By Emily Puro
Experienced home exchangers offer these tips for making the most of your exchange:
Do Your Research: Explore the listings on a few home exchange sites (for example: homeexchange.com, ihen.com and intervac-homeexchange.com) before you join. You can search by your preferred destination, by members who would like to travel to the Portland area and by numerous other criteria.
Start Early: It can take several months to find an appropriate home exchange partner and work out all the details. Many people start looking for summer exchanges in November or December. And remember, you might need to contact dozens of potential exchange partners before finding the right match. Persistence can be key.
Start Local: Local exchanges can be easier to arrange and usually require less lead time. Look for home exchange members in Seattle; Vancouver, British Columbia; the Oregon Coast; Bend and other regional destinations.
Start With an Experienced Partner: For your first home exchange, seek out a partner with previous exchange experience. They’ll have a better sense of how the process works and they’ll often have referrals you can check before agreeing to an exchange.
Be Flexible: “All we’ve wanted to do is go to Italy, and we haven’t been there yet,” says southeast Portland mom Sara Tetrault, whose family is heading to Spain on their eighth home exchange this summer. Instead, they’ve been to Austria, The Netherlands, San Francisco, the Oregon Coast and beyond. Being open to invitations from people in destinations you might not have considered greatly enhances the experience.
Be a Good Host: Create a binder or information file for families staying in your home. Include maps, restaurant and activity recommendations, a calendar of events, etc. The more information you provide, the more enjoyable their stay will be. Some families like to leave welcome gifts for their exchange partners, usually something small with a bit of local flavor.
Be a Good Communicator: The golden rule is key to successful home exchange negotiations. Be up front about any oddities your exchange partners might encounter (tiny bedrooms? noisy neighbors?) before finalizing your agreement. Find out if your exchange family would like you to leave any food in the refrigerator or if they need any special equipment (a crib, car seat, etc.).
“Don’t feel bad about asking for help to make it a better trip as long as you’re willing to be just as considerate back,” says southeast Portland dad Luke Pond.
“There are a lot of things you don’t have a lot of control over,” adds Vancouver, Wash., mom Jackie Brock, “but through regular ongoing communication you really begin to develop this very unique relationship and that becomes part of the experience.”
Have a Local Contact: It can be helpful to ask a neighbor, friend or relative to act as a local contact for your exchange partners. They can show the family around the house and be available to answer any questions or assist with any issues that arise while you’re gone.
Be Optimistic: Don’t assume no one will want to stay in your home because it’s not especially large or luxurious.
“You’re not buying it,” says International Home Exchange Network owner Linda Allen. “You’re just staying in it for a couple weeks. The real determination of whether you’ll make an exchange is your location and having some flexibility in travel times.”
Be Prudent: Check with your insurance company about potential issues related to exchanging homes and cars. The experienced home exchangers we spoke with haven’t had any problems, but it’s a good idea to confirm.