And why you should, anyway

Jennifer Allen, a special needs mom and disability travel blogger, shares her experience with hosting a HomeExchange for the first time.

When I first encountered the idea of a home exchange, it seemed brilliant.  Instead of paying for a place to stay, why not leverage your space for someone else’s space?

Jennifer Allen with her family

I signed up right away, but then I started having some major reservations.  When it came to actually letting strangers stay in my home, I wasn’t quite ready. Here are my concerns, and how it worked out!

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1. I don’t live in a desirable location.

While all these houses in Paris sound great, who wants to visit Elizabethtown, PA?  I don’t live in a major metropolis… or a nature retreat!  I’m somewhere in the middle with the masses of small town USA residents.

I didn’t think anyone would be interested in my home.

As it turns out, people living in those big cities are looking for an escape!  Who knew?  

My home was only listed for a couple of weeks before I was contacted by people interested in an exchange (and that was in the middle of a pandemic!).  We didn’t set anything up right away because of the Covid situation at the time, but I had a handful of people connect to let me know they would like to set something up in the future.

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2. My house isn’t nice enough.

When I went to create my profile, it occurred to me that my house isn’t nearly as nice as the majority of homes I saw listed.  We have a kid-centered home, complete with dented walls, stained furniture, and a seriously outdated kitchen.

Funny thing is, I’m drawn to other homes like ours because they scream “kids welcome!”  Apparently, that same draw is real for other families!  It feels like home, and we’re not so nervous about what the kids play with while we’re visiting.

3. I have pets.

It’s so expensive to board the pets.  I much prefer paying a neighbor to care for them at home when we’re away, but that’s awkward with people in your house.  

It feels like too much of a burden to ask your house guests to take care of your pets.

News flash: did you know lots of people love animals?  In fact, some of these people don’t have their own pets and are eager to borrow yours for the week.  

Instead of burdening someone with our pets, we blessed them with our pets.  Our HomeExchange guests found a new best friend in our cat, and vice versa!

4. What if these people are shady?

Do I sound paranoid?  I just kept wondering what would happen if they stole something, or if we became a drop-off point in a major crime ring… Just me?

Keep in mind these people have all of their information on file with HomeExchange.  If anything were to happen, they’re easily traced.

More importantly, think about why you were drawn to HomeExchange in the first place.  Chances are, you have a lot in common with the people staying in your home.  HomeExchange is a community of like-minded travelers.  We’re all people with a love of travel and a tendency for hospitality.  We’re staying in each other’s homes, so we take care of them as our own.

5. I have three kids, there’s no way I can keep it clean enough for guests.

HomeExchange actually suggests you don’t overly clean for your profile pictures.  Keep it real.

I ignored that suggestion.  I took two weeks to upload my home profile so that I could clean one room at a time and post each photo as soon as that section of the house was clean.

The downside to this is that it’s not easily replicated.  When we were ready to host, I wasn’t sure I could get my house that clean!  

What really set my mind at ease in this area was staying in another family’s home.  Of course it wasn’t dirty, but it wasn’t spotless, either.  It looked like it was lived in by a family!  Just how my home looks on a regular basis - clean, but not perfectly tidied.  It’s ok for our homes to be lived in.

6. What if these people are dirty?

I just mentioned being self-conscious of my own mess, but even worse is someone else’s dirt.  What if they make a mess of my house?  I don’t want to come home from vacation and have to clean up after a frat party.

Remember, we’re swapping with like-minded people, registered in a rated system, staying in each other’s homes and caring for them as our own.  

I only left instructions to throw any dirty towels and bedding in the washer, but I came home to a house as clean as I had left it.  There wasn’t even the typical pet mess that inevitably happens when they have free time between neighbors checking on them.  The pets were cared for and happy, and the house was clean!

7. What if they break something?

Again, no one is going to be wild in your house.  That said, sometimes accidents happen.  HomeExchange has insurance and guarantees and can act as a third party mediator, if necessary.  

We didn’t have any issues with our exchange, but we had great communication and if something had broken I’m sure we could’ve figured it out with our guests.

8. What if something goes wrong with the house?

I think a lot of people worry about this when they’re traveling.  What if the fridge breaks? What if a pipe leaks?  What if there’s an electrical fire?

This is actually a major benefit of HomeExchange: you’re not leaving your home empty!  If something does happen, there’s someone there to know!  

The biggest thing we’ve seen is a loose door knob, but we were able to let the owner know and she was able to have it taken care of without even being there.  Easy peasy.

You can leave emergency contacts with your guests.  Remember, it’s their home away from home.  Sometimes things go wrong.  We’re in this together, and it’ll get taken care of!

Why you should exchange your home

I didn’t really stop worrying about any of these things until we came home.  When I returned to my clean house and happy pets, my main thought was, “why haven’t we done this sooner?”

I didn’t pay for a pet sitter.  I didn’t need to have anyone check on the house.  The neighbors informed me that it was a quiet week, so I guess there were no wild parties at my house.

I also didn’t pay for a hotel.  What a brilliant idea!  Leverage your empty space for someone else’s space.  All of my fears were put to rest and I can’t wait to exchange, again!

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