Home Exchange – I could never do that. Or could I?
Exchange my home with strangers?
It sounds a little scary – letting complete strangers have the run of your home (and drive your car, if you choose) while you are away, but we have had great success with home exchange.
Our first home exchange was in Scotland – 3 weeks for our honeymoon. Such a lucky story: We planned a Celtic wedding in the mountains of Colorado – complete with bagpipes, Highland dancers, kilts, haggis, scotch, and other delicious Celtic food. During the planning phase, we decided to sign up on HomeExchange.com and set up a profile. Friends recommended it (after 30+ exchanges of their own!) and when we compared them to other sites they seemed to have the most active, currently updated, home profiles. Ski areas or downtown would be more in demand, so living in suburban Denver, we didn’t expect a lot of attention.
We traded homes, cars and even friends! They attended our neighborhood party and visited Tom’s parents in western Colorado. We visited their neighbors, played at the local bridge club, Tom played golf with his golf buddies at 3 local private clubs and we even drank whisky with his delightful 80+ year old mother. Fortunately, we got to enjoy time with them in Colorado before we left for Scotland, so we took them to their first professional baseball game! Go Rockies!
We have arranged 44 exchanges so far, with 8 more in planning:
Europe – Lockerbie and Edinburgh, Scotland / Putte, Belgium / Rotterdam, The Netherlands / Gloucester, England / Reyjkavik, Iceland / Valleraugue, France / Tonsberg and Gloppen, Norway / Copenhagen, Denmark
Oceania – Sydney, Torquay, Perth, Cairns & Brisbane, Australia / Hobart, Tasmania AUS / Auckland, Christchurch, Lake Taupo & Taranaki, New Zealand / Savusavu, Fiji
USA – Central California / Oregon coast / Marco Island, Florida / San Diego, California / Mesquite, Nevada / Green Valley, Arizona / Asheville, North Carolina / St. Augustine, Florida.
Caribbean – Utila Cays, Honduras / Roatan, Honduras (Updated: May 2018)
Home exchange is kind of like internet dating in many ways:
• Set up a profile – Be honest, but show your home and area well. Rave about all there is to do where you live and post flattering pictures of your house in pristine condition.
• Specify what you want – where you want to go and when, but being open to all possibilities helps.
• Be somewhat flexible and open – you never know what may come your way.
• Be polite and respond with at least a short note to everyone, even those that don’t interest you.
• Of course, your success rate in finding compatible exchanges is directly proportional to the quality of your home and more importantly the location of your home (or vacation home). A ski chalet in Vail, CO or beach house or a nice San Francisco condo are going to have a lot more success than a home in a non-vacation destination.
• But, there are lots of reasons that people may wish to visit your area even if you’re not in a popular vacation spot! We’ve had exchanges or inquiries from people who want to visit family, attend a wedding, plan a move to the area, or be close to work meetings. So, even though we’re in a suburb rather than the heart of the city, guests enjoy the use of our car, community pool and tennis courts, having a spacious home to entertain or spread out in, plus easy access to our national parks.
♥ We like to leave a local wine or jam or something interesting for our “guests”.
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Aren’t we worried about something going wrong?
It’s true, there is always a slight risk, but we have had no problems at all. Friends of ours have had over 40 exchanges with great experiences, too. We always have email exchanges, phone conversations and skype to establish a comfort level and we rely on our wonderful neighbors to help out while we’re gone. We’ve created a “Home Manual” with loads of helpful information. In truth, there have been a few surprises, even annoyances, but we’re flexible enough to handle them and the experiences are worth it.
Tom says: Keep in mind that we’re happy with our experiences, but your kilometerage may vary!
Home exchange is a great way to see new and interesting parts of the world that you might never have considered.
We didn’t have Belgium on our radar until a family from Putte (near Antwerp) offered an exchange with us. After checking out their location and their proximity to some beautiful cities and culture, we went for it and had a great time. That also lead to our exchange in The Netherlands.
Exchanges can be simultaneous, non-simultaneous, hospitality or guest points
Simultaneous exchanges are arranged for the same time give or take a few days. It’s been really nice when there’s a bit of an overlap, so we can meet and even enjoy dinner, golf or a glass of wine. Sometimes it has worked out for us to pick exchangers up from the airport (or vise versa) and give a home tour before we leave our home to them.
Several of our non-simultaneous exchanges are only partially completed. Examples: Exchangers from Tennessee had our home and we’ll arrange time at their North Carolina vacation home at a later date. We exchanged with folks from Valleraugue, France, but haven’t made our plans to visit there yet. Wonderful couples from Innisfail, Australia and Savusavu, Fiji visited our home and we’ll stay in their homes next year. We stayed at a home in Mesquite, Nevada last year and they’ll come to Colorado in the future. We loved our stay in Tonsberg, Norway in July and they’ll visit Colorado later.
Same applies to several hospitality exchanges. Examples: We hosted folks from San Diego, CA, but haven’t made our plans to visit yet; we went to Iceland / Gloucester, England / Gloppen, Norway / Copenhagen, Denmark, but they haven’t planned their visit to Colorado yet.
Guest Points are ideal in situations where one party doesn’t plan to visit the other’s home. So, when we get an exchange offer from somewhere we don’t intend to visit, we’re able to say yes for guest points rather than just no. Same for when we reach out to someone who isn’t interested in visiting Colorado. We pay for our stay in guest points which they can use anywhere in the world they wish to visit. Even though it’s not a traditional reciprocal exchange, we’ve enjoyed this option and meet lovely people. Works great for “second home” home owners and people with flexibility. For example, while we’re visiting Tom’s mother, exchangers are staying in our home for 2 weeks, using guest points.
So, you see there’s a lot of flexibility in how exchanges can be organized. It just takes communication and planning so both home owners are happy.
Stories, so far, about our home exchange experiences:
Scotland honeymoon, Belgium, The Netherlands, Iceland, Marco Island, Florida, Edinburgh, Scotland, Sydney, Tasmania, Oregon photos and Tips for Planning Multiple Exchanges.
Latest home exchanges:
Spring of 2017 we spent 5 months in various parts of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji! 12 home exchanges, plus a week of bareboat sailing and SCUBA diving from a live-aboard dive boat! HomeExchange published some of our stories about the Down Under Odyssey.
Australia – Innisfail, Brisbane, Clear Water Islands, Sydney, Perth, Tasmania, Torquay and a live-aboard dive boat
New Zealand – Auckland, Christchurch, Taupo, Taranaki, and sailing.
Fiji – Savusavu
2018 included exchanges to Roatan and Utila, Honduras (excellent SCUBA diving!), St. Mary’s, GA (fun family visit!), Ireland (Cork), Northern Ireland, Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island, Canada (fall colors road trip!), and Sunset, SC (fall colors and family).
Other future interests are Spain, Italy, France, Costa Rica, Bonaire, Portugal, Nova Scotia, New England, Ireland, Maldives, Bali and more. Scuba diving and golf locations always grab us! We have family in Florida and in Seattle, Washington, so those are always in mind. Someone may surprise us with an idea from someplace entirely off our radar!