The 4 stages of house swaps

Home exchange is wonderful, and we can't say enough good things about it. If you've done all your homework and established a good relationship with your home exchange partner, then you'll become another happy customer. Follow our Four-Stage Plan to make sure you get the most from your home swap experience.

The golden rule of house swapping is to treat your host's home as if it were your own and leave it the way you found it (if not better). Always bear in mind the three R's of house swapping: Responsibility, Respect, Relax!

Stage 1 - Understanding the Matching Houses concept

Imagine a world filled with holiday accommodation adapted to meet your exact needs. Imagine that wherever you wanted to go there would be somewhere to stay where you could come and go as you please.

If you have always dreamed of travel but your access needs, the cost of hotel rooms, meals, and entertainment, have all made this very difficult, then do not despair. Now there is a way you can afford to travel, safe in the knowledge your destination will be accessible.

Your chosen destination might be very far away – another country, another continent, another culture – or it might be very near by – another district in your country, a city break, or a weekend in the countryside. All sorts of people swap houses, and some people find travel easier than others. For some people a trip to a new town a couple of hours away can be a real break, while others fly far away in search of heat, snow or different languages. Wherever you go a change is as good as a rest!

matchinghouses.com is a growing holiday option offering an accessible travel experience. If you are willing to allow someone else to stay in your home and you want the freedom of staying in a house or apartment somewhere else, then this great holiday and travel option is yours to explore. Many people prefer doing this to staying in an anonymous, impersonal hotel room, with a client list of thousands of people every year sleeping in the same hotel bed (just think about it!).

Increasingly the Air BnB idea is becoming more popular. But for many disabled people this is not an option – for example although your house might be set up to accommodate your needs as a wheelchair user, imagine having another wheelchair user come to visit you. Is your property big enough to have 2 or more wheelchairs in the same room at the same time? 

matchinghouses.com is our solution to your holiday problems! Instead of going to share someone's property while they are there, you get to use their empty property as if it were your own house. And they get to do the same with your property at the same time. 

By matching your accessible property with another property that is set up in the same way, you have the freedom to go where you want. Our database does the hard work – you just need to check the details, and then decide where to go. It's that simple!

If the house swap idea is unfamiliar to you, or even a bit frightening don't worry! House swapping is a long established idea and worldwide there are over 250,000 successful swaps every year. Here at matchinghouses.com we have developed the idea so that disabled people can take advantage of this option.

Swapping homes can offer many rewards, including the connections you make with your home exchange partners, which often turn into lifelong friendships. You will get a much closer look at, and a better feel for, the places you visit than if you were staying in an anonymous hotel in a touristy part of town.

As well as having a free place to stay, you have more privacy, more flexibility and more freedom. You can prepare meals at home, you can eat out,you can get takeaways delivered, and you can come and go as you please. Meanwhile your own home is being cared for while you are away – your pet is being cared for, your plants are being watered, and the house is being lived in.

Privacy is a definite strong point of matchinghouses.com. Firstly, the house you go to becomes your own home for your stay. You can be as private or as public as you like. If you wanted you could stay indoors the whole time!

As far as our website is concerned no personal contact information is displayed in a listing or made available to visitors to the site or other members. 

matchinghouses.com has developed a reliable system for facilitating contact between members without giving away any personal information like names, street addresses, telephone numbers or email addresses.

Once you make a house swap it is like being in your own home – you have as much privacy as you do at home, and can do what you want when you want.

Every house match is unique and this concept helps build relationships of mutual trust and goodwill. As with all things, there are risks involved and it is only natural to have reservations about giving up your home to strangers. However as you will see, most of these risks can be minimised to reduce your concerns. And remember - the people you exchange with are probably having the same thoughts and concerns that you are. You will be staying in their house, after all!

Stage 2 – Making contact

Who would use matchinghouses.com?

Disabled people, that's who. This site is designed by a disabled person, specifically for disabled people. The holiday house swap concept seems particularly relevant for disabled people, many of whom do not have spare money to pay for a holiday. Many disabled people find travel difficult because they end up in a hotel that does not meet their access needs – no matter how well intentioned many holiday providers are, it is rare that a non-disabled person will really know what is and is not accessible.

And some holiday providers seem to say anything to get you to part with your money and book with them!

House swappers can come from all walks of life. Mostly, they are adventurous, reliable and have an interest in learning more about different places and cultures. Singles, couples and families go in for house swapping.

Once you have joined up, and filled in the enrolment form, you can start contemplating where you would like to go. Keep your options open until you see what is available. The more open you are, the more exciting your holiday can be. 

Allow plenty of time to complete arrangements for an exchange - think in terms of months rather than weeks.
The early process of developing a house match involves getting to know your potential exchange partners through email, telephone, and post. If everything goes well you will exchange pictures and videos and perhaps even arrange a pre-exchange visit if they are not too far away. Getting to meet each other can really set your mind at ease.

To start with you will pick a few places you would like to visit from our listings, and will contact the potential house swappers by email through the website. Keep your first correspondence simple and friendly. Express your interest in trading homes, let them know the dates you are interested in and how long you would like to stay. Tell them something about your home and some of the nearby attractions. 

You might put some thought into a writing a standard email that you can send to several people. In this way you can really sell your property and your area, to make it as attractive as possible to potential swappers.

If your initial contact produces positive results, then you can take the next step and send a follow-up email and more detailed information (once you join you can see samples on matchinghouses.com). We suggest you act promptly because there may be others who are interested in the same swap.

In this second email you may thank your prospective home exchanger for their prompt response and answer any questions they may have asked such as suggested dates and other details. As regards the email contents, at the very least, it would be good to include the following (you might like to write this as a separate document that you can cut and paste into an email, so you don't have to do it over and over again, every time you contact a new home exchanger) -

  • Describe yourself and your family. Include details such as first names, ages, how many in your party, the type of work you do, and your hobbies/interests.
  • Describe your home and neighbourhood, and some of the accessible amenities. For example, do you have accessible facilities nearby such as bars, clubs, restaurants, cinemas, parks and gardens, etc? Give them some specific reasons why they would like to visit your home and area – are there any local sights to see, or places to visit? How far away are towns or cities that they may have heard of and might want to visit? You will have insight into your community that they haven't read about in guidebooks or found over the internet.
  • Pin down the dates you're interested in.
  • Give them a sense of how near or far away the places are that they may want to visit, and the ways of getting there (accessible transport, such as bus, train, taxi, and so on). For added value, you might mention the savings they would receive by purchasing a bus pass, for example, in your area.
  • If you're offering a vehicle as part of your exchange, tell them what year, make and model it is, the condition of the car, and whether it is manual or automatic. Is it adapted in any way for your needs?
  • Are there any other things you're including as part of the exchange? For example a mobility scooter?
  • Include a short inventory of the household appliances and electronic equipment available to use. Do you have wifi, and a good broadband connection?
  • Mention any extra responsibilities, such as gardening or taking care of pets or plants.
  • Indicate whether or not you'll accept smoking or vaping in the house, additional overnight guests, and things like that.

Expect to receive a reply within 8 - 10 days indicating any further interest. At this point, you should narrow down your choice of a home exchange partner to one - the person and place you feel most comfortable with.

Now it's time to send along pictures (or a video) of your home and family via the internet as .jpg files. You might upload some video to Youtube for the other person to see. 

If you are posting pictures or more, you might want to consider sending your package priority mail or even by way of an overnight delivery service. It is very important during this correspondence that you include your phone number and request theirs because the next Stage will be to discuss the exchange over the telephone.

As a result of this correspondence you like what you see and they do too. It is now time to make contact by telephone. You make this call mainly to confirm each other's interest in making the exchange and also to get a better idea of the people you are dealing with. There's nothing like talking to the other person to set your mind at rest!

You may want to take some notes while you talk. You should also do the following:

  • Discuss the photos
  • Get personal references
  • Ask all the questions you may have
  • Resolve any misunderstandings or confusion
  • Discuss how the household bills will be handled during the exchange, as well as small emergency repairs, and larger ones
  • Review insurance, including that for your car, or mobility scooter, if that is part of the deal
  • Firm up definite dates for the home exchange
  • Talk about meeting at the airport or give transportation options
  • Discuss local contacts such as neighbours or friends, and who to get in touch with in case of an emergency
  • Consider a pre-exchange visit, if this is an option

You may begin to make some arrangements over the telephone, but this is not your official agreement. It must be in writing. During your conversation, agree to a written agreement. Also, while you're negotiating, don't be afraid to ask for what you want and to set limits on what you can offer.

House swaps occur at a time that is convenient for both of you.

Often, their, and your, car will be included as part of the package.

When you are completely satisfied with all the arrangements made with your house match partner, prepare a written agreement (see sample). It should include all the vital information: names and addresses of all those involved in the exchange, exchange dates, items included in the exchange (i.e. car, mobility scooter, swimming pool, health club, etc.), any additional responsibilities such as pet care, repairs, other household understandings, contacts, copies of insurance, and copies of your transport/airline tickets, if requested. Send two copies of the agreement to your exchange partner and request that a signed copy is returned to you.

The signed agreement is a firm commitment to go ahead with the exchange. Breaking this agreement would cause a big inconvenience and expense to everyone involved. Breaking an exchange agreement because a better offer comes along is not acceptable. Of course, there are circumstances, such as a death in the family or a serious illness that could happen to make the exchange impossible. If this should occur, try to come up with an alternative plan.

One point you may need to consider if you are dealing with a potential house swapper in another country is - what if you don't speak their language and they don't speak yours? We suggest you find a friend or other acquaintance who speaks the language and deal through them. This may prevent some of the details from being misunderstood, which could cause problems. If you don't know anyone personally who speaks the language, consider getting in touch with a language school or the language department of a nearby university.

Stage 3 – Getting ready to go

Being a good host is an important part of the Matching Houses process. You should prepare your home for those who will be staying there and provide them with information about your home and the services nearby. Your house match partners will hopefully do the same for you.

Here is a list of things to consider when getting your home ready for the arrival of your guests: -

  • Leave the wifi access code for your guests, if you have one
  • Leave written instructions or owner's manuals in a handy place for things like TV's, DVD player, appliances, alarm systems, heating units, air conditioners, and the vacuum cleaner. Don't forget to say where they are!
  • Make a list of names and phone numbers of repair people
  • Leave clearly written instructions for pet and plant care
  • Temporarily discontinue newspaper delivery
  • Make space in dresser drawers and in the bedroom closet, and leave plenty of empty hangers
  • Be sure there are plenty of clean towels and linens for your guests
  • Stock up on items like toilet tissue, bath soap, and cleaning supplies
  • Store any valuables or lock them away in a closet
  • Prepay your bills
  • Get lawn mowed, pool cleaned, etc.
  • If a car is part of the exchange, leave copies of your car insurance and registration. Also, you might want to get your car tuned up
  • Make a list of emergency numbers that include your doctor, a nearby hospital or emergency clinic, the fire department, and the police
  • Leave the name and number of a friend or relative to call in an emergency
  • Leave your contact numbers and itinerary in case your home exchangers want to get in touch with you and
  • Last, but not least, make sure your home is clean and tidy for your guests.

Many home exchangers put together an information pack for their visitors. This is a great opportunity to let your home matching partners know about any accessible facilities that are nearby. Also a trip to your local tourist office or chamber of commerce is an easy way to gather some information about your community. You might want to include several of the following items as part of your welcome pack:

  • Leaflets describing local attractions
  • Maps of the area. Include a local street map that designates accessible places of interest, restaurants, shopping centres, etc.
  • Accessible bus, train, and ferry timetables, whatever is applicable
  • Recommended local accessible restaurants. Be sure to include your favourites. Gather some menus for take-out and delivery and leave them in a noticeable spot
  • A list of nearby accessible services such as a dry cleaner
  • Laundromat, convenience store, and supermarket, and
  • A list of places to avoid.

Another thoughtful touch while putting out your welcome mat is to have an arrangement of flowers on the dining room table and a chilled bottle of wine or champagne in the refrigerator for their arrival. If children are involved, include some cold drinks for them.

Having a friend or neighbour meet your house match guests will add a level of comfort and security on both your parts. We suggest this happens the day after their arrival to give your guests a chance to settle in. This type of warm reception can make a great difference for the start of a relaxing and memorable holiday.

Stage 4 – Being there

If this is your first house swap, you still may feel a bit uncertain about what to expect when you arrive. Your house swap partners will probably have left a home information kit containing many of the items you included in your welcome pack to them. This, along with the research you've done, should put your mind at ease.

Some house swappers take along their correspondence file because it too is filled with good information about the host's home and neighbourhood.

A good start, before you settle in, is to take photos of the rooms on your phone camera. Then you will have a good record of how the owners like their property, so you can return it to its original state quickly and easily.

Hopefully, your house swap partner has left some room in the closet and drawers for your belongings. If not, you may choose to make some room for yourself. Take a picture – or a note – of where things are so you can put them back in their proper places.

Early on in your stay, be sure to locate the information pack. This should tell you a lot about what you need to know. Take note of what items you use from any available food supplies in the  house so you can replace them before you leave. You might want to start a shopping list for this purpose. If brand names are unfamiliar to you, make a note of them.

Staying in someone else's home is like living in your own household. Use the same common sense as you do when you are at home. Things like locking doors when you go out, closing windows in case of rain, unplugging electrical appliances during a lightning storm, and taking off your shoes if they are wet and muddy before entering the house are automatic to most people.

When your stay is over, consider the following before you leave your swap partner's home –

  • Replace food and other supplies you have used, such as sugar, milk, coffee, tea, cleaning products, paper goods, etc.
  • Wash linens and put them away
  • Put items that you've moved back in their place
  • Leave a note with any important incidents that have happened, such as phone calls or callers. If you have had a problem with something in the home, you may want to include that in this note
  • Place keys in their specified places. If applicable, leave money for long distance phone calls or any other reimbursements and
  • A small gift, a token of your appreciation, is always a welcome surprise. Leave it on the table with a thank you note and perhaps a word or two about something special that happened during your stay.

The golden rule of house swapping is to treat your host's home as if it were your own and leave it the way you found it (if not better). Always bear in mind the three R's of house swapping:
Responsibility, Respect, Relax!