1. Choose a reputable swapping company. Most home exchange programs have user-friendly websites that guide you through the process. (See below.) Word-of-mouth recommendations are always a bonus, or consider working with a travel agent familiar with home-swapping.
2. Do your research. Home-swapping is a Web-based industry, so you can “window shop” for your next vacation home at your convenience. Most places allow you to look online for free and post your home for a small fee. Professional home exchange clubs usually provide sample letters and housing descriptions to help you manage a stress-free swap. A great place to launch your quest is with Certified Home Exchange Community, a new watchdog site for the industry with 250 vetted members.
3. Build a meaningful rapport. As Hurst says, “Think of home exchange as Internet dating for your home.” As you search for the right match, keep in mind your specific needs, know what you’re willing to compromise on, and honor your deal-breakers. Once you find accommodations that match your desires, expect to communicate with the home owner for a few weeks or even months. The better your relationship with your hosts, the happier you're all likely to be.
4. Get — and give — adequate information. The more you can learn about the situation that you’re getting into, the lower your risk of disappointment or scams will be. Home Base Holidays director Mark Sealey recommends keeping a reference folder with detailed information on your swaps for your own files and creating one with important household information to leave on-site for your guests. This should include user manuals for appliances or electronics, passwords for Internet access, directions to the nearest hospital and emergency contact numbers. You may also want to create a FAQ sheet that includes such information as the plumber’s number and what to do if the lights go out.
Sealey further advises that swappers alert their insurance companies, especially in cases of an extended swap. Confirm your coverage with your homeowners and car insurance companies — and make any needed adjustments well in advance of a swap, especially if international travel is involved.
5. Prepare your home: Go through every room and check for any needed repairs and take care of them. Beyond a reference folder, fill a basket, drawer or a separate folder with local information, like where to find the nearest grocery store or farmers market. Include maps and brochures from nearby attractions. Think of what you’ll want when you walk in the door of your new “home” — and prepare the same for your guests.
Ideally, swaps are arranged so far in advance that emails and phone conversations have established a comfortable and trustworthy relationship and most of the questions will have been answered ahead of time.
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