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Exchange Your Home

Get a Housesitter with Benefits

Revised May 22, 2010

A cost effective alternative to camping and budget hotels is house-swapping. It's a common practice around the world and can give you a chance to really get to know a community. Often, as the swap will include a car and recreational equipment. It can be a great experience but there are potential problems.

The primary reasons for choosing a house exchange over other means of travel are:

  • You will spend less on lodging
  • Your swap may include a car
  • You will experience living in a new community and may build lasting friendships
  • You will save money on meals

If it's your first trip to Europe, I'd encourage you to cover more ground and sample the best of the continent; save the home stay for a later trip when you'd like to get saturated in the culture of a particular place. Consider the first trip the sampler. When you know what you like, immerse yourself in it.

It takes some planning and some flexibility to arrange an exchange. You need to find someone who lives where you'd like to visit and wants to visit your hometown. For people living in tourist hot spots like NYC, Newport Beach, Maui, or Vancouver, BC, there may be lots of choices. If you live in a less visited community, like Peoria or Little Rock, you'll have to get creative to find folks who'd like your place; but if your home is comfortable and you identify the ways a tourist could enjoy your area, you might be able to arrange a swap.

Effectively Marketing Your Property

Don't lie about your home or your community. If your house looks like the "before" on one of the home improvement shows, you may want to do some painting and repair before you list your house. But if your friends and family feel comfortable when they visit and you've got good mattresses, get ready to list your property or check current listings.

If you have pets, think about how they would react to strangers arriving at your home. Are they sociable or moody? A pet with bad habits should be taken to friends or a kennel while you are away. But if you dogs and cats are well-behaved and gregarious, they may actually be a positive part of your guests' stay.

Consider how comfortable you will be with strangers alone in your home. If you've just remodeled your empty nest and bought new furniture, you may want to limit your exchange to mature couples with no children.

Next, identify the activities that a tourist could enjoy in your community. Are there art festivals or plays to enjoy? How's the fishing or the golf courses? Could your guests use your home as a base for great hiking? Or do wineries dot your region. Make a list of all the things you'd do if a friend came to visit and include them in the description of your community.

There are established websites that have been arranging exchange for years, but generally they charge a registration fee which needs to be renewed yearly. If you aren't sure if you want to exchange, you can list with our site and see if you draw any interest.


Once you've gotten serious about swapping, you should talk to your insurance agent to see if they have a rider for your homeowner's policy that would cover your home and your guests while they are at your property. You should also check about insurance coverage for your guests while they drive your car. These are things you'll need to take into consideration as you decide whether to accept an exchange.

Remember that unlike a hotel room or campsite where prices are fixed for each night, there is no set rate for an exchange. The value of a night at your house is tied to the amenities you provide and the location. You don't have to agree to a one-to-one exchange. If they are offering a beautiful beach house in Southern France for your home in Omaha, it may be fair to let them stay at your house for 14 days though you are only at theirs for 7. You might negotiate a small fee for using their car or other arrangements.

Once you've agreed to an exchange, it is important that you get the arrangement in writing. In particular, you want to make certain you have defined the following:

  1. The addresses of the properties being exchanged
  2. The dates of occupancy of each property
  3. The number of people, including children, who will occupy the premises
  4. Which, if any, vehicles the guests may use during their stay
  5. Responsiblity for damages
  6. What utilities will be paid for by the guest and by the owners
  7. What compensation a party will receive if the other party does deliver the property that is promised
  8. What country (and state, if US is selected) will have jurisdiction over a lawsuit if a problem arises

One of the risks of a home exchange is that one of the parties may back out at the last minute; emergencies may arise putting travel plans on hold. You have legal rights if the other party backs out but suing in another country is difficult and can be

Final Preparations

  1. Leaving the house fresh and clean
  2. Preparing a welcome basked filled with some treats and lots of information about things to do
  3. Arrange a friend to turn over keys and help them if problems arise

A good friend of mine has rented a property she owns for short stays and shared a great tip for anyone inviting tourists to stay in their home. Make a small notebook that lists the kinds of information a tourist would want, much as the books in a hotel do. She includes information about local hospitals, physicians, churches, restaurants, dry cleaners, and grocery shopping. She points out the familiar tourist attractions and then adds some unknown places she has enjoyed. Then, and this is perhaps the most important information, she lists the repairmen she would like the guest to call if there is a problem with plumbing or electricity, etc, and she can not be reached.