I’ve been thinking about point valuation of homes this year as I did a lot of my house swaps using the points-based system of exchange. My swaps were primarily on two networks: LoveHomeSwap and GuesttoGuest, and both sites allow members to set the points value of a night their home. As a result there is a lot of variability in valuation. I’m not sure if people are gaming the system (i.e. trying to earn lots of points by setting a high valuation, or trying to attract visitors by setting it low), or if something else is going on.
Before I get too far into this let me step back and describe this system of house swapping. Points exchanges use a non-monetary currency to earn (for hosting people in your home), and spend (when you stay in someone else’s home). The main benefit is that you don’t have to set up simultaneous exchanges, which can be hard to find for the exact location and dates you want. Points-based home exchanging is becoming more popular among house swappers. While many traditionalists still prefer the simultaneous exchange, where each person stays in the other’s home at the same time, I find that points swapping offers valuable flexibility that has helped me find lodging when simultaneous exchange options were not available. This year HomeExchange.com, one of the biggest house swap networks, introduced a system of balloons that is similar to points. And GuesttoGuest, the home exchange network with the most members, has always focused on a points-based system. Here’s my overview of points swapping and the pros and cons of this system.
Back to the question of points valuation. My recent exchange over the holidays highlighted this issue. We “paid” 250 points per night to stay in a lovely house in southern California (via LoveHomeSwap). It was a three bedroom home and we only used about a third of the house. In fact there were several rooms we never set foot in. At the same time we hosted a couple in our home, for which we charged 80 points per night (via Guest to Guest). This was on two separate networks, but I actually let the networks suggest the pricing for me because I really don’t like the variable pricing option. On Love Home Swap I’m listed at 100 points per night. My home is smaller and has fewer amenities than the place we stayed in SoCal (we don’t have a hot tub!), but it’s in a city in a desirable location, which probably gets more interest for swaps than this sleepy beach-side neighborhood.
I decided to do a quick comparison on similar homes in my city to see how my pricing lines up. And as I suspected, there is tremendous variability. Some homes that are quite a bit smaller than my place are listed at a higher points rate, and I don’t see any attributes they offer that would make those homes better for guests than my flat. On LoveHomeSwap the points rate ranges from 100 to 300 points per night, and there is no correlation with size, number of bedrooms or number of bathrooms. In fact there is one huge house in a great location with 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms listed for 100 points per night. I have to assume that many of those listed at 100 points joined the site back when all nights were valued the same (100 points) and just never changed that valuation. Similarly on Guest to Guest the points rate has a huge range, and for places the same size as mine I’m on the lower end of the spectrum.
I suppose there are some good arguments for variable points pricing, but I think most people who have larger/nicer homes are going to look for the same when they do a house swap, and so they will end up getting roughly equivalent value for their exchange. Then again, people like me could game the system and spend some time in that nice 5 bedroom house in my city while letting someone else use my flat. After this research I still come back to the conclusion that I’d prefer home exchange networks to set a fixed points value per night for all homes. I think that would better serve the interests of the majority of home swappers.