Home Exchange can feel like a very personal thing. You’re opening up your home to a stranger. They will be sleeping in your bed, cooking in your kitchen, living in your space. You’re basically trusting your swap partner to take care of your home. And so this raises the question of what you need to do to trust your home exchange partner.
Arranging a home exchange usually starts with exchanging a few electronic messages. You establish mutual interest and agree on dates. Before getting too far into the discussion I like my swap partners to share a bit about themselves, their exchange experience, and their willingness to respect my home. In the initial contact that’s not essential, but it is nice. The email back and forth is when you start to get to know your swap partner, and that’s when I get a sense that I can trust them. If someone is new to home exchange I want them to tell me why they are doing it, and what they think it entails. If they are experienced I like to hear that they’ve had some good swaps and what went well. Or if something went wrong, how they would avoid that in the future.
Do some research on your swap partners
I know some folks do Google and Facebook searches on potential swap partners. This can help confirm the person is who they claim. Some networks also do identity verification, which requires people to prove their name and address match what they listed on the network. For folks without home exchange experience, offering to connect on Facebook might help you establish trust with more experienced swappers.
Reviews from previous home swaps are another source of information on your potential exchange partners. These are available on some networks. I think a bunch of good reviews is a good sign. But the absence of bad reviews, or some non-descriptive generic ones are harder to interpret. Some people find it very hard write a bad review. It’s also ok to ask if you can talk to previous swap partners for references. That will give you a chance to ask questions directly. Some swappers proactively offer references to potential exchange partners.
You need to talk about anything that’s important to you regarding the exchange. And make sure you feel comfortable trusting these strangers in your home. There are some essential things to learn before finalizing an exchange. For me this list includes:
- The size of the family you’re hosting
- Ages of any kids staying in your home
- Cleanliness expectations
- Car swapping and insurance if that’s desired
- Acceptable arrival and departure times
- Use of kitchen stuff
- Use of recreational toys (i.e. bikes, surfboards)
- Pet care needs
Some of these are straight forward questions. And the information might even be in their profile on your house swap network. But others are more nebulous, like the question of cleanliness. I want to arrive to a clean home, and I want my house swap partner to leave my home clean when they depart.
To establish expectations you can ask clarifying questions like: “How do you want to handle the cleaning of our homes?” And you can state your own intentions: “I always clean before leaving swaps so you’ll come home to a clean place.” Be sure to bring up anything important. What’s important? That depends entirely on you. Maybe you have a small garage and want to make sure their car will fit. Maybe they have a pool and you’re not sure if you need to do anything to care for it while you’re staying there. If you love cooking maybe you want to clarify if it’s ok to use their kitchen pantry staples. If your plants need watering you should ask if they’re willing to do that.
Phone calls and video chats can establish trust
I’m not a phone person. I’m even less of a video chat person. But a phone call or video chat can help you get to know your home exchange partners before the swap.
I rarely ask for a phone call. But if my swap partner wants to chat I’m happy to oblige. I have only once asked for a video call myself: when the home being offered seemed too good to be true. The pictures were literally out of a magazine. And I thought that was too easy to fake. In fact the owner took me on a video tour of his home, and it did match the magazine pictures.
There are tools you can use to make free international phone or video calls. Skype is free long as both parties have it installed. FaceTime is also free if you both have Apple devices.
If you’re new to home exchange, definitely err on the side of over communication. This will help your swap partner trust you, and also help you feel comfortable with the exchange. Set up a time to chat on the phone early in the discussion. And then stay in touch regularly over the weeks or months prior to your swap. By the time you do the home exchange, it will feel more like swapping with friends than opening your home to a stranger.