Most owners continue to pay their bills. What you shell out on food, transport, and miscellaneous items is entirely your discretion.

Answering the basics will help you zero down on how you envision your house swapping quest. From there, it’ll be easier to filter your choices via home exchange agencies and websites.

Whichever path you choose to go down, you’ll be playing the role of guest, host, or both. Know how you can best prep for and navigate each.

As a Guest

Prior to your stay:

  • Begin your hunt for houses at least three to six months ahead; last-minute scrambling won’t bode well.
  • Properties you’re eyeing could be in high demand. Flexibility can spare you from disappointment.
  • Leverage insider info from acquaintances who have done house swaps before.  
  • Purchase travel insurance so you can have financial coverage against unexpected travel mishaps during your trip.
  • Communication is key – Don’t leave any doubts hanging, discuss potential worst-case scenarios, and keep your host in the loop about your travel plans.
  • Drift the idea of bartering vehicles along with houses. Why not make the swap more cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and convenient?
  • Write down contacts for emergencies. Couple that with your own research on the location and facilities.
  • Enquire whether the owners have pets and how to care for them. 
  • If you’re not meeting the owners when you arrive, remember to ask where they’ve stowed the key.

During your stay:

There’s only one rule here: Treat it like you’d want your home to be treated.

After your stay:

  • Clean up after yourself, and leave everything the way you found it.
  • Put out flowers or a bottle of wine on the kitchen counter. It’ll bring a smile to your host’s face when they return.
  • Thank your hosts for their attentiveness while preparing the house.
  • Keep in touch once you’ve left. If you fall in love with the place, wouldn’t it be fun to make house swapping an annual holiday tradition?

As a Host

General Tips:

  • Be transparent about your abode and amenities so expectations are straight from the get-go.
  • Highlight your home and area’s hidden gems. Not everyone’s looking for a swanky mansion.
  • A picture speaks a thousand words. Populate your listing with photos that’ll sell themselves. Also, use them as proof against possible misuse and damages. 
  • Draft an agreement between yourself and the guest, to have the terms of the house swap in writing.
  • Inform your home insurance provider (and car insurance provider, if switching) about the exchange. Fortify your insurance plan based on their recommendation. For ultimate peace of mind, choose an exchange platform that promises coverage.  
  • Ensure the house is sparkling clean before you bid it farewell (temporarily).
  • When their arrival draws close, connect guests with your outgoing neighbors.
  • Go the extra mile and provide local maps, takeout menus or restaurants numbers, a list of sightseeing activities and entertainment, etc.

Home Tips:

Common Areas
  • Label drawers and cabinets to make it easy to find their contents, especially in the kitchen
  • Write down detailed instructions for using appliances (don’t miss the Wi-Fi password)
  • Leave a stocked refrigerator, pantry, and cleaning supplies cupboard
  • Lock up valuables in a secluded nook of the house
  • Double-check window latches, door locks, and your home security system
  • Mention the schedules of cleaning staff, gardeners, and extra house help (if any)
  • Empty some shelf or cupboard space for guests to put their things in
  • Change bedsheets, duvet covers, and pillowcases
  • Indicate where luggage can and cannot go
  • Stock toilet paper and towels
  • Inspect the working condition of faucets, the shower, and the water heater
  • A stash of mini toiletries and a plant will spruce up the place
  • Get rid of weeds and wash the front yard/patio
  • Attempt to reduce high-maintenance flora
  • Cover the fence and outer walls with a fresh coat of paint or stain

By the end of this process, you’ll forget that the friends you tried house-sitting for were ever strangers. Or that you invited someone from across the ocean to live in your home.

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