How does a home exchange through sites like Love Home Swap or HomeExchange.com work?
If you’re anything like me you are desperate to travel. You may also be short on funds after two years of pandemic living. Home Exchange lets you travel at very little cost, by staying in other people’s homes.
A home exchange means that you agree to swap homes with someone in another part of the world. Although it sounds potentially all sorts of dodgy, home swaps are well established. They usually run through websites that offer all sorts of checks and protections.
We’ve been home exchanging now for just over a year. Whenever I talk about it, friends always have a bunch of questions. So i thought I’d put all our home swap tips and ideas into a blog post!
Are home swaps safe and secure?
The first thing to say is that home exchanges and swaps aren’t just something you do with a nice man you just met on Twitter.
There are well-established and reputable sites you can join to find people to swap homes with. You can swap in the UK, in Europe or virtually anywhere in the world. We are registered with HomeExchange.com, but other sites include Love Home Swap and Homelink.
To arrange an exchange through any of these sites you’ll need to register as a member. This means paying an annual fee (we pay £150). You’ll also need to prove your identity. In our case this meant showing a utility bill that proved we lived where we claimed. I also needed to upload a copy of my passport. Lastly, our phone number and email details were checked and verified.
How do you find someone to exchange with?
If you want to start exchanging you need to create your own home listing. This took me about 30 minutes, and was like creating a dating app profile for my house. You need to upload nice photos, show off your rooms, talk about the local area, and what facilities you have in your home.
Lots of us think we live in BORING places, I know. But people want to travel to all sorts of places. You might not live in a big city or resort, but I’ve had people ask to stay in our house for all sorts of reasons:
- A group of pensioners wanted to go rambling in the Ribble Valley and needed a place to stay
- A family in Switzerland wanted to visit relatives they haven’t seen for 2 years, who live 5 minutes up the road
- Two families from London and Manchester wanted to get together in a big house, and visit the Blackpool Illuminations
- An American couple wanted to stay in a small English village that would be like experiencing “real local culture”
Once your listing is complete, you can find a destination home. Sites like Love Home Swap are a lot like Airbnb. Plug in your preferred dates and locations, and the site will show you listings of homes that are available to you. It’s very straightforward.
How to arrange a Home Exchange holiday
Once you’ve found a house you would like to stay in, check their calendar for availability, and contact the owners to ask if they’d be interested in exchanging with you. At this point you can choose between two sorts of home swap:
- A reciprocal exchange means I stay in Amy’s house, and Amy’s family stays in my house. Usually this type of exchange is completely free.
- A points exchange means I stay in Amy’s house, but Amy doesn’t stay in my house. Instead, I “pay” Amy an agreed number of points per night, which Amy can then use to “pay” for an exchange in another home, somewhere else.
Your home will be assigned a suggested points value when you register, based on the location, size and facilities. Not all home swappers will accept points – some people only want to do simple swaps, and this will be indicated on their profile or calendar.
One really useful feature of points is that you can earn them during times your house is unoccupied and spend them at your convenience. So if we have a holiday booked, I always list our house as available for points-exchange. I’ve saved up enough points doing this to potentially cover a points-based exchange of 3-4 weeks of accommodation in the US next summer.
Get Free Guest Points
If you sign up to HomeExchange.com using my referral code (Sally-86842) then you will receive a FREE gift of 250 additional guest points, including 100 points for creating a profile and 150 points for activating a membership.
This is in addition to the standard welcome Guest Points you’ll earn for registering on the site. If you do all the things the site asks when signing up you’ll get enough of these bonus points to book a short break. It’s great to use these points to try out the home swap experience without needing to offer up your own home for this first trip.
Remember that you won’t have to pay a membership fee for a home exchange site until you’ve found someone you want to exchange with. It’s 100% free to join, browse and chat through the site.
What’s it like to stay in someone else’s home?
We’ve stayed in Airbnb accommodation for many years, and booking a property through a site like Love Home Swap is really very similar.
The properties we’ve stayed in are just a bit more homely – typically when you do a home exchange the host will not put away all their personal belongings. So you can expect there to be books and games and tea and coffee in the cupboards. The host will clear some drawers and cupboards but you can expect some ‘stuff’ to still be around. That’s part of the experience – you’re living like a local in someone’s home, not a hotel room or rented apartment.
It’s actually kind of nice seeing people’s travel photos and decor, and their school activity planners.
Is it weird having strangers in your home?
In a word, no.
I’m sure if I thought about someone critiquing my kitchen cupboards or decor, I’d feel a bit weird, but I don’t dwell on that stuff. I don’t have a questionable dungeon, I’m not a serial killer, and the odds of there being anything in my house that would scandalise anyone is remote.
We are fairly tidy people, but we make sure we aren’t going to outrage anyone. So we clean the house before each exchange, and have cleaners come in after each exchange. We also bought bargain bedding in the IKEA sale that we use specifically for exchange guests. I mean – I’m laid back, but I’m not sharing my duvet with someone I don’t know.
What do you do with your belongings during an exchange?
After a few exchanges, we’ve got into a nice routine when it comes to preparing to host a family in our house.
- First we clear out 2 drawers and half the wardrobe in our bedrooms, chucking clothes into suitcases, which we store on top of the wardrobes. This gives our guests room to store their clothes.
- We take a suitcase or box into each room and pack away anything that is “out” on the surfaces that isn’t needed by the guests. This might include Flea’s make-up, or the random detritus that lives on the kitchen counter. These boxes get stored in the garage or on top of wardrobes.
- Next, we go round the bathrooms and put out clean fresh towels. We make up the beds and give the house a good clean.
- We leave most things in situ but I do put all my business/financial paperwork and personal/confidential papers into a locked case, that can be stored under a bed. This case also contains any personal items that I don’t necessarily want to share.
- Lastly, I put the dog’s things into the garage along with anything fragile – we don’t have a lot, but I pack away my Twilight candlestick holders (pictured below) and Flea packs away her jewellery in a locked box.
- We give the key to the garage to a neighbour just in case our guests need emergency access during their stay (the circuit board and boiler are in the garage, so we can’t leave it totally inaccessible)
We probably spend a day (at most) before each exchange clearing our things away, like this. It’s actually a really quick job, and I’m over any weird feelings because hey, who doesn’t own an embarrassing pair of socks and some questionable DVDs? Besides, if someone is laughing at my choice of decor, I’m not there to see it because I AM ENJOYING MY FREE HOLIDAY.
What if something goes wrong?
Naturally people are people and sometimes things go wrong.
For example, what if someone has to cancel an exchange at short notice? In this case the site will help you find an alternate exchange and if that’s not possible, they’ll pay you a credit towards regular accommodation in your chosen destination. But the advantage of dealing with people is you can discuss it between you, and maybe rearrange the exchange, or move it to next year.
The other risk is damage or theft of your property. I tend to think this is unlikely because most home exchangers are reliable, decent people (and they’ll have reviews on their profile you can check out). But accidents do happen. That’s why the exchange website will put a hold on your credit card until your exchange is completed. With HomeExchange this hold is $500, which is used to pay for damages if they happen.
If damage exceeds this amount, part of the membership benefit is an insurance policy against any damage, theft or loss during exchanges. The credit card hold is released by your host once your stay is over.
Why Home Exchanging is Brilliant
I honestly love the idea of home exchanging. You get to talk to the family you’re exchanging with in the weeks and months leading up to the swap, so you can ask for advice, share tips and get a “feel” for their family. After the exchanges we’ve hosted, families have left us lovely notes and gifts, thanking us for helping them to get together with relatives for the first time in two years.
And for us, it means we can afford to stay in places that would otherwise potentially be out of reach. Last Christmas we exchanged homes with a family in Switzerland for a week.
The family were British ex-pats who hadn’t seen their family in two years. Luckily for us their relatives live in Lytham, just down the road from our house. Even luckier for us, they lived in a ski chalet on the side of a mountain with amazing views, a five minute drive from the local ski resort.
We could never have afforded to pay for a ski holiday at Christmas. But doing a home swap means no accommodation costs, and having a fully kitted out kitchen where we can prepare meals, and hang out. It meant we had a Christmas tree and decorations, a kitchen for Christmas dinner, and Netflix for entertainment.
Our hosts were also really helpful, advising on the best and most affordable places to eat, ski, sledge and more. We managed to get an amazing holiday for the cost of two budget flights and a week’s car hire – around £500.
Since then we’ve arranged a short break in Edinburgh for Flea to tour the university and experience the city. And this summer, rather than spending HUGE amounts of cash for two weeks in London, we’re staying in a lovely house owned by a couple of university lecturers, in Stoke Newington. And none of this costs us a penny.
Top Tips for Home Exchanges:
Based on our experiences, here are some tips for your first home swap:
- Don’t assume your house isn’t “posh” enough. We live in a tiny village in a fairly typical new house. We probably get a new message every month from someone wanting to stay in our location. People want the location first, and somewhere clean and comfortable, second.
- Don’t assume you need to be in a city, or close to the beach. You never know why someone might want to visit your home town – it could be for a job, to see family, or explore a niche hobby. One of our hosts had previously hosted the son of another Home Exchange family, when he was doing a medical school placement at the local hospital.
- You don’t need to empty out your house. People who home exchange want to stay in a regular home. By all means pack away valuables. But it’s okay to leave most of your clothes, books, food etc in their usual spots.
- Do be prepared to invest some time in finding people to exchange with. The odds of one person being happy to swap with you, at the same time you want to swap with them, is quite low. On average, you’ll need to contact about 10 people to find someone who wants to swap homes with you.
- Take the time to register with the site and adjust your preferences so you can only be contacted by ‘verified’ members. This means someone has taken the time to check their identity and location, so there’s less chance of something going wrong.
- After arranging an exchange, keep in touch with your guests/hosts. Our hosts in Switzerland sent me WhatsApp messages each week with photos showing the mountains as winter approaches – we have a little chat, and it’s helped us to find the best activities for our visit, as well as our hosts offering to loan us skis and boots for Flea.
- If you’re hosting a family, prepare a simple guide to your home/area. Leave instruction leaflets in clear view. If you can’t meet your guests in person, leave a mobile number for any questions.
- Be clear about what you would like at arrival/departure. When we arrived in Switzerland, our hosts had left milk, bread, food for sandwiches, pasta and some other essentials, which was great. They also left details of where to leave bedding and rubbish/recycling when we left, which was really helpful.