Agreeing to a Home Exchange - What to Discuss??

Well, it’s mid February and things are really starting to happen! Before I write about the things to discuss with potential home exchange partners I want to update the list of the places we have had offers from since my last post on January 30. We are averaging about 1 offer every day or so and some of them are very tempting! Here’s the list…
 * Martinique in the French West Indies
 * Normandy, France — a 16th century cider farm…sounds so amazing!
 * Dorset, England
 * Berkeley, California, USA — 3 offers here
 * North Zealand, Denmark
 * Geldermalsen, The Netherlands
 * Paris, France
 * Aix-en-Provence, France
 * Strabane, Ireland
 For some of the offers I receive, I reply to immediately to say that we are not interested. I think it’s just good form to let someone know right away if you are not interested in an exchange. I quickly reply something along the lines of, “Thank you so much for your offer of home exchange but we are not able to travel to Europe this summer,” or some such thing. No big explanations needed!
 With others, I will reply to say that we are interested. When this happens I begin with a very short reply that covers just a few basic things.
 1) The date range during which we are able to exchange.
 2) The maximum amount of time for which we are able to exchange.
 3) I let them know that we have a car available for exchange — of course, this is not required…it does make your exchange more attractive to some people though!
 4) I remind them that our home is close to the beach, Los Angeles, and Disneyland.
 I then ask them to reply to let me know if they are still interested and, if so, will the dates and the length of the exchange work for them.
 If you get a reply back it’s time to start an email discussion in earnest! This is where it starts to get very real and VERY fun! This is your chance to get to know this stranger who may end up being a friend and in whose home you may end up spending quite a bit of time!
 My goal today is to make sure that the discussion you have is complete and leaves no stone unturned. Every exchange we have done has been successful because everything is thoroughly discussed beforehand and there are no surprises.

This is the point in the process where you will need to choose a home exchange partner and commit. Sometimes this happens part of the way through the discussion of details, sometimes it’s at the beginning, and sometimes it’s at the end. It all depends on the complexity of the exchange and how comfortable you are with each other.

A commitment to an exchange really means purchasing airfare. Yes…it’s a little scary!

You are laying out a lot of cash and you are trusting that the other party will follow through as well.

Before doing so I make a fairly formal announcement along the lines of,

“We are ready to commit to an exchange with your family and come visit London! Is this something you are ready to do? I am looking at flights on June 16th arriving on June 17th and departing on August 5. Let us know if you are ready to commit to an exchange and we will book our tickets!”

I always tell my home exchange partner when I will be buying the tickets and ask them to tell me when they will be buying theirs. As soon as I make the purchase I send them a copy of my flight information so they can see I have purchased it and I also ask them to send me theirs as well. 
 There are several general categories that you need to cover with a potential home exchange partner. I’m simply going to list them here along with some of the issues that typically arise.
 The Houses
 Both yours and theirs!
 * Will there be a housekeeper or cleaning service during the exchange? If not, what are the expectations for having the homes cleaned during the stay and upon departure.
 * Entry to the house — how will they get the keys to your house and how will you get the keys to theirs?
 * Leaving the house — where should they leave the keys and where should you leave theirs?
 * Is there an alarm system on their house or yours? If so, how is is disarmed and does it need to be armed whenever they house is not occupied? How unfortunate it would be to set their house alarm off — not the best way to meet their neighbors!
 If you’re exchanging cars you want to ask if they have experience driving in your country or area. I typically find that most international home exchangers have quite a bit of experience driving in other countries. If someone is from a country where cars drive on the opposite side of the road, you will want to make sure they have experience driving on your side of the road! 
 If you are driving their car you will want to know what insurance arrangements they have to cover you. Several times, I have been asked to supply my driving record, which I am happy to do! 
 Here are some other things to discuss…
 * How will you get their car? Will they leave it at their home and you will take a taxi to get there? Will they leave it in long-term parking with the key hidden? Will they park it in a serviced garage where it can be retrieved at the airport? You will also need to make arrangements for them to get access to your car.
 * At the end of the trade where should you leave the car? Parked at the house? In a garage at the airport?
 Who Is Staying In Your Home?
 It’s important to clarify exactly who will be staying in your home. Just because their listing shows a picture of a cute family with a dad, mom, and two kids, they may want to bring other people on vacation with them.
 This summer we had a mom and her teenage son stay at our home. About a month before the exchange they asked if their friends, another couple and their two kids, could come along. Luckily we have plenty of room and they had a great time! We have also had last minute additions to our exchanges and it’s always worked out fine. This has only happened on 3 of our 13 exchanges and we always would have the option of saying no if we weren’t comfortable with this.
 Make sure to be clear about pets. Some people don’t mind and may even love to care for your fur babies! Other people don’t want the hassle. Again, you would hope that they would have read your listing and know if you have a pet or not but sometimes, they may not have!
 I have a cat. Like most cats he is incredibly independent and really doesn’t need anything besides food in a bowl twice a day. Outlining the pet care expectations is important. 
 We have cared for cats, dogs, and fish on our exchanges. Some were very low maintenance and others were a little more work! One dog had pre-prepared, gourmet food in the freezer that needed to be defrosted and fed to him. After that exchange we decided not to care for any more dogs. Archie was a cute labradoodle but a handful at the same time who should have had his own personal chef! 
 To Skype Or Not To Skype
 Sometimes a potential home exchange partner will want to talk on the phone or Skype to discuss details. I always think it’s rather fun to hear their voice and chat for a while! Sometimes it’s just a call to get to know each other and other times it’s to hammer out a list of details. Before getting on the phone or the laptop, make a list of items you want to discuss so the conversation moves and it constructive!
 Most of the other details that need to be discussed will come up in the course of the subsequent discussions. 
 Every home exchange is going to have details that are unique to the exchange situation and to the individual homes. If you exchange to southeast Asia you may need to discuss a live-in housekeeper and how that will work. Some homes are a bit difficult to find and you’ll want very specific instructions for how to get there. You’ll want to discuss who you can call if you have problems with the house or car. In a subsequent posting I’ll give examples of some of the interesting details that I have come with our home exchange partners. 
 As you work out details and questions are asked, your home exchange will begin to take shape!
 Next time I will discuss the part that is the most important…preparing your home for the actual exchange. There are so many things to think about and I will do my best to outline all of them.
 Until then, good luck finding a home exchange partner in a fabulous location!!

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