Family Travel: Swapping Houses

Dos and Don'ts

Do make sure the home-exchange site offers: a toll-free number, a physical or postal address, and a clearly stated privacy policy. Beware of sites that don't charge fees, and avoid sites posting obviously outdated listings. If something looks sketchy, it most likely is.

Do make sure you write the most informative profile you can so other swappers can get a feel for your family, your home, and your neighborhood.

Do look for other families with kids. "If you've got two toddlers, you don't want to end up in a house with antiques," says Bergstein.

Don't forget the details. HomeExchange.com provides helpful sample correspondence and agreements.

Do communicate with the other family by e-mail and phone. Don't be shy about asking for references.

Don't swap cars unless both parties have consulted their insurance companies first.

Do plan to spend a full day preparing your house and putting away certain items. Bergstein warns that anything you leave out will be used, played with, or eaten.

Don't leave valuables out; lock them up in an attic or a garage.

Do swap contact info for pediatricians, babysitters, take-out, kid-friendly restaurants, and parks.

Don't forget to do a complete walk-through when you get to the house.

Do follow up during the exchange by e-mail or phone to ensure all is okay, or have a friend or neighbor drop in from time to time.

The best advice of all? Log on to some house-trading sites and spend time browsing the listings to get a feel for the homes and their owners. This will give you ideas about the kind of information to include when writing a profile of your own. You may just find a new way to vacation. As Nicole Dewell says, "We live in a global community, but hotels can be so sterile. This is a nicer, gentler way to travel."

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