We've ALL seen the Holiday, right? I've probably seen it 100 times, because I love watching it at Christmas (along with Love, Actually, Home Alone, the Family Stone, and the Santa Clause.. :)
But what I never considered, is that people actually do home exchanges. I met a family when I lived on Sanibel that did a swap once a year, and they traded their beach house (where they lived full time) for homes in Southern California, Italy, France, and even Iceland (before it was popular!) It was intriguing, but I never really thought too much about it. This was also in 2011, so even before Airbnb was the norm for travelers.
Matt and I rented our house out on Airbnb a handful of times, but decided to quit when Nashville cracked down on the taxes and paperwork you had to go through. It was also a lot of work, because we had to deep clean the house, store any personal items, change all the bedding to "airbnb sheets", and most importantly, find somewhere to go! These people would be taking over our house, essentially leaving us homeless. We tried to schedule our guests around times we already knew we'd be gone, but we had to crash with friends a few times.
About a year ago, Matt brought up the idea of Home Exchange. We looked around and landed on HomeExchange.com, because they had a "your 2nd year is free if you don't use it your first year" deal going on. Sounded like we didn't have much to lose!
Now, we've done 3 different home exchanges. It's just like the Holiday, except we haven't been to a mansion in LA yet. Since we joined, and have now done a few swaps, I've gotten a lot of questions from friends about the process, so I thought a blog post was overdue on the topic.
How does it work?
You find a home exchange site, pay the enrollment fee (it should be 1x per year, and approximately the cost of 1 night in a hotel or Airbnb), and list your home. Include quality, detailed photos and good information about you and the house. Consider this your home's online dating profile. Would people be shocked when they showed up at the "date" because the house didn't look like the profile pictures at all? Should they know up front that you don't allow pets or the 2nd bedroom is actually just an air mattress? Honesty is the best policy. Chances are, even with some rules or quirks, people will want to swap with you.
Some snaps from our house. We used a lot of our Airbnb photographs and took a few others with my Fuji x30.
Now that your profile is ready, you're ready to swap! You can either list locations/dates you want to travel, or leave it open for any inquiries. We've done both. Certain things have been specific, like NYC the weekend of March 25 because we already have plans to go. Others are more open ended, like Seattle anytime, because we're always looking for an excuse to go there. Once you list, you can start messaging with people around the world to see if they're interested in a swap. Once you find someone who wants to swap with you, you can set up the guide lines. Will you swap cars? Just houses? Will you do a simultaneous or non simultaneous swap? Many people on home exchange sites own a 2nd home and use that for their trades. We have done some non simultaneous swaps (when we already knew we'd be out of town), and it works quite nicely to have that IOU hanging out.
Here's a wishlist of another member I saw today.
Once you decide on terms and dates, you just trade! Live in their house for a few days while they live in yours. Talk about traveling like a local!
Is it safe?
I get this question about a lot of travel related things - Europe, flying, Airbnb, declining car rental insurance, home exchange - and my answer is, yes. It's just as safe as driving to work every morning. There's a level of risk associated with waking up every single morning. Now, I'd also like to add that you have to trust your instincts and make wise decisions. Do you get a weird vibe from someone or do they seem slightly off or something feels to good to be true? Then decline. It pays to "shop" around and find a swap you're comfortable with and excited about.
What does it cost?
You pay your yearly fee (HomeExchange.com is $75 for your first year, and $125 every year after that!), and then every swap is free. Yes, you read that correctly. FREE. So in theory, if you use it for 1 night a year, you'll make your money back. If you use it for 1 swap, for a long weekend, you've saved yourself a couple hundred dollars minimum depending on where you visited.
We are doing a one month exchange with a lovely couple who lives in Brooklyn. Yes, a full month! We both work from home, so we'll just be working from *their* home. And let me tell you, it's gorgeous.
See?! Their home is like something out of a magazine - and HomeExchange.com is full of incredible options just like it! And we definitely would be paying $3,000-5,000 for a month in an option like this at least. So we're really getting our money out of that $75 membership fee!
Now taking all of your favorite NYC suggestions! Have you ever done a home exchange?