Home Exchange

The Great Divide: Home Exchange Traditionalists vs. The New School

home exchange traditionalists

To most people, home exchange is a vague concept. A way of vacationing that sounds sort of neat, but maybe also scary. Most people don’t do home exchanges. And so most people don’t join home exchange networks. But within the house swapping community there’s a wide diversity of views about what people want from a home exchange network. And this debate has really intensified with the merger of the two largest house swap networks.

I’ve learned a lot from talking to people and reading discussions about the merger between HomeExchange.com and GuesttoGuest (now called HomeExchange). Many people were outraged at the integration. I understand where they are coming from. Aside from the poor communication from HomeExchange and the many technical issues and bugs, I think there is an underlying division in the house swap community between folks who I would call home exchange traditionalists, and people interested in new ways of doing home exchange.

Traditionalists

Traditionalists are often long time home exchangers (but some new folks fall into this camp as well). They have enjoyed house swapping for years and want to keep home exchange as it has always worked for them: a friendly agreement between two families. This could be simultaneous or non-simultaneous. It could even be a hosted stay. But the network should basically be hands off and the agreement should be worked out directly between the swappers.

Traditionalists don’t want their home to be available for points, especially not if the network is setting variable points values. They see this as counter to the egalitarian nature of home exchange where all homes are valued equally. Or at least where members are allowed to figure out which homes are valuable to them for an exchange. Variable points values look and feel more like a monetary exchange.

Some traditionalists also object to home exchange networks offering insurance. I think this comes back to the idea that it’s best if the swap is just an agreement between two parties, with the network playing a minimal facilitation role. Insurance also gets into the realm of home rental type requirements. Again seeming more like a monetary agreement than a friendly exchange.

There’s a strong feeling of loss from some people who have been integrated into the new HomeExchange network and forced to use points and insurance for their exchanges.

Old school swappers believe that the traditional way of swapping preserves the spirit of home exchange. I asked some active exchangers to help me define this spirit. The responses included some definitions but also a lot of great examples of home exchange leading to lifelong friendships. I think this spirit generally means a strong sense of trust, friendship, openness, kindness and respect. The emphasis is on a different way of traveling that gives a local experience and often lasting friendships between swappers.

The New School

The new school of home exchangers includes some people who have been doing house swapping for years. But I think it’s also very focused on bring in new members, including folks who are not interested in traditional home exchange.

This school of thought includes an emphasis on points-based exchanges and offering insurance to protect the swappers. In my spreadsheet I count five networks that offer insurance and five that offer points-based swaps of some sort. That’s not a lot. But the largest network, HomeExchange, is at least 20x larger than the next biggest network. So they really dominate the conversation.

Newcomers to home exchange are familiar with Airbnb. Most have already stayed in other people’s homes, or maybe even rented out their own home. They are comfortable with this more anonymous model of rental lodging. And so a system of points-based exchanges makes sense to them. And protecting these agreements with insurance is a logical addition for these folks. That’s not to say the newcomers don’t also value the personal connections and unique experiences offered by home swapping. But I think there’s a segment of people who wouldn’t join a home exchange network without these features.

The new school also includes people who have done home exchanges for years but like the more transactional and flexible approach of point-based swapping. These folks are happy with these innovations, which makes house swapping easier and more convenient for them.

Some people have speculated that the new school folks who like to use points for house swapping are less likely to engage personally with their exchange partners. Witness some of the requests people get generically asking to stay for points without any preamble. One person shared an angry followup received after rejecting a points request. The message sounded like the requestor thought it was like Airbnb where no offers should be rejected. I do agree points lead to a less personal sentiment. It feels more like a transaction.

Where will this division lead?

In the past I sometimes wished one of the larger home exchange networks would just buy up all the smaller ones. I figured consolidation would be a win for all the members with a much broader base from which to find swaps. I still think a large membership is a real asset in a home exchange network. But I also see the perils in having one network that gets to impose it’s world view on all the new members. People seek out networks that reflect their home exchange goals and values. To some, this is more important than the number of opportunities and ease of finding a swap.

Some home exchange traditionalists will never be won over by the new school. They refuse to be assimilated. And so these folks are jumping ship from HomeExchange. They are joining smaller swap networks that focus on traditional exchanges. And they are particularly drawn to the ones that are vocal about their commitment to the traditional spirit of house swapping. We’ve seen growth in a lot of smaller networks in the past month. Probably most striking was the 10x growth of People Like Us. People were willing to give this new network a shot in spite of it’s tiny size in the hopes that they could build it up into what they loved about the former HomeExchange.com network.

In the end I think the exodus will be a minor dip in membership for the new HomeExchange network. But many of the members leaving are very active committed swappers. They will be a strong addition to the groups they join. Some of these smaller home exchange networks have not grown in years. These new members could have a big impact, perhaps really boosting numbers and swap activity. It will be interesting to see how things shake out over the next year.

6 Comments

  • I wish to add my thoughts to Dawn’s article.
    I am old school having become new school.
    I agree on some of the moans about the points and insurance issues.
    The main one being the insurance and so-called deposit system With HOMEEXCHANGE (but not necessary with LOVEHOMESWAP). are probably a bit of a money maker for them as they admittedly have very few claims but a cover of 1,000,000 is quite nice to know you have. If you pay the annual fee you don’t have to think about it each time.
    For those of us who knew the system before points but often found difficulty to get a direct swap I find the points system is a great addition and I would encourage the old-timers not to dismiss it.
    I agree the merger was handled badly and people may think the points system removes some of the direct connection but it is all about looking carefully at the details of the home to be visited, ( is it a bare holiday home or a lived in well furnished place?); the background of the Exchangers and comments of visitors.
    There are probably more doing Airbnb also in this system but the chance of finding a non direct swap are in my opinion a great advantage with the points system.
    In all the homes we have visited we were often not able to meet the hosts but many times did get to meet extremely friendly and helpful hosts or neighbours.
    On the other hand our 100 or so visitors would never meet us in our place as it is our second home in a different country. It never stopped them from enjoying our place, leaving it always in good condition and never so far having a problem and we getting generally nice feedback.
    So I would encourage Oldtimers not to run away from the merged site before giving it it a fair trial.

  • Hi Dawn,

    That’s a great analysis of what’s happening in the industry. I think you’ve got it exactly. It’s not that either side is necessarily right or wrong but they are very different and will appeal to different people. The anger and upset has come from traditional home exchangers who have been forced into the new school against their will, a system they didn’t join.

    You’ve correctly characterised People Like Us as a new site that sits firmly with traditional home exchange and we’re very happy with that. We put together a values statement on our Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/peoplelikeus.world) and I think it shows what we’re about perfectly: “Here you’ll find a diverse group of people from all over the world with varied home exchange experiences but there is a common set of values. We believe in sharing, trust, generosity, respect, communication, equality, cooperation, honesty, hospitality, friendship, flexibility and adventure. We take pride in our homes and we care about the environment in which we live: our village, city, country and our planet. We care about the ethos of home exchange and we do it because we love the experience and the friendships that it generates.”

    We’re very happy to welcome any new People Like Us who read this! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Drew

  • Hi Dawn,
    I think your article sums it up well. Having exchanged for more than fifteen years on more than one platform, I can say that I am an old schooler who is generally open to new ways of doing things so long as they are presented in an open, honest and transparent fashion. No matter which way you cut it, though, this has not been the case with the new HomeExchange. There has been a tremendous amount of back-pedaling they’ve had to do which seems to have surprised them, thinking that everyone would just roll over and accept their changes. Oops, didn’t happen that way. Not what we signed up for. Their philosophy, which they say is the same old philosophy as the former Home Exchange, is in my opinion, MUCH more transactional with more emphasis on points, insurance and protection.

    I do see how it is possible to have both philosophies co-exist. Points, balloons, or other such valuation systems can be attractive options to people as well as direct swaps and I have used both over the years. It is the method, tone, and responsiveness of the owners of said companies that makes the difference to me. When I asked a question about deposits and insurance immediately after the merge, I received a response from one of their Happiness team that still wasn’t clear. I asked for more clarification and the CEO, who had heard the same question from many other people, answered personally and said that perhaps I should speak to another GuesttoGuest member who could better explain it to me (wink wink). I felt his response was patronizing, arrogant and unsatisfactory. I responded sayong that if the CEO of the company could not clearly answer a very straightforward question from a member, how could he expect anyone else to do so. End of conversation, no more responses from him.

    I imagine that the two schools of thought will continue to have their place. I, for one, never want to see smaller operations be gobbled up by corporate style monoliths, funded by large insurance companies or other investors who have one goal in mind, and that is their profit margin.

    I applaud Drew Seitam for reaching out quietly to those of us who have been on other platforms for many years and I hope that People Like Us flourishes in the future. I have and will continue to send folks their way.

  • We have done and also been an airbnb and feel that the less insurance and government get involved the better it is for all concerned. Friends who have done lots of home exchanges have said that if something was drunk, like liquor, then the exchangers just replaced it. if a glass or other plate etc was broken most often the visitor offered to replace it. Since exchanging is about trust in the home that you are exchanging with then the new idea of having “guarantees” (i.e.insurance etc.) flies in the face of that idea. I prefer openness and trust, it’s what is, among other things, lacking in U.S. society under the present person in the White House.

  • I must be a traditionalist … I still cannot process this “little change”: if do NOT have have enough points for an exchange you can BUY points from Home Exchange.

    This June I will be doing a non simultaneous, but reciprocal exchange with a family in Montana, as we could not figure out how to do it (waited for days for email back from HE), so we decided to exchange the same amount of points in two separate exchanges.

    At the same time I was ironing details for a GP exchange in Sonoma County this summer, but I could not get it finalized because I did not have enough points after exchanging with Montana family, I had to wait for the second exchange to go through to get my points back.

    I need almost 2000 GP for my exchange with wine country, but my current balance is 1474, so I lack 500 points. Just out of curiosity, I tried to finalize the exchange in the wine country without necessary 500 GP, the system prompted me to a screen to pay 197$ with credit card (I am sure the payment system works perfectly …. with this home valued at 251GP/night that means that they are selling me one night at someone’s home for about 100$.

    I looked up HE website:
    “You can buy GuestPoints (GP) while you are finalizing an exchange for which you do not have enough GuestPoints.

    The amount of GuestPoints you need will be automatically calculated and added to the payments related to the exchange.

    This is how much they will cost:

    First, the GuestPoints are offered at 0,10€/GP up to a limit of 20% of the total number of GuestPoints needed for the exchange.
    Then, if supplementary GuestPoints are required, they will cost 1€/GP”

    Is not upsetting because one night at my place has a market value of 500+ dollars but because it defies the purpose of the sharing economy principle, geared toward trusting and kind people that would treat your house like their own and are looking for different experience that traditional travel.

    Paying for points will in my opinion eventually lead not only to the devaluation of the entire experience but eventually to inflation: too many points in the system.

    My costarican Guest Point home exchange just cancelled yesterday on me, just 4 weeks before our trip during the peak season. The page was set up airbnb style, business language ”at least this many night you have to stay if you are using points”… so maybe it is on me, I have to rethink my vetting.

    We have done more than 20 exchanges in the last ten years, thrilling and uplifting experience, met people than felt more like family we now have ”distant cousins” in New Zealand that visit with us almost every year:), and opened doors for us to unforgettable, local, authentic experiences and we reciprocated every time.

    New Home Exchange is on its way to become a modified Airbnb where real estate in my own home are being sold by couple of guys that now have the monopoly of this niche market.

    It is just sad.

Leave a Comment