A home exchange is when one family trades the use of their home for the use of the home of the other family. Usually this is for a vacation but it might also be for a sabbatical, temporary work assignment, or special event. Our family has successfully completed twelve home exchanges. We think it is a great way to vacation and learn more about other countries and cultures.
This guide is based on a book I wrote called The HomeExchangeGuru.com guide to Trading Your Home. The book looks at home exchange from many viewpoints. It is a how-to guide, an analysis of the home exchange marketplace, and a travel book that will either entertain or put you to sleep. This guide is focused on how to home exchange using the Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship.
There are many different types of home exchanges. Exchanges can be between singles, couples or between families with children. They can be in the same country or another continent. They can be for a year or a weekend though a few weeks is more normal. They can involve your principal residence or a second home. They are usually arranged with people you have not known before.
Rotarian Home Exchanges are arranged by listing your place with the Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship, www.RotarianHomeExchange.com. As a member you can list your home for exchange and review other homes listed for exchange on the website. You use the website and e-mail to propose and discuss possible exchanges. You can choose for your listing to be visible on the website of our partner, www.HomeExchange.com. This provides you a much larger number of potential exchange partners
All of our home exchanges have been with families in
We will focus on international exchanges as these are what we know and we think they are more challenging and involve more issues. An exchange in your own country is easier to arrange and manage. Rotarian exchanges within countries are common.
One of our motivations for home exchange is that my wife is British and has family in
Home exchanges have many advantages and benefits. The most obvious is economic. You get a home and often a car (assuming you aren’t driving to the exchange.) The economic value of this is between $750 to $2000 (or more) per week. This is based on the alternative of renting a car and a home on a weekly basis. If you home exchanged instead of staying in a hotel the savings would even be greater.
A home you exchange for will normally be much better equipped and furnished than all but the most luxurious rental homes. It may have toys and bicycles for the children. It should have computer and video games for the kids, much to the annoyance of my wife who would like our children to take a break from video addiction.
It will also be more interesting as the art, furniture, books, and design will reflect others’ sincere interests as opposed to cheap and cheerful or a bland lowest common denominator. One of our homes had game trophies in profusion, a zebra skin rug, stools made from elephant’s feet, and Andy Warhol prints of Marilyn Monroe in psychedelic colors. The children felt it was a bit odd but they got used to it, and for once I didn’t mind being short since I could avoid bumping the water buffalo head when using the stairs. There are many houses on HomeExchange.com that are large and luxurious. Last summer, for example, we had a custom home in
The other key property item in a home exchange is the car. We have always gotten a medium to large car, but that is to be expected since we are trading with families who have at least two and sometimes more kids. The car, because it is a secondary consideration to the house, may or may not be better than what you could rent, but it will probably be cheaper. This is because each mile put on a car decreases its value. You are trading the use of your car and the more the other family uses it the more it costs you. About half of all home exchanges involve trading a car. You don’t have to trade a car unless you wish.
Home exchanges allow middle class families to take a great vacation every year because they are affordable. Retired couples may take several home exchange vacations a year. The only mandatory extra costs are those to get you from your home to the other family’s place.
Another advantage to home exchange is that the families you are exchanging with are experts in their region. They can and should provide information that will increase your cultural understanding and enjoyment of the place you are visiting. They will have tourist brochures and maps for your use. They will tell you about obscure village celebrations, musical concerts, pottery classes or whatever. They will recommend their favorite pub, restaurant, or picnic spot. They can tell you what to see and what to avoid. They can introduce you to the local Rotarian Club and Rotarians.
We always ask the folks we are trading with to provide us with introductions to Rotarians and Rotarian Clubs as well as to other kind people. These folks will take us out to dinner, take us on a bicycle ride, invite us to their summer cabin, etc. They will also provide information and local color on their region and country. Armed with this kind of support and information a home exchange vacation is usually much deeper and more satisfying than a traditional trip.
With a home exchange you have an opportunity for cultural immersion though you don’t have to take it. A home exchange can be a transaction or it can be transformative. After three weeks or a month in a home in a particular country I begin to feel and in some ways act like a local. I don’t want to return home. I become attached to the local Rotarian Club which usually has much better food than my own club.
If you have special interests they can be indulged. I love to bicycle. The families we trade with provide information such as bicycle maps and friends that will take us out on a ride. I love to drink wine. Our hosts will provide introductions to their oenophile friends and compile a list of the best local shops and tasting opportunities. A friend on a home exchange in
Another advantage is friendship. We meet local families during our home exchanges that are outstanding. We have kept up with many of these folks over the years. They include the legal counsel for a large supermarket chain, the chief health officer of the region, a travel writer, a married couple who work for competing banks, and the chief of economic development for the county. I would be happy to meet people of this quality in any circumstances and it is a special pleasure when traveling abroad.
The family you exchange with may become lifelong friends. We remain in touch with most of these families and have seen five of them subsequent to our exchanges. We have youth exchanged with two of these families. There is a unique bond that develops when you live in someone’s house and they live in yours. We have also enjoyed discovering how similar (and sometimes different) our lives are to those of the families with whom we exchange.
There are different kinds of exchanges. In the usual home exchange, you use the family’s home while they use yours. A variation is called the hospitality exchange. Family A visits Family B at their home while they are there. They entertain each other and at a later date Family B visits Family A. A hospitality exchange will often be short and/or the guest will absent themselves for days at a time to give the host a break from the overwhelming pleasure of their company. There are documented cases of retired couples managing to assemble a chain of several consecutive hospitality and/or normal home exchanges as they explore an entire continent for a few months.
If you have a second home you can trade it instead of your main residence. For many people trading their second home is easier than trading a principal residence. Another advantage of a second home is that it can be used in a non-simultaneous exchange: Family A can visit while Family B is still at home. Family B can use the home from Family A at a later date.
The home exchange system should not be oversold. There is no guarantee that you will find an exchange in a place that interests you. Your ability to secure an exchange in a particular place is a function of the supply and demand, the strength of your offer, and the time and effort you put into the process. However, most Rotarians, assuming they are flexible as to destination and dates, will be able to find a home exchange if they put enough time into the search.
At the moment home exchange is strongest in North America,
An analysis of 39,635 home exchange listings (general-not Rotarian) in the fall of 2006 showed that the USA accounted for 28%, France 14%, Canada, UK, and Australia 9% each, the Benelux Countries 6%, the Nordic Countries 5%, Italy and Spain, each 4%, Germany 3%, Switzerland/Austria, Ireland, and New Zealand, each 2%. All European countries not listed, 1% in total. The rest of the world, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, and the Mid-East, account in total for 4% of listings.
The analysis of home exchange listings showed that 52% of families seeking exchanges traveled with children or consisted of a group of 3 or more, while 48% were without children or in groups of 2 or less. Some folks without children will trade with families with children. 67% of all listings said that children were welcome.
56% of those listing offered a car for exchange. 68% would not consider exchanging with a family that smoked. 41% would not want pets on an exchange.
Home exchange is a middle class phenomenon though there are wealthy people that appreciate it as an economical and high quality vacation system. There are modest flats on offer and castles and estates, with affluent middle class homes and apartments being the majority of offerings. 16% can offer you a private pool. 46% of those listed have exchanged before.
Most home exchange residences are of a decent size. 85% will accommodate 4 people or more, 60% will hold at least 5, 46% will hold 6, 20% will hold 7, and 14% 8 or more.
The folks that participate in home exchange tend to be educated and well traveled. A survey (more information on it follows) showed that 92% of respondents had attended University; over 60% of these had also done post graduate work. The professions of the people we have traded with include lawyer, veterinarian, executive, teacher, accountant, school principal, business owner, nurse, dentist, non-profit management, and government administration.
Anecdotal evidence and a 2006 survey by HomeExchange.com suggest exchangers are satisfied with their experiences and that serious problems are rare. The HomeExchange.com survey cannot be considered scientific as results are limited to the small sample that chose to respond.
Home exchangers found that the homes they traded for were described accurately. 15% of survey respondents said the home was better than described. 42% said it was as described. 35% said mostly as described. Only half of 1% felt it was inaccurately described.
67% of respondents said that the homes they traded for were extremely neat and well prepared. 25% said they were somewhat neat and well prepared. Only 1% said the homes were not very neat or well prepared, with an additional half of 1% saying they were unacceptable.
67% returned home to find their place had received excellent care from their exchange partners. 32% said the care was good to very good. Only 1% responded OK with nobody choosing unacceptable.
15% of respondents were so happy with the place they used on a home exchange that they exchanged for it a second time.
99% of survey respondents said they would recommend the home exchange concept to a friend.
Two of the respondents with a large number of exchanges reported one exchange each where they were dissatisfied. My impression is that both these families had so many positive experiences with home exchange that at some point they failed to do sufficient research and negotiation to verify the quality of the home they were trading for and just got unlucky.
In my opinion the probability of you having a negative experience trading with a fellow Rotarian is less than 1%. If you are trading with a non-Rotarian the probability may increase to between 1% and 2%. You can reduce the chance of a negative experience by carefully negotiating with potential partners. This is discussed later in this guide. All of us on the Board of Trustees of the Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship are experienced exchangers. While we love to trade with fellow Rotarians we often trade our homes with non-Rotarians and do so with trust and confidence.
In the old days home exchange agencies, including the Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship, published directories of the member’s homes and people would look at the listings and make contact by fax, phone, or letter. The Internet is the fastest, cheapest, and most effective way to find, initiate, and negotiate a possible home exchange. In the old days you might start looking for an exchange a year in advance. It took a lot of time. These days communications are quick, an exchange can be done with less lead time, and the amount of work is less.
The Internet has revolutionized home exchange. Those interested can list their home on the Internet and can look at listings of others. Negotiations can be handled via e-mail quickly and cheaply. It is common for photos to be exchanged via e-mail or even floor plans of the house.
A more subtle reason the Internet has changed home exchange has to do with research. In the old days you might not know the neighborhood of that home in
This guide is organized into three main parts with the first section a detailed how-to guide focusing on the home exchange process. Part two is reference information and discusses details of things, concepts, and countries where home exchange is popular. Part three is a collection of essays on actual home exchanges of Rotarians.
Part 1, the How to Guide. The first step is to figure out if home exchange is right for your family. The topic Is Home Exchange right for your family? reviews the advantages and disadvantages of home exchange so you can make an informed decision. Home exchangers have to be trusting, flexible, and willing to invest time in the process. You may be concerned about whether or not your home will be of interest to people living where you want to go. This can be an issue but since the cost of trying to find a home exchange with the Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship is $50 a year it is easier to give it a try rather than overanalyze it.
Once you have decided to join the Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship you should prepare your home exchange listing. This is covered in the topic Finding a Home Exchange. There is advice on how to review the listings to find what you are looking for and how to write an e-mail of preliminary interest. There are techniques for researching possible destinations.
The next topic is Negotiating a Home Exchange. A home exchange is a serious transaction and full understanding and communication are important. You should make sure your home exchange partners are trustworthy, capable, and committed, though this is assumed if they are Rotarians. You want to make sure the home, place, family, and other aspects of the exchange will meet your expectations. You want to convince those with whom you would like to trade to go for it.
Once you have agreed to an exchange there are details to be negotiated, arrangements to be made, and preparations to your home including cleaning, organizing, and fixing of problems. This is covered in Getting Ready for your Home Exchange. Our philosophy is to be generous and thoughtful towards the family that will be living in our home. This sets a positive tone and may result in a competition where they try to be kinder to you than you are to them. This is a win-win game.
The last topic of Part one is The Home Exchange. This focuses on the actual exchange, how to enjoy and benefit from it, and problems that you might encounter. Minor and occasionally more serious problems will occur and you need to have the patience to resolve them and not let them ruin your vacation.
Part 2, Reference Information, deals with minutiae and details that don’t fit into the flow of describing the home exchange process yet are important to understand.
Things and Concepts cover specific topics. Included under ‘things’ are telephone systems, bicycles, cars, and video systems, among others. Concepts include driving, multiple home exchanges, maybe next year, and many others.
The topic Specific Countries focuses on those places where home exchange is common. There are facts relating to exchange in those countries and random country specific information that may be useful or entertaining.
Part 3, Home Exchange Essays covers actual home exchanges by Rotarians. These stories are meant to be entertaining and educational. They show how the process works in specific exchanges. The names have mostly been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. The essay Finding and Negotiating an Exchange illustrates my search for a home exchange one year.
This guide is detailed and provides more information than is necessary for most Rotarians to enjoy a home exchange. This is intentional: it is meant to be a useful reference. You could choose to follow less than half the best practices outlined in this guide. You probably would still have positive home exchange experiences 90% of the time.
This Rotarian home exchange guide is based on extensive research, our experiences, and those of our friends. Although the guide cannot claim to encompass the rich diversity of home exchange possibilities, we have made every attempt to be as thorough as possible. Please send any complaints and suggestions. I have been married for twenty five years and have three children so am accustomed to constant correction and criticism. You can reach me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take me to the listings at www.HomeExchange.com
Take me to the listings at www.RotarianHomeExchange.com