I get a lot of reader questions that go something like this: “I live on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland. I really want to do a home exchange to Wichita Kansas. Can you tell me which home exchange network I should join to find someone in Kansas who will want to come to my lovely island home?” OK in reality usually the locations of both the home and the desired vacation are far more common, but the point remains: this is a very specific question. And there is no easy answer. But don’t worry, I’m going to teach you how to answer this question for yourself.
Start with my spreadsheet of all home exchange networks. It can be found here. When you open it up you’ll see something like this:
Decide which parameters are important to you. I’ve included 3 categories: General, Location and Specialty. And then within those I have several sub-Categories. For instance, if you’re interested in exchanges with a specific community of people (Christians, gays, teachers), there are networks for this and I have listed them in the Specialty category, with details on the community found in the Sub-Category. If you want to only do exchanges within your home country, there are some networks for that. I’ve listed them under the Location category and there are actually quite a few European countries that have networks like this, as well as a few in Australia and New Zealand. This is not an option within the U.S. except for one vacation home swap site. Here’s a sample of what I see when I filter down to just the Location category (there are a few more not displayed on this screen):
Let’s say you don’t care about swapping with a specialty group of people, and you don’t see any networks focused on the country where you want to do all your home exchanges. Next you should look at the generalist home exchange sites. I would start by filtering on “General” in the Category, and then sort by number of listings.
This search actually returns 40 home swap networks. You’ll notice that in the Sub-Category field some sites have a country or region listed. This is because I have found that the majority of their membership is from that location even though the site is not specifically focused on swaps in that one geographic area. This table actually contains more columns than I’m showing: it tells you which sites offer free trials, links to my latest reviews of the sites, and has information about affiliation with other networks.
OK so now what do you do with this information on the 40 home exchange networks? Well I sorted it in descending order by size of the network. To me that is important as using a smaller network will make it harder to find a match. That doesn’t mean the biggest one is necessarily the best. Some of the mid-range size networks have very dedicated and active members and present very good opportunities. Large numbers of inactive members are not necessarily better than moderate numbers of active members, but unfortunately there’s no solid metric to define home swap groups this way.
At this point, if I didn’t know anything else about any of these networks I would start by visiting their websites to do some test searches. Maybe I want to swap to Europe so I start with Home for Home to see if there is much interest on there in visiting my home town. I search for homes in Paris and I get back over 2000 results. That seems great, but unfortunately that site doesn’t let me check to see if any of these people want to visit California. Some networks will only allow you to add this filter to your search once you’ve created an account. Fortunately these accounts are often free for a trial. On Home for Home, once I log in to my account I can limit my search to only people who want to travel to my country. That’s still pretty darn broad, and doesn’t tell me if anyone will want to come to my city, but it’s better than nothing. For this search I see 911 homes of people in Paris interested in visiting the United States.
If you do this same test on HomeExchange.com you’ll get better results. They allow unregistered users to run test searches that filter down to people wanting to come to your home city. My search of Paris homes returned 48 who explicitly mention that they want to visit San Francisco.
You can look at the listings in more detail to see if the people really seem like a match. Some have included desired dates for their swaps. Some have requirements that might not fit your needs (i.e. they are traveling with 7 kids, or they require you to take care of all the animals on their farm). In the end there’s no way to be certain you’ll find an exchange even when you find lots of matches for your general search. But if you run this same test across all the home exchange networks that seem like good candidates, you will at least end up joining the one(s) where you have the best odds of success.
The bottom line is: the right home exchange site for your house swapping needs is not the same as the right one for someone else. And there isn’t a quick way to answer the question “which site is best for my home in XX if I want to swap to YY?” But with a little research you can come up with a good answer for yourself.