Sandra Pearson on Home Exchanging
With the rise of vacation home rental sites like Airbnb.com and Roomorama.com it is no surprise that there is a shift in the way travelers are booking and enjoying their vacation accommodations. A demand for a better way to enjoy ones trip is increasing and renting out a furnished home (opposed to a hotel room) just may be the answer. Although vacation rentals are nothing new, renting out my own home is something I have never really considered until reading the book Home Exchanging by Sandra Pearson. The book lays out why and how you can use your asset to offset the cost of your vacation all the while making your trip a little more enjoyable. With an upcoming around the world trip I became more intrigued with the idea and started to think about renting my own place to help ease the trips cost.
I recently sat down with Sandra (via email) in an effort to get a better idea of the ins and outs of Home Exchanging.
Brief Bio:I’m Sandra Pearson, an enthusiastic and passionate traveller from Toronto, Canada. I have travelled extensively throughout the world and ardently promote that vacations give us the opportunity to expand our minds by experiencing new and different cultures, foods and lifestyles, all the while making us more well-rounded.
Although I always thoroughly immerse myself in any foreign city or country that I visit, one of the most important components of my vacation is my accommodation.
Travel accommodations are of special interest to me as my background consists of having owned and managed a Guest House. From this perspective, I know firsthand what it takes to ensure a guest has an enjoyable and unforgettable stay. I have also stayed in numerous hotels and can honestly say that very few have been memorable. An entire new world opened up to me when I was exposed to home exchanging…. whereby you offer your home to a traveller while you are travelling or absent, in exchange for living in the vacant home of another person who is also travelling or absent. I have been both a host and guest of countless home exchanges.
Based on these stays, I saw a need for people to gain a better understanding of their role as a host and/or guest in order to make the experience that much better and memorable. My first book was published in September 2013 entitled Home Exchanging: Your Guide to Enjoying Free Vacation Accommodations.
Can you give us a brief run down on the concept of “Home Exchanging?” and why one would want to essentially rent out there home for a short period?
Our interest in travelling to see the world is at an all-time high, however often what holds us back is the cost. Undoubtedly travelling is expensive – but with home exchanging, we can significantly reduce (if not eliminate) the amount we pay for possibly the biggest portion of your vacation budget… the accommodation!
The concept is not new and is often described as ‘vacation rentals’ and can be in the form of an apartment, condominium, single detached house, houseboat, villa and chateau!
Home exchanging occurs when two travellers make arrangements to stay in each other’s homes. In this scenario, the travellers are trading spaces with each other. Or, alternatively, and more commonly, home exchanging occurs when multiple travellers are involved… whereby traveller A stays in traveller B’s home, while traveller B stays in traveller C’s home and so on creating a web of connections.
For both parties, it’s a win-win situation. Instead of paying a hotel or inn the nightly room rate, travellers pay each other!
The reasons a host would agree to have another traveller stay in their home are plentiful. The guest who stays in the host’s home ‘pays’ the host, thus allowing the host to have free accommodations! The host also benefits from having a ‘presence’ in the house, giving them peace of mind that their home is not sitting vacant and susceptible to break-ins, etc. A guest in a home can also provide care for the host’s pets that may be left behind in the home…. a true win-win for everyone!
Obviously saving money is a huge factor for those looking at home exchanges or vacation rentals for their vacation. What other factors makes home exchanging a better option than your traditional hotel accommodations?
Aside from saving money on the accommodation itself, a guest can save money in other ways. A home, in comparison to a standard hotel room, has the feature that sets it apart – a kitchen. It offers you a place to prepare meals. You can pick up foods at a market and prepare your breakfasts and dinners. The money you will not be paying restaurants can be used for other components to your vacation such as admissions into museum or adventure excursions!
In addition to the money saved, home exchanging is a better option than a hotel stay for many reasons. It gives you more space with practical amenities (ie. in-home laundry facilities and multiple closets) and offers a more authentic experience by living as a local. With a home exchange, you get all the comforts of home – because it is a home!
The extra space is also ideal if you are travelling with children and older relatives. All will enjoy staying together ‘under one roof’ yet have the space to find a spot to relax.
With today’s internet reviews we are pretty fortunate as we can easily weed out potential places that would have issues. Have you had any experiences in a vacation rental where the place has not met the standards set by previous guest comments?
Yes… reviews…. Everyone’s opinions tend to differ and what one person feels is a clean and cozy home may not be the same description of the next guest. I have found that guests’ reviews are fairly accurate. I tend to give more weight to a guest review than to a description written by the host. It is here you will read the experiences of people who, just like you, stayed in the accommodation while they were visiting the same area. They presumably would have needed the same features and amenities in the home.
In addition to a description of the vacation rental, the reviews will also provide details on the attitude of the host. Were they on time to meet and greet you, did they leave the key (or provide the entry code) as agreed, were they responsive to any instances of a machine breakdown, etc.
The details in the reviews are extremely useful to a guest in deciding if a home would be ‘right’ for a stay. The benefit of reading reviews will identify something critically missing from the home such as towels or bed linens.
In your book you provide a nice breakdown of what one should provide or expect in each room at a vacation rental property. Have you come across anything odd that someone has left for you or something that was lacking that should standard in all vacation rentals?
Hmmm, well a host once left their grandmother behind!! Many years ago, I booked a stay in a villa in Umbria and naively did not read the fine print of the listing. Upon my arrival, the host greeted me and gave me a tour of her charming villa which included a private swimming pool, secluded garden and her 89 year old Nonna! The host impassively advised me that she ‘came with the place’, like a chattel! Although initially taken aback, my stay with ‘Nonna’, as she insisted on being called, turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had in Italy. I was completely immersed into the Umbrian culture and was exposed firsthand to how Italians from this region truly carry out their daily lives.
For me, the experience remains a very fond memory. The lesson learned though is to read the fine print and to ask questions before you book your stay…
In terms something that was lacking, I would say closet space. I have stayed in numerous homes and have often found that the host does not provide any space or hangers in their closets for my clothes. Once I check-in, I like to unpack my clothes to prevent further wrinkling. However, often I am prevented from doing this as there isn’t any space in the closets.
A solution is for the host to partially empty their closets. Simply slide the clothes to one side of the closet and leave spare hangers on the other side. This should not be too great a task as presumably a host is travelling and have taken the majority of their clothes with them.
As the same with closets, guests should be provided with a section of drawers for their belongings. It does not have to be the entire dresser but at least one or two drawers. I also suggest that a host remove everything from the tops of dressers and night stands or at least leave a section clear to allow guests space to put their items.
Throughout your book you reference a number of wonderful experiences with vacation rentals – being free to enjoy a fresh croissant in the comfort of your Paris apartment, enjoying the extra space an apartment or home provides vs. a hotel – but have you had any negative/odd experiences?
On checking into a home through an exchange for your vacation and walking through the home, to me, it is always similar to the first time you enter a new apartment or home that you are moving into permanently. You explore each room and take it all in. But with home exchanging, it is filled with some else’s furniture, decor items, books, etc. It may not be exactly your taste, but it will be generally filled with more character than a standard hotel room with its typical offering.
I cannot recall ever being taken aback by the ‘character’ of a home. This is mainly as I research all the vacation rental options thoroughly and read each review by past guests. By doing this, I eliminate as many surprises as possible. For anything minor, like a shower with low pressure, I tend to accept, knowing that it is all part of the experience, The one major issue I had once was that I prepared a dinner and went to place it in the oven to find that it did not work! I called the homeowner’s emergency contact persona and the oven was repaired the next day.
Unfortunately I have heard of negative experiences from guests. My suggestion is to read the fine print of the listing thoroughly and ask for clarification on any issues that are important to you. Specifically read between the lines…. by this I mean if the listing mentions that the home provides WiFi, ask if it is high speed and is the signal strong throughout the house and on the outside deck. (Also ensure that they provide the password). Or if a host asks for a damage deposit, agree on when and how it will be returned to the guest.
A stay in a home can be so much more rewarding and take the necessary time to select the home that is the best fit for you and ask for clarification on any matters related to the home and your stay. You cannot control something unexpected from happening but at least you can minimize its chances.
As you point out in your book, Home exchanging offers the opportunity to stay somewhere unique. What are some examples of these alternative accommodations?
One common myth related in this industry is that only single detached homes or apartments are available for home exchanging. For people who crave something different, home exchanging can be taken one step further with a stay in a unique home. One online agency alone that manages home trading offers numerous ‘atypical’ vacation rentals in 192 countries – an amazing number considering that according to the UN, there are 196 countries in the world! Such agencies offer properties that you likely heard of but never imagined as your vacation accommodation.
With home exchanging, you can experience living in a chateau in France once occupied by a Marquis, a cottage in the Cotswold Region of England, a villa in Tuscany or a houseboat off a Caribbean Island. Or how about a stay in one of the following even more unique options… a renovated lighthouse located along the USA’s east coast, a vintage sausage-shaped silver aluminum Airstream trailer, a restored windmill on the Cycladic Islands of Greece or have a true nomadic adventure with a stay in a yurt?!
People often say that one of their fondest memories in life is doing something that is so different. What better time to satisfy this desire than when on vacation? I often encourage travellers to consider the unique and alternative accommodation as the primary component of their vacation and the destination itself to be secondary.
If you are concerned about spending an entire two week vacation on a houseboat or in a remote villa in a foreign country, you could arrange to make it just a portion of your vacation time. The flexibility of home exchanging allows you to experience a variety of environments all within the same vacation period.
In your experience, how far ahead of your trip do you start looking for a potential renter for your home and how long does it take to typically find someone that is interested?
For myself, I live in downtown Toronto, a city which receives high volumes of tourists throughout the year, but primarily in the warmer months. For any host who has their home listed with one of the numerous home exchange agencies, the ideal is to ensure their calendar outlining the availability of you home is up to date. Travellers can be searching for accommodations 6 months in advance and as little as one week prior to arrival!
The amount of time it takes to secure a guest depends on so many factors such as the location of a home, its in-home features, how attractive it looks and its price. To ensure that you do secure a guest, I would list a property as available 6 months prior to your departure.
On sites like airbnb.com you can choose places that are an entire house/apartments or a room in one (like a bed and breakfast) Have you stayed in any places that offered up just a room or have you offered up a spare room at your home?
Years ago, when travelling through Europe, I had stayed in many bed and breakfast homes. Each stay was unique and getting to know the host and their family was both enjoyable and memorable.
More recently with the growth of numerous online home exchange agencies, finding and booking an entire home for me and my family is more beneficial. There are however great online sites now available that list individual rooms in homes where a traveller stays in the home at the same time as the host. This offers a great opportunity for travellers to immerse themselves in the local culture while paying less for accommodations.
Have you always been around to greet your guests and give them access to your place and if not how would one arrange an exchange, let’s say from a beach in Thailand?
On occasion, I have been able to greet my guests and to provide a ‘tour’ of my home, identifying where items are stored, how to work different machines and appliances, etc. But as I travel a fair bit and for long period of time, I’m often unable to provide this personal service. As a solution, I have made arrangements with a neighbour for them to meet and greet my guests. I also have a separate cleaning company who enters my home after a guest departs and cleans/prepares it for the next set of guests.
In many southern countries that I have visited, many of the homes tend to be investment properties, meaning that they are owned by people who repeatedly rent out the home to travellers. As the host is absent, and likely living in another country, many hire professional property managers to meet and greet the guests and to be the point of contact if there is an issue. Of late, many also use mobile Apps that provide entry codes (and WiFi passwords) eliminating the need for someone to either meet you at the home and/or to provide you with a key.
What about renting out your home if you have a pet? Would this be a deterrent for potential renters?
I often hear from potential hosts who say that they would love to take advantage of home exchanging but feel that they cannot as they have a pet, usually a cat, in residence. However, exchanging can be a solution to a concern of pet care. A host would not need to arrange and pay to board their pet. Boarding facilities in my city charge approximately $20 to $23 plus taxes, per day, per cat. That is almost $50 for two cats which totals $350 for a week. When a guest agrees to ‘share’ the home with the cat, not only does the boarding fee stay in the host’s pocket, the pet remains in its own familiar surroundings.
In a review of the descriptions of many vacation rentals, the hosts advise upfront that they have a pet in residence. Usually it is a cat and the description will read that there is very little work needed for its care. Although this may not be for everyone, especially while on vacation, there are many guests that would be extremely comfortable in a vacation rental with a pet. Don’t assume that you won’t get any bookings as I know of hosts who receive bookings because of the pet! I also have heard from hosts who receive repeat bookings from the same guests who have ‘bonded’ with the pet on previous stays.
What about people that don’t own a home? Can they still partake in home exchanging?
One obstacle holding some people back from getting involved with home exchanging is that they do not have a home to ‘exchange’ or to ‘rent out’ to a traveller. Some are currently renting their home and their landlord does not allow for subletting. Or for condominium owners, the condo rules may prohibit the short term renting of a unit. Or, as mentioned in a previous blog, the scenario may exist where your home will not be vacant while you are away as you live with your parents or have children still living under your roof, and as such, you are not able to take in guests.
These above scenarios are very common and should not prevent you from getting involved. Home exchanging has evolved over the years to be very flexible. You can be a guest without being a host and similarly, you can be a host and not be a guest. Meaning that the ‘exchange’ can be customized to suit your requirements.
Although it is advantageous for you to be both a host and guest, there are many benefits that you will experience by being either.
Any parting words for someone on the fence about renting out there place or searching for a vacation rental for their next trip?
The experience of home exchanging is rewarding for both the host and guest. As a host, you have been successful in having your travel accommodation paid for by the guest who is staying in your home. As a guest, you have been successful in enjoying all the space and amenities that a vacation rental has to offer plus you have saved money!
The experience of staying in a vacation rental is rewarding when it is embraced for what it is. It is someone’s home, with all the character and personality of the host. It is not a sterile hotel room with its limitations. Once a traveller overcomes the hotel mindset, they start to appreciate all that a home has to offer.
For both parties, it can be a win-win situation.
It is someone’s home for you to enjoy and accept as it is. It is not your home, then again, neither is a hotel. Refrain from judging it and comparing it to your home. Treat your accommodation as part of the overall travel experience. When staying in a home, you’re exposed firsthand to the lifestyle and culture of the country you are visiting. You get to see how people actually live. This is far, far more rewarding than staying in a typical cookie-cutter style hotel room.
Welcome the experience and all its rewards and continue (or start today!) with home exchanging and enjoy free vacation accommodations.
Best Moment while traveling
Accepting when the unexpected happens… receiving an invitation from a shopkeeper at a local market welcoming me to join her family for a cook-out at their home, stopping my rental car to offer an elderly woman a lift into town or finding a restaurant with an eating area the size of a pool table that offers no promise, yet being served the most delicious fish tacos I’ve ever eaten.
Being in a metro train in Paris that is pulling out of the station and glancing back towards the bench I was just sitting on and seeing my wallet!
Best Tourist Site
Oh, tough one… there are so many… but they all involve ice cream!
At this point in my travels, I tend to avoid the real touristy areas. Just not for me as I like to visit a country to see firsthand how their people live…
Best and worst thing you put in your face hole while traveling?
The foods of Italy are truly like all the travel shows and books rave about! Gelato in the Altra’Arno in Florence was amazing!
Best quote from your trip (something someone said – Funny, dumb, inspirational)
Years ago I stayed in a hotel that had a minor fire. The overhead speaker asked us all to leave our rooms and head to the lobby. Once the fire was out and next announcement on the overhead systems announced that “we were now cleared and can return to our suits!” (instead of suites) ! The laugh made the inconvenience worthwhile!
Favorite Country – France
Best food – Italy, by far…. amazing pasts, cheese and gelato!
Friendliest country – Portugal
Best place to take a nap – In a hammock near an ocean!
Sandra Pearson is the author of ‘Home Exchanging: Your Guide to Enjoying Free Vacation Accommodations’ and an expert on how to monetize your home to pay for your vacation stay. For more information check out her blog or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
All awesome pictures provided by Sandra Pearson