I sometimes envy the people who approach home exchange from the perspective of the recipient of offers. They get emails expressing interest from various places around the world and when one strikes their fancy they accept. I, on the other hand, like to pick my destinations and rough dates for travel, and then try to find a swap from there. It’s harder this way. I have to do lots of outreach to find a match. Maybe someday I will realize that it’s better to just go where the offers take me. But for now I still want to control my choice of destinations. As a result I’ve developed a fairly involved approach to finding a home exchange, it might not be the most effective but it has worked out pretty well so far.
1. Find the right home exchange sites to use
First you have to know which sites you want to use. You can use my spreadsheet of All house swap websites to find the best home exchange sites for your purposes. You can choose between specialty sites focused on groups of people like you (teachers, over 50, gay, etc.), or sites focused on the location you want to visit, or general exchange sites with a diversity of members.
I’m currently an active user of 5 sites: LoveHomeSwap, HomeExchange.com, GuesttoGuest, Trampolinn and MyTwinPlace. Those last two I admit I was sucked into using this year by their offer of free points to activate an account, and while I like their models of points-based exchanges I’m not sure they will work out for me long term. Among other considerations, the more I do home exchanges the more I like membership-based sites that charge a joining fee: I find the folks on those sites are far more responsive and serious than the ones on free sites where there are lots of listings but many of them seem to be inactive.
2. Search for people who match as many of your requirements as you can define
I start out searching for a home exchange to my desired destination (right now I’m looking for Stockholm and/or Copenhagen for the end of summer). If the site has the option to filter down to people looking for a swap to my location I select that. Initially I like to see who is excited about coming to my city. However, this filter also usually eliminates people who have indicated they will go anywhere, so it’s only good as an initial pass. I have a few requirements for swap partners that, if possible, I also filter on. No sites have filters that fully meet my needs: no cats (even a hint of cat is awful for my allergies), swap partners without young kids (our home is not kid proof), families of 4 or fewer, wifi in the home. But I use whatever filters I can. This gives me the best candidates.
3. Send out initial inquiry messages
I browse the results of my search and send initial messages to everyone who looks promising. There are always features I can’t filter on that I have to look at in the individual listings. And I like to look at the pictures to get a sense of the home. But I try not to get too bogged down in details since almost all of my inquiries will be rejected. I’m not committing to an exchange at this point, and I think it’s ok if I send an inquiry and then after getting a positive response I figure out that it won’t work for me. The main thing is to be honest and transparent with everyone, and make sure to communicate right away when you realize a swap under discussion won’t work out. Don’t just leave people hanging.
Note: there are some in the home exchange community who disagree with my approach here. They think you need to review each listing in detail and write personalized messages talking about what you see in the listing. They are right that by doing this I can be sure not to waste anyone’s time by missing that, for instance, they have a cat and I have cat allergies so a swap won’t work. But this takes a lot of time, and given the number of inquiries it takes to find a match, I’m not convinced that is time well invested. Instead, as I said above, I try to be totally transparent, while doing my best to include all of my requirements in the filters or catch them in my initial review.
4. Search a bit more broadly, including folks willing to travel anywhere
Once I’ve sent messages to folks who want to visit my home town I will move on to remove the geography filter requiring them to want to visit my city. I do this because the search in step #2 never returns enough results for me to think that I’m all set for finding a swap. This means I have to look more closely at geographic desires for potential swap partners. If someone says “I’m looking for an exchange to Paris for May,” I’m going to assume they aren’t interested in my place this year. But if they express an interest in Barcelona and Tokyo but also have listed that they are will consider traveling anywhere, I will send them a message.
On the sites that offer points-based exchanges the geography filter is only partially relevant. Because I want to be efficient in my search, I usually propose to either do a simultaneous exchange OR use points on any site where this is possible. This enables me to not only search for simultaneous exchanges but also to seek out people who plan to be on vacation (not home swapping) during the time we’d like to visit their home. In this case we can just spend points to stay there, and try to find a similar points-based visitor for our empty home during that time. So in this step I’m also browsing for likely points-based stays regardless of their travel interests.
5. Send messages to the good prospects from step 4.
6. Wait for responses
Once I’ve sent out a flurry of messages I sit back and wait. Hopefully I’ll get a positive response in my initial wave of requests. Often I don’t. Or it takes people a while to respond. I’m not so good at waiting.
7. Set up notifications for new listings
On some of these sites you can set up automatic notifications, so that they will email you when new houses in your desired location come online. That’s useful to save the additional re-searching to figure out if I missed any prospects, something I tend to do if I go a few weeks with only rejections. I also set my desired cities to the places I’m searching so that people will find me if they are doing the opposite search.
8. Make some friends in your planned destination
Often I’ll get rejections from my initial wave of inquiries telling me that they’ve already set up a swap to my city (and forgot to take it off their list of desired destinations). I try to turn this into a good thing. If they are coming before I’ll be visiting their city I can take them on a tour of my town, make some new friends, and maybe pick up some useful tips for my upcoming trip to their city. Often they will offer to reciprocate when I’m in their home town, and I’ve got a local friend for my upcoming travels.