To celebrate the addition of the 200,000th home on HomeExchange, we wanted to recognise some of our long-standing members. Somewhere near Montparnasse we met Monique… A former press attaché, newly and happily retired at 65, elegant and bubbly, she has been a member for more than two years. Her love story with home exchange started badly: “my first experience was also the worst!” she says, laughing.
In 400 conversations on HomeExchange, only one bad experience: her first
For New Year’s Eve she wanted to visit Marseille with her granddaughter. By chance she received an email from HomeExchange and hey presto! She signed up. “Exchanging one’s home with others for a trip corresponds perfectly with my état d’esprit, but it’s not always easy to find someone whose dates match up perfectly. By inventing the triangular system where members gain points for hosting and then use these points to go elsewhere, HomeExchange has found a great solution!”
With her first 750 points, Monique decided to try out the home of someone from Marseille, but once she arrived, the cleanliness and taste of the home left something to be desired. “We stayed anyway, and I took it upon myself to do the cleaning and make the best of it.”
Since, Monique has developed three rules of thumb to avoid a similar experience: only contact hosts who have high response rates, are verified, and have photos on their profile. Obviously, the ratings and comments left by other members are also good indicators.
“I was right to try again, because all my following experiences have been superb. Without spending a cent, I get to live in luxury!” she says laughing, delighted. For example, last summer she was able to spend a whole month on the Côte d’Azur, near Toulon, and right next to the sea at the height of tourist season.
“I found a little place at the home of a widow of 70 years old, very young at heart, on a peninsula removed from the regular tourist circuits. We had a pine forest that ran along the beach, a little market, fresh fish every day… Roselyn hosted me for one week, and once I asked if she knew a cheap place to stay to extend my stay, she naturally told me her neighbours spent a lot of time on their boat and would be happy to lend me their own home while they were at sea.”
According to her, the lack of payment really changes the situation. Paying for a rental is paying for a service, which permits us to demand things in return. “The fact of not paying puts us in another mind-set. I never forget that I’m staying in someone’s home, and that I am lucky to have that opportunity, and that pushes me to have a different rapport with the people around me. I don’t ask for anything, I’m simply grateful for what they want to give me.” Her next trip? Martinique, in a house worthy of a five star hotel with infinity pool overlooking the ocean.
“We gain so much more by trusting, rather than mistrusting others.”
Her best experience as a host? “Hard to say, because we see the best of each every time. Each experience is something different entirely… Without going overboard, they were all special in their own way.” Most people she hosts are fairly discrete, no one has ever been too intrusive, or assumed too much. They chat over breakfast or in the evening (her guests have a private wing of the home with two bedrooms and a bath, and share the kitchen), and often Monique offers them a tour of Paris in her own car. “I love my city. Her history, her monuments, her stories; assassinations, little details in the architecture. Telling them all that, I get a lot of joy too, I never get tired of it.”
For her, receiving guests is a matter of respect of each person’s privacy and awareness (she prepares the apartment with little niceties for her guests and cleans until the apartment is spotless), but above all, trust. “I’m trying to convince my neighbour to sign up, but she’s afraid for her things. I can understand, but personally I’m not very attached to material goods. In my life, I’ve saved a lot of time by trusting. For the few times I’ve been disappointed, there are an incalculable number of times that trusting people has brought me so much.”
On the HomeExchange side of things, she’s never had a problem, and anyway, she has enough trust in the security deposit and verification system not to worry. “I think we attract people like ourselves. Balance happens instinctively: we find people like us by reading their profile, the comments, looking at photos of their home… Sometimes we’re wrong, but it’s rare.”
Monique’s priorities on HomeExchange: the desire to travel
Finally, the other great pleasure for Monique is to browse the homes on the website. “I love beautiful homes. It’s the home that decides it for me, more than the region. Once a friend came back from Norway, where she spent ten years, and just like that I started looking at Norway. I am a total fan of Asia and Italy, on any given day I could get up and go, but Northern Europe is pretty neat too.”
For her, the priority on HomeExchange isn’t to meet people, but to travel: it’s the homes that are at the heart of the matter. “I was contacted by someone from Bali with a house of 350 m2 in the middle of the rice paddies. He wanted to come to Paris on business for two to three months. As for me, I’ve always said I’d like to live half the year in Bali once I was retired. It’s now or never!”
Monique has had a fair amount of requests from every corner of the world, but if she happens to host people in exchange for GuestPoints, she prioritises guests whose homes she might visit in the future. However, it doesn’t stop her dreaming when faced with the homes of Costa Ricans or Californians who “favourite” her Parisian duplex. “After all, why not…”
Given the growing success of HomeExchange, does she worry the site will lose its soul? “I’ve asked myself that question, but surprisingly I’ve found the opposite: the rapport in the messaging is better than at the beginning. More and more people write personalized messages. And people respond more often: the first year, for every ten messages I’d receive only two replies, and now everyone replies!”