We're home and the house is still standing. Except for a broken kitchen cabinet door, a missing beach towel and saucepan, a broken door stopper and rearranged kitchen utensils and dishware.The question on everybody's mind is: Would you do it again? Would you recommend home swapping?
In short: yes but with a few caveats and extra precautions. I left a diplomatic hint here before that the second exchange was less wonderful than we had expected. And now that the second exchange partner is no longer in my house I will not gloss over what caused us some hassle and kept irritating us as long as we were in theirs.
I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings but I'm compelled to give my readers a few pointers as to what to watch out for if they want to embark on a home swapping trip. The owners of the website where we signed up don't want a rating system like Tripadviser in order to keep their customers' privacy. Especially the European ones- they said- are very worried about privacy. That I know from my German background. In Germany, as in other European countries, privacy laws exist that the USA has not adopted or maybe gotten rid off. I appreciate their concern. I also understand that for them all subscribers are paying clients, i.e., money in the bank. At the same time, Europeans have very stringent and effective consumer rights. When I had my dating agency, I felt responsible for my clients, noted their feed-back. I was also concerned about my own reputation and that of my agency. In my opinion, the readers who are following my blog deserve an honest report.
Home swapping is like dating, I said that before. Perusing these sites is like weeding, an image that just came to mind coming in from the yard. Mr. Freud was clearly at work here: Sorting the wheat from the chaff. (Or weeds from the gaffe. Gaff is a Dublin slang word for abode).
Let's start with photos on a website. Like on dating sites photos can be deceptive. The house we found in place had some resemblance to the one on the site, but it had aged about 10 years. That happened to me more than once with men. It's not only women who lie about their age on dating sites...
What you can ask, however, and what I will do in the future is pick a place that has access to a cleaner or even employs one on a regular basis. That is a good sign. I had asked the other party if they could provide a cleaner for when we were leaving. This way I wouldn't have to do the overall clean myself at the end of our 4 weeks. No, he said and laughed it off by adding that, allegedly there were no cleaners available in August; perpetuating the myth that everybody goes on vacation in France then and everything closes down.
Our first exchange family had a cleaner and were willing to pay for one here in our house when they left. The second family clearly wasn’t house-proud and it showed. Strangely enough, they had left numerous packets of wipes (lingettes) all over the house. The cynic in me has a sneaking suspicion that they do an exchange once a year to have their house cleaned properly and light bulbs bought....}
Advice #1: Ask how old the photos are. Although the website suggests after the exchange to update your details, not everybody seems to do so and get away with it for a while.
#2 Make sure you have access to a cleaner before, while and after your stay.