Many house swappers have strong views on home exchange etiquette. This isn’t surprising: if you are inviting strangers to stay in your home, while you’re away, you might have some opinions about how they should behave. Unfortunately these opinions aren’t always expressed clearly, which can lead to misunderstandings and disappointment. I wrote previously about all the things that can go wrong in a home exchange, some of which can be the result of miscommunication.
If you are planning to do a home exchange it’s important to think about how you will set up your house and also what you will do at the home of your swap partner. From the responses you write to each inquiry, to leaving gifts for your swappers, to cleaning the sheets, there’s a lot for the conscientious swapper to consider. While we won’t all agree on everything, we can make sure to discuss and agree on the important things in advance. Here’s my guide to some of the important aspects of home exchange prep and behavior.
Leave your home tidy and clean for your swap partners. When they arrive it should have clean sheets on the bed and clean towels out for their use. There shouldn’t be dirty dishes or rotting food. Basically think about what you want to come home to and make sure the place is up to that standard for your guests. And if you are comfortable in what most people would consider a dirty home, be sure to disclose that to potential swap partners. No judgements, just be clear about your standards so people aren’t disappointed.
Establish in advance how you will handle end-of-trip cleaning. Either you can both clean the home you swap to, or you can both clean your own homes. Many people like to just agree to hire their own cleaning services. But be sure to establish some basic expectations for how the homes will be left (dirty towels and sheets in the laundry basket, all dishes cleaned, everything tidied up). And never be that person who leaves your swap house a mess! Even if you agree that you’re each going to do your own cleaning, it’s just rude to leave dirty dishes in the sink and trash sitting out. Tidy up, even if you aren’t expected to do a deep cleaning.
Talk about how you plan to exchange keys well in advance. If you want to use the mail to send keys you’ll need enough time to come up with a backup plan if they get lost in transit. And always leave a spare set of keys with someone in town, just in case your swap partner somehow gets locked out.
Also be sure to discuss how to return keys at the end of the exchange. I have people leave the keys through my mail slot after locking the door. But if this isn’t possible you might want to have them mailed back, or left with a neighbor.
Make a users guide to your house. Include instructions on how to operate everything. Don’t assume your visitor can read the Swedish instructions on the washer! At a minimum you should explain where to find and how to use these things: dishwasher, TV, wifi, laundry, garbage (including how to take it out), kitchen appliances, heat/AC, shared outdoors space, extra towels/sheets, empty drawers and hangers for their use, bikes and vehicles if available.
My home guide is room by room, hopefully making it easier for people to flip to the kitchen section if they are inspired to learn how to use my juicer or want to run the dishwasher.
In your home guide you can also include information on anything special you want your guests to do before they leave: Should they put dirty sheets in the hamper? Should they take out the garbage?
Include a section on the neighborhood: where they can find the closest grocery store, local coffee shops, restaurants and bars, and how to get to public transportation.
I suggest also including a city guide. Provide information about anything you think your visitors might enjoy. I have a list of favorite restaurants and bars, some great walks to take for views of the city, and some of the more popular tourist activities, as well as a section on places to visit for a day trip or a few days outside of the city. I also ask my swap partners if there’s anything special they want to do so that I can add to my guide if I haven’t covered their interests.
Lastly, leave out some maps of the area if you have any. Most people use their phones to navigate, but for those who don’t have a data plan that covers other countries, paper maps can be very useful.
Arrival dates and times
Discuss and agree on arrival dates and times for each of you. Make sure there’s no unintended overlap. And inform your neighbors about the guests who will be staying in your home while you are away. You don’t want them calling the cops thinking that you have a break in.
Many people like to leave gifts for their home exchange guests. I have to admit I sometimes forget, but it is nice and I aspire to leave gifts for every swap. When I’m doing a simultaneous swap I leave something local: wine or chocolate. When I’m using points and traveling around a lot I bring along a small souvenir from my city and a few nice postcards. I can write them a thank you note on the postcard with a picture of something iconic from my home town, and give them the gift. Even just a magnet or bar of local chocolate is a nice thought.
There are some who go to great lengths with the welcome gifts: asking what foods their swappers eat and stocking the fridge for them, baking, and buying gifts. I think this is super nice, but definitely not necessary. Truthfully I would probably feel a bit guilty if someone did this for me when I just bought a bottle of wine for them.
Aside from the gifts, everything else I list above should be discussed in advance to make sure you’re on the same page about what is required before and during your home exchange. I also think it’s best to agree that you will check in when you each arrive, just to let the other person know you got there safely and are in the house.
You may also want to set some ground rules for communication while you are doing the exchange. You might agree to reach out to each other if you need help with anything, and talk about how you will do that (via SMS, email, phone calls, etc.).
I’ve heard a few stories of people who were peppered with constant questions from their swappers about things that were covered in the instruction booklet they left. So much that it was interfering with their vacation. There’s not much you can do beyond politely asking your swap partners to read the instructions before pestering you, but talking about communication in advance may help you ensure you both have the same expectations.
And lastly, let your swap partners know when you’ve left.
Formal exchange agreements
If you want to formalize your plans you can use the exchange agreements that are available through many home exchange networks. These provide a good basis for discussing the important elements of the swap, and some formality to your agreement around what will happen before and during the swap.