Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Home Exchange Information by Geralynn




Thank you to everyone for your nice letters about home exchanging. Here is some information for you:

WHY HOME EXCHANGE:  Living in a home is so much more comfortable than living in a hotel room.  You have space to spread out, you can be in one room reading, while your partner is in another room listening to music, and you can cook some of your meals. Usually there are a washer and dryer.  Also, it is a wonderful cost savings; you can reduce your food expense and have free lodging.  A third advantage is that you often get to know the neighbors, local villagers, etc.  You experience the country much more fully than if you stay in a tourist hotel.

HOW TO FIND EXCHANGE PARTNERS:  Get on the Internet.  Do a search for “home exchange” and many sites will come up.  Some sites charge you to look at listings, but let you list your property for free, so list there.  Some sites will let you look at listings for free, but charge you to list, so look there.  Here are some sites I use: Digsville.com, HomeForExchange.com seniorshomeexchange.com.

WHEN CAN YOU EXCHANGE:  You will have to write to many listings to finally find one that will match up with your dates and requirements.  The easiest time to make a trade in Europe is July or August.  Many people require a simultaneous exchange, which means that you will need to be at their house while they are at yours.  People with second homes or family they can stay with can be more flexible, and allow exchangers to stay at their home at a different time.  It helps if you can email a description of your home and pictures, or refer them to a website which has a description and pictures.

WHERE CAN YOU GO:  There are home exchange opportunities in every state and nation in the world.  We exchange to a foreign country every year, and usually arrange several exchanges over a 2-3 month time period (it is great to be retired!). We usually do an exchange to another state every year for 2-4 weeks.  We often exchange in California, to Monterey/Carmel, Wine Country, San Diego, etc. for weekends or weeks. 

From my experience, I recommend opting for a home outside of a major city, unless you are a real city person.  Being from the burbs, I love to visit Rome or Florence or Paris or London for a day, and I love going back to the peaceful countryside, away from the other tourists, the heat and the high costs.  I can return to the bustling city again the next day, if I want. You can also use this as a selling point for your house--that it is close to visit a major city or point of interest, but also nice to get away from the city after a busy day of sightseeing.

I recommend that your first exchange be to the UK.  The reason for this is home exchanging is very well known in the UK and we share a common language, so it is easy to correspond.  There is actually a UK television program that airs every night showing different home exchangers and their experiences.  There is a strong demand from the UK.

WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE DO HOME EXCHANGES:  Most home exchangers are middle class people who have middle class homes.  The people we have exchanged with have been teachers, middle management, or retired. You will not be exchanging with wealthy people.  They will rent a home or suite in a hotel.  You will not be able to exchange your modest tract home for a villa in Italy or a castle in France.  Sometimes you will get a home that is much nicer than yours, and sometimes you might be willing to settle for a small apartment in exchange for your lovely home.  We had a small, very funky little apartment in Rome, while our Roman got our nice vacation home.  But, we were situated in a great location, within walking distance to everything we wanted to see in Rome, and close to many restaurants and nightlife  so we were happy. 

We often meet our exchange partners.  Sometimes we arrive a day or two ahead, stay in a nearby b&b and get together with them at their house or a restaurant for dinner, or visa versa.  Sometimes we pick them up at the airport and bring them home and show them around.  Sometimes we have one of our sons meet them at the house to give them keys and show them around.  We have made many good friends over the years, and still keep in touch with them by email and sometimes visit them during our travels. 

WHAT ABOUT MY VALUABLES:  Put them away in a safe place, locked room, etc.  If your furniture, televisions, etc. are extremely valuable and you are concerned about breakage, perhaps you don’t want to exchange.  We put or files of personal information in a locked closet and we have a safe for jewelry, bonds, etc.

We have never had a single thing stolen in the 25 exchanges we have done.  But, my house is kid proofed because I have small grandchildren.  Also, I do not own Baccarat crystal, 24 carat gold picture frames, etc.  We live modestly, as you can see from our pictures and description.  There is nothing in my house that would kill me if it did get broken or stolen.

If you go on vacation and leave your house vacant, you run a higher risk of being robbed than if you have an exchanger living in your home.

Our homeowner’s insurance policy and automobile policy cover theft and damage.  Our umbrella policy covers liability.

Be sure to talk to your neighbors, tell them where you are going, who will be staying at your house.  Give them a contact person or number in case there are problems.  Our neighbors have been great, made friends with many of our exchange partners, and never have they mentioned any problems with the visitors who have used our home. 

WHAT ABOUT MY PETS AND PLANTS:  I try to leave very little for my guests to take care of.  My garden and lawns have an automatic watering system and we have no pets.  My son comes once a week to maintain the pool.  We have someone who mows the lawns.  I have a few indoor plants that I ask exchangers to water. Remember, they are on vacation, not paid house sitters.

Many exchangers are willing to take care of your pets, and you should tell them about this requirement up front.  Also, you should find out if there are pets for you to tend.

CAR EXCHANGES:  Many exchangers also trade cars.  This is added savings and flexibility for all.  Our insurance carrier is fine with this, but you should check with your own insurance carrier. 

SMOKING:  Many exchangers have a no smoking policy.  Some allow smoking outside of the house.  You should also mention your policy when arranging your exchange.

WHAT BAD EXPERIENCES HAVE YOU HAD:  The worst experience we have ever had with an exchange was a cat that came with a house in France.  We had a beautiful home, with a pool, set in the middle of a vineyard, just 5 minutes from Bordeaux.  Fabulous!  But, the house came with a cat.  I am a cat person, so I thought this would be fine.  This was the most needy, obnoxious cat I have ever met.  Every time I sat down that cat was on my lap, rubbing and purring and demanding attention.  It had the most piercing meow.  It had an electronic collar, so it had access to the house whenever.  We couldn’t keep it outside.  After 2 months it got to be too much.

We also had the Norwegian boy who walked through the big plate glass window at our house, but he didn’t get hurt, and our insurance company handled the window repair, so it wasn’t that stressful.

Once we had an exchange with about 100 potted plants that had to be watered every other day.  It took me over an hour to water them all.  Too much work.

Another downside of exchanging is setting up the arrangements in the first place.  It takes many attempts, a lot of time and effort to finally settle an exchange.  You must be willing to put in the time and effort.

HOME EXCHANGING TIPS:  Here are some tips to help you have the best chance of finding an exchange partner and having a successful echange—

  1. Be flexible. Dates: If you can’t get the exact dates you want, arrive a day or two early and stay in a hotel or B&B.  Decide on your dates after you find out when an exchange is available.  In Europe you will have the best chance for an exchange in July or August.  Destination:  If you can’t find an exchange in your exact destination, see if you can find something a short distance away.  Or change your destination to the one you can get.
  2. Market your home.  When you contact a potential exchange partner, be sure to tell them the advantages of your location, the amenities of your home, what they can do there etc.
  3. Invest in translation software or use Google translation.  This is really helpful when you are corresponding with people in a non-English speaking country.
  4. Tell your potential exchange partners about yourself.  Send a picture.  Sell yourself.
  5. Go to the library.  There are several books about home exchanging.  Many of them are out of date, but even those can give you some ideas of what to expect, how to do it, etc.
  6. Start contacting potential exchangers early.  Don’t wait until July 10th to arrange an exchange for the following week.  I usually start after Christmas for my April exchange.
  7. Be persistent.  Keep trying.  You will have to contact many people before you get an exchange.  It won’t happen with one email.
  8. Put together an information book for your guests.  Include emergency numbers for hospitals, fire/police, family, neighbors, insurance, where to find things in your home, how to operate the appliances, television, dvr etc., location of the breaker box, location of grocery stores, drug stores etc., restaurant recommendations, local points of interest and attractions, suggestions for day trips.  I cut articles out of Sunset magazine and the newspaper to put in my book.  I pick up brochures(these can be found in most large hotels) about local attractions. I actually have separate books for San Francisco, Monterey/Carmel, Wine Country, Yosemite/Lake Tahoe/Gold Country, and Santa Clara County.
  9. Take good digital pictures of yourselves and the home you are offering and send them to your exchange partner or post them on your website.
  10. List your home on a site.  The cost is usually nominal--less than one night at a hotel.
  11. Keep in touch with your exchange partner at least once a month. Be sure that the details of the exchange are clearly defined.  Reconfirm the arrangements frequently.
  12. Don’t get discouraged.  Send out many inquiries.  It is just a matter of time and attempts before you find someone to exchange with.
  13. Try to meet your exchange partners.  Come home a day early and get together for a meal, pick them up at the airport, etc.
  14. Always be courteous to people who write to you about an exchange.  Even if you are not interested, take the time to respond, just to let them know that you did receive their email and it didn’t disappear into that vast black hole of cyberspace.
  15. Be flexible, be flexible, and be flexible.