There are a number of well-respected exchange firms online (see page 6). Most allow you to browse their listings to get a feel for the homes and their owners. But once you find a listing, it's up to you -- not the exchange company -- to hammer out particulars. Some sites also list the homeowners' past swapping partners, so if you find a likely family, you can contact someone who has already exchanged with them. "Do your homework," says Jessica Jaffe, the U.S. representative for the Intervac exchange site. "But don't get too anxious; it's in everyone's best interest to be kind to someone else's home because you're in theirs."
Then there's the sheer volume of listings, but don't get intimidated. Once you decide on a particular locale you'll quickly narrow down your choices. And most exchangers are good about responding quickly to e-mail queries. If you're concerned that your home isn't in an obvious vacation spot, make sure you create an interesting online profile that details not only your house but the local scenery and fun attractions nearby.
Whether you're swapping for a long weekend, Christmas vacation, spring break, or an entire summer, both parties need to be clear about the ground rules, so keep the following dos and don'ts in mind.