Joanna Goddard, whose house-swapping experience has included stays in other people's homes in L.A., Paris, and Switzerland, answered your questions.
Joanna Goddard: Hi! This is Joanna Goddard, and I'm excited to talk with you today about house swapping. So, let's get started!
New York, N.Y.: How much prep of your own place did you do re: cleaning, "hiding" personal stuff, closet space, etc.? Have you swapped overseas? We'd like to spend a month in Rome in the future, and ideally, to swap apartments the entire stay.
Joanna Goddard: To prepare our apartment for apartment swappers, we cleaned it top-to-bottom. We scoured the bathroom, washed the dishes, swept the floors, tidied up and, of course, set out clean sheets and towels.
Many people are worried about their personal valuables, like computers and cameras. We've done about 10 swaps and have never hidden anything—and have never had a problem. I think when people swap apartments, there is an implicit trust, since you're in their house, too!
But, if you want to be extra safe, you can buy a small locker from IKEA, so you can lock things away. Or you can create an "owner's closet" by attaching a latch and padlock to a closet, and putting your valuables inside.
Finally, I have swapped overseas—to Berlin and Paris (twice). Both apartments were fabulous! You can find many Rome apartments on craigslist.org. Good luck and have fun!!
Saint Augustine, Fla.: In this day of identity theft, how do you insure that there is not some stray piece of paper with an account number, etc., inadvertently left around?
Joanna Goddard: Before your swappers arrive, make sure to put your bills and mail in a locker or tuck them in a bottom drawer, where people won't see them.
That said, when you're arranging an apartment swap, you see photos of the people's house and exchange many emails (and, if you'd like, phone calls). So you get a real sense of who these people are and what they're like. After emailing with them about their favorite local restaurants and swapping keys through the mail with a nice little note, you come to feel as if you're friends with them. Trust me, once you get started, apartment swapping is a lot less scary than it sounds!
Lexington, Ky.: Where has been your favorite house swap location? And where there any big obstacles? I would love to visit Switzerland again, where I lived in the early '90s. This time, my two girls—ages 5 and 7—would be with me and my husband. The trip would be next summer. The departure gateway is Cincinatti, Ohio or Lexington, Kentucky for a family of four.
Joanna Goddard: I'm sure that your family would have a lovely time in Switzerland! Oooh, think of the homes you might be able to swap with—chateaus in the mountains, or cottages in the rolling valleys. It would be amazing!
I've swapped to L.A. (twice), San Francisco, Berlin, Connecticut, Paris (twice) and more. I've loved all my swaps. Berlin was perhaps the coolest because we stayed in the apartment of a very cool photographer. It was in a bohemian part of the city. The apartment was modern, bright and beautifully designed, and we adored reading his giant art books and cuddling up in his vintage chairs. There was also a beautiful courtyard, where we sat on sunny days among the bikes and trees. We felt very cool!
Charlotte, N.C.: I have done several swaps from homeexchange.com. I get similar responses from friends about exchangers taking things and so forth. My experiences are similar to yours. They have always left the place nice, nothing missing and I try to leave their homes the same. Had great swaps so far. Any interest in coming to Charlotte?!?
Joanna Goddard: Yes! Once you swap once or twice, you lose your beginners nerves, because you see that most people who swap are lovely and trustworthy. Again, I've swapped 10 times and have never had a problem. Charlotte sounds gorgeous!
Ventura, Calif.: What do you deem the single most important issue when swapping homes?
Joanna Goddard: Good question! Hmmm, I think it's really important to be open about everything from the very beginning. Take accurate photos of your home, ask lots of questions, make sure you describe any surprises, such as a temperamental toilet or a noisy street. That way, there won't be any surprises, and you'll be starting off your swap with honesty and kindness.
And it's great to be respectful throughout the swap. Share your favorite restaurants with the swappers, so they'll have fun places to go. Leave a welcome note when they arrive. Make sure to have clean towels, sheets and dish towels for them. That way, they'll be happy and you'll be happy!
Also, if you find someone you love swapping with, you can always swap with them again! We've swapped with our Paris friend twice now, and I'm so happy to have that great friendship now.
Longwood, Fla.: I want to house swap in Argentina. Where do I begin? I am interested in going in January 2009.
Joanna Goddard: Argentina would be fabulous. To begin, either log on to craigslist.org and then click on "house swap" and search for Argentina, or...You can go through more "official" house exchange website. Check out our list here. These websites will walk you through the process. (You'll write a description of your house and upload photos; and you can search for places in Argentina that look nice to you. Then you will reach out to the people to see if the dates will work out and move on from there!) Good luck!
Destin, Fla.: We have a condo in Sandestin, a beach resort, and would like to swap it (we live in Sandestin, but not in the condo). What is the best site for us to put our condo on, or should we just wait until we want to go somewhere and search the site to see if anyone else is looking for a swap? I just don't know the best way to start.
Joanna Goddard: Your condo sounds beautiful—I'm sure lots of people would love to come visit the beach.
Check out these home exchange sites. They are all good and reputable. You can list your condo on one of the websites and see what offers come in to you. (Maybe you'll get a family from France who wants to swap, or from Vancouver...You never know! It would be fun to see who reaches out to you.)
OR you can wait until you have a trip in mind. Then you can list your condo and you can reach out to people whose homes you're interested in. Either way is fine! It's up to you... Good luck!
Colorado Springs, Colo.: I'd love to try swapping, but I'm afraid our average, suburban cookie-cutter home would hardly have the cache of a NYC flat. What do you think my chances would be in getting an offer? I wouldn't mind the equivalent in France or England or Italy...but would my traders be disappointed?
Joanna Goddard: Thanks for your question. You never know what people are looking for. Some people want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and some people would love to hike, bike or ski in Colorado. That's the genius of housing swaps—you can stay where the grass is greener! :)
So, I think you could definitely take some pretty photos of your house and also the pretty areas around you—maybe a nearby view or lovely river. Then create a listing of your home that talks about the joys of your area. You might be surprised how many people think it sounds just lovely!
(P.S. Also keep in mind, when you live in a city, like me, you generally have a shoebox apartment. So a big home in the suburbs sounds like bliss! Ahh, to have a fireplace, a dishwasher and more than one bedroom....)
Harbor Springs, Mich.: Do you allow guests to drive your car, and if so, what additional insurance, if any, is required? And do you check their driving records, and if so, how?
Joanna Goddard: Good question. I live in New York, so I don't have a car. (A trusty bike is as close as I come to my own set of wheels!) But, through my research, I've found that about 50% of people let apartment swappers use their car. I'm not totally sure about the insurance issue—you might want to call your insurance company to find out. (I've heard that if occasional drivers are typically covered, but you will want to make sure.)
If you're not comfortable letting swappers use your car, then by all means, don't. It's totally up to you. They can always rent a car; that shouldn't be a problem for most travelers.
Austin, Tex.: How do you know if you go stay in someone's home they won't hurt you or steal from you or do the same when they come to your house? It seems like it could be dangerous. If it works, it would be great. Can you do background checks on potential house swappers?
Joanna Goddard: See my above answers for a few tips. Also, if you're nervous about having complete strangers come to your house, you can go through an official apartment swapping website (see our list here) and then you can read reviews of the swappers. That way, you'll know that other people have been happy swapping with them, and you can feel more confident about your own swap.
P.S. And you can always google them! :)
Milwaukee, Wis.: We live in the Midwest (Milwaukee, Wis.)—who in places like Paris, London, or Croatia for that matter, wants to swap houses with someone like us? Yes, Milwaukee is great and we are close to Chicago and the great northern woods, but what can we do to find suitable swap mates? Thanks for any insight!
Joanna Goddard: The brew! Milwaukee is fantastic. I've had a few friends who lived there, and it's such a fun place to visit. Similar to my advice to the Colorado-based reader (above), just pitch your city!
Write a listing where you show nice photos of your home, and also fun spots in your city. Tell people why they want to visit Milwaukee-festivals, breweries, Lake Michigan, museums, baseball and more. Tell them that they could take a day trip to Chicago or the woods. Your enthusiasm will be contagious!
Plus, there are many reasons that people want to swap. Maybe their relatives live in Milwaukee and they need an extra house there while visiting. Maybe they grew up nearby and want to go back for old time's sake. Maybe they are obsessed with the Brewers!
Give it a shot, and I bet, with a little time, you'll find a great swap.
White Rock, B.C., Canada: Is there any danger in doing the swap, and is the house insurance valid, in case something happens? —Henny
Joanna Goddard: Good question. Of course, you will want to check with your own insurance company, but typically most insurance considers house swappers to be "invited guests" in your home or "permitted" drivers of your car, and so they will offer that same coverage.
Seattle, Wash.: How do I guarantee security of my personal files and computers? My important financial files have locks, but not all of my personal files.
Joanna Goddard: There are a few options here:
• You may feel, after chatting with your swappers, that you can trust them. You can usually get a good sense of people after emailing and speaking on the phone. So you may not mind once you get started with the house-swap process.
• If you're still wanting to protect your personal files, you could put a lock on them. Word documents can be locked simply by pressing "save as," then clicking on "options," then clicking on "security." Then you can make an easy password (maybe "swap"!) for all your documents. You'll be safe and all set.
• You could simply turn off your computer—and even unplug it—and tell your swappers that you'd rather that they didn't use it.
• If you have a laptop, you could put it safely in a bottom drawer or lock it in a closet.
Hope this helps!
La Jolla, Calif.: I am interested in trying house swapping but my husband is not comfortable with having people whom we have never met live in our home. He says I am reading only positive stories but there must be negative experiences, too. Have you ever heard of any cases where people returned to find serious problems caused during the swap? I certainly do not want to be naive about this, especially since my husband is uncomfortable with the idea. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Joanna Goddard: Hmmm, the skeptical husband. I've heard of those before! :) Here's what I would do...
Your husband is worried, surely, that people will mess up your home, break valuables and even steal something. Those are valid concerns. But here is how you can convince him that those odds are very unlikely....
#1. Go onto one of these reputable home exchange websites and scroll through houses you like. You can find a beautiful place or two that you know your husband will love.
#2. Read the user reviews, which will tell you what past swappers thought of the house and the people themselves. That should help calm your husband's fears, since you will be able to "screen" the people before you even reach out to them.
#3. Once you find a place you might like to swap with, contact the people and email back and forth with them a few times, about their apartment and their neighborhood, etc. You can see if you click with them and feel comfortable, or if you sense any red flags. (And you can show your husband these friendly emails from them!)
#4. Consider the people you're swapping with. Are they professionals? Adults traveling without young kids? Does their house look neat and clean in the photos? You can choose the people you feel comfortable with.
#5. Finally, you can lock away your valuables and jewelry in an "owner's closet," by attaching a latch and padlock on a closet door. That way, your husband won't be worried about specific items.
#6. Try it out just for a weekend, instead of a week. You can take baby steps... :)
#7. You can even tell your husband that I've house-swapped 10 times and have NEVER had a problem. Even a little problem.
I hope this works! House swapping is a really great way to travel, but it is a bit of an adventure, I'll admit! If your husband still isn't into it, you can always check out Budget Travel's favorite hotels!
New York City, N.Y.: What about pets? Can I ask them to take care of my two cats? They are really sweet and easy to take care of.
Joanna Goddard: You can definitely ask swappers to take care of your cats, if you'd like. It's up to them. Just make sure to be upfront in your listing—tell them about the cats and exactly what they'd have to do to take care of them. And realize that people may be allergic or not want to take care of animals, so you may turn off some swappers.
But definitely give it a shot! My old roommate had a kitten. When we did a swap with a woman from Paris, she loved taking care of the kitten. So it can work out well!
Knoxville, Tenn.: We live in an area of the U.S. that is not as appealing as many other regions. While we do lay claim to the spectacular Great Smoky Mountains and the scenic Tennessee River and several lakes that feed into it, I could not even find one request from a prospective home exchanger for this location. Can you steer me toward a reputable home-exchange club or organization where I might find more interest in this southeastern region? We are interested in trading homes with people in several places including Western Europe, Eastern and Western Canada, and the American West Coast. We would like to try out a home exchange arrangement either late May or early June '09 but we have no exact dates or flights yet. There are two adults and one 15-year-old girl.
Joanna Goddard: Hi, Dee. Absolutely! Here is our list of recommended home-exchange companies. They have thousands of listings all over the world, and you will have good odds of finding someone who wants to swap.
It's great that your dates and desired locations are somewhat flexible, since that will give you an even better shot.
Thanks and good luck, Dee! xo
New York, N.Y.: I would like to exchange in Paris for three months. Is that possible to do an exchange for that long? I'm going for a course so I need to do it for all three months. I live in New York. It would just be me traveling.
Joanna Goddard: Absolutely! The typical house swap is a weekend or a week, but you can definitely find swappers who are open to swapping for longer. You can look on craigslist.org (they have lots of Paris listings) or go through an official house exchange website. (I've always gone through craigslist.org and it has worked out really well.) How lovely to spend three months in Paris. Have a great time!
Joanna Goddard: Thank you so much for your lovely questions. It was so much fun to chat with you! You can visit me anytime at my relationships blog for Glamour Magazine or on my personal blog, Cup of Jo. Thank you again, and have a wonderful day!