Swapping Homes Anybody?

NOW THAT WE'VE WALKED THE WALK, WE CAN GIVE YOU THE STRAIGHT TALK ON HOME SWAPPING. (Season 6)

Downtown the world famous spa resort of Baden-Baden

Monday, September 19, 2011

Insider Secrets for Succesful Home Swapping

Now that we've walked the walk and talked the talk, I put this blog to rest for the moment.Till we do another swap next year.I will report on the selection process in detail when the time cometh.
If you want to read up on our experience and learn how to save thousands of $$$, it's available on Amazon Kindle for only $0.99 instead of scrolling back here. If you liked it, please recommend it to friends who are contemplating to do a home swap. I can only encourage everybody to go for it. We saved oodles of money and so can you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Fair Balance

We're still undecided whether this is a rotten window frame or just one that hasn't been painted in years. This is the master bedroom French window nextto the mattress on the floor and there is black mold on the ceiling right above it. Is that an indication?
A reader commented that she found the idea of home swapping outright scary. Well, if you look at the bad examples of pictures we chose, I agree.
I went through the website's discussion board trying to get a feel for what people worry most about home swaps. They discuss whether food should be left for the exchange partners. Good idea to provide for a breakfast if they arrive late. Bad idea if they leave half eaten plates and outdated items in the fridge. Most agree it goes without saying that staples like pasta, salt etc. should be up for grabs if needed. But doesn't courtesy indicate you replace those?
Another subject was  whether and how to change the sheets and whether to launder them. Given that most flights tend to leave early, departure day is always hectic.For everyone. Our French partners had left us clean sheets on the bed. Nice, but coming in late at night one isn't happy to make the beds.That's why I had the idea of having a cleaner do this for us and them--and see how it went wrong. Next time lucky! I hope. A matter of concern also was whether to iron the sheets.Admittedly they look better ironed and some of our French ones were. Others needn't be ironed depending on the fabric. According to the boards discussion, the Italians and French put big emphasis on them being ironed. My grandmother used to do it. At least we had bought a second set for each of our three bedrooms. So if not ironed, at least they matched and fit. Nobody discussed leaking pipes, sliding toilet seats, or broken toilet roll dispensers.
Most participants were happy campers, had done many an exchange and were looking forward to the next. If, however, people are just happy (there were a few) to have a roof over their heads and room to cook a meal without having to go to a restaurant every day, they will not understand my complaints. I do not want to lower my standards that much. In my view it all depends on what you have to offer in exchange. There needs to be a fair balance. Having started looking again yesterday--yes, already!-- for next year, after I signed in to the discussion board and updated our site as requested, we will be more vigilant. In contrast do some people who asked me here: "Are all French dirty?" I do not think so and we'll keep trying. Monsieur said he would pay the ON DEMAND TV bill asap. I hope it's not too 'delicate'!
My Advice  for Home Swapping Sites: Start a rating system similar to Trip adviser. And to home swappers #7: Do not run a hotel! We had too many visitors: Friends, family, children. No matter how exciting the location, no matter how much you want to see them all when it's so convenient for everybody. They still want to be entertained, taken out while you run a household, strip beds for the next guests, clean, do the shopping and cooking. At least I did. Get some free time and relax enjoying what you have. I was almost ready for a vacation afterwards....}

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Don't overprepare

We now have our thousand pictures organized and I can pull out a few examples for my claim that the house was substandard. One of the home swap rules is to leave closet and drawer space for your exchange partner. We had moved our stuff out of each bedroom to a great degree. This was the only closet space (in pic on the right) we had in a five-bedroom house. My handy husband bought a shower curtain pole and stuck it in a door frame to create hanging space where there was clearly none. They hadn't even emptied their trash cans...no where...they were all overflowing and the kitchen one was ...ripe. The blue wall paper came peeling down in many places, or the white one too. Or look at the frazzled runner. Who cuts a rug like that? The most off putting for me was the mold and grime in the shower that we shared for 10 days with my in-laws. Or the black mold on the ceiling in the master bedroom.Hubby swears the black on the window frames wasn't mold only lack of paint...Ahem...Whatever.It lacked attention.
We had brought our house in order, painted and repaired minor things so that we left it in prime condition.Advice # 6: Do a little of that but wait for major painting or repairing jobs for when you come back.
From the standpoint of a much neater and better houses, the German house owner had said:It is what it is. I guess so. But when it's in this condition?

Competition: The first reader who can send me the answer to this question will get a copy of my novel Next Time Lucky: Confessions of a Dating Guru and also a copy of this blog when it comes out on Kindle.
What purpose does the outdoor structure in the picture on the right serve? Be precise, please.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Advice #5 get a Reference

Let's say you have chosen a prospective member in the country you want to go (and you can also do home swaps here in the USA). You have found somebody who fulfills your criteria regarding, location, smoker or not. children or not and last, but not least, pets or not. You have established a convenient exchange time that suits you both. You agree on swapping the car. Now it's time to build up some kind of relationship between the two families (parties). After all, you want to know who is going to stay in your house. What do they like doing? Which trips are they planning? Which other people are coming to visit or join them?
The website will tell you whether they are newcomers to this experience or old hands. In fact, we encountered people who have home swapping over 20 times. Our French partners had done 10 prior swaps, allegedly.
Modern media like Skype are handy to get an occasional  cheap call in, talk about preparations that are going on, swap extra photos, and dare to ask for a reference. We did that with our German exchange partners. Not with the French. I was so impressed by his job and the lifestyle what I expected to go with it in my small imagination, that I just took it for granted they would have similar lifestyles and standards.
Wrong! We had bought new towels and sheets. They offered us stained pillows and non-matching sheets. We bought new mattress protectors, their 4 inch rubber/foam mattresses would not pass muster and make it onto my garden furniture. We had bought two new chaises. All of theirs were green or black with no attempt at cleaning them. The evasive answers he gave me at times I justified by him being so busy. Wrong. When we had problems and grievances during our stay, he brushed  them off by saying:"Don't worry. It's French.It's delicate." And I can well visualize the Gallic shrug going with it. Swapper beware! Prepare! if you lose an exchange this way, so be it. That could be for the better.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Car swapping

I had the best radio interview experience ever today with Melissa Ross (NPR). Thanks for making me  so comfortable. ( I had about a dozen in my former business as a matchmaker plus some TV appearances). Very well researched; she had even read the last few blogs.
I'd like to continue my evaluation with the swapping of a car. That's an option that saves you a big chunk from your pocket book. A rental car can cost up to $1000 a week. Both parties need car insurance but no special permission from the insurance companies, as far as I know. We simply left our insurance details in the glove compartment of our car and so did our exchange partners. In the agreement, the drivers that are allowed to drive the car are listed.
If you know anything about cars in Europe, particularly in cities, you know that Europeans tend to buy smaller cars. One reason is that they have to pay much more for gas than we here in the USA in spite of the recent spike here (1 liter equals about Eur 1,50.) The other is because parking space is very precious.Most people living in cities --like in NY-- use public transport for commuting to work or even for going on vacation. There is a very efficient network of fast trains in many European countries, particularly in Germany (Thalys) and also in France (TGV).
So the cars we had at our disposal were not SUVs but useful for what we needed them.A bit small for me as I'm tall. Funnily enough, in Germany we were given the wrong keys by mistake. So we had the pleasure of cruising in their bigger car until we found out.
Pity that the French car's AC was broken. During the first few minutes of my first ride, the red symbol Service light came up. Worried, I called the French owner. "Don't worry", his standard phrase btw, "it's been like that for some years." Now that's reassuring. Conscientious as I am, I had taken mine for a full service shortly before the exchange. In France, I caused a hub cap to fall off  and couldn't put it back on. We left them a note admitting it and asked them to send us a bill.
As part of the exchange agreement, the car exchange agreement, indemnifies you against damage that is caused. In case of an accident, we would have had the relevant numbers and insurance details handy to alert whatever car insurance was involved.It is a risk, but one that we took willingly considering the immense expenses otherwise. Thank God, we only deplore the loss of a beach towel and a saucepan and gained lots of sand from the beaches in and around the car in the garage. (First thing my husband did coming home was actually sweep the garage, imagine!) Thrashing the car would have bee really bad.
Advice #4: Make sure about the car that you are getting, how old it is, whether it's working properly, what type of gas it takes and that proper insurance is provided.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pay TV mystery solved

A big sigh of relief this morning. After yesterday's shock about our Comcast bill where we found out that the French family had rented 20 videos at our expense.We were mostly troubled by the question how this could have happened since we put a 4 -digit Lock Pin on our View on Demand feature. Even a very math/ PC savvy person would be hard pressed to go thru the 10,000 possibilities. We could barely remember that pass-code ourselves.Comcast was equally puzzled. Of course they thought we'd left the code floating about.Yeah, right; or that it was the same as the house alarm. Anyway, last thoughts at night, drifting off into a half-awake state sometimes give answers.We have numerous TVs in the house and with the new digital decoders that Comcast introduced last year, we were carried away and got a second for the bedroom, in case we ever want to buy a film there. In fact, we have never used it. And lo and behold, we had only protected the family room TV with a pass code. You would think that your whole system, every TV in the house, then would be protected. Only makes sense. But  not so. So that mystery was solved. And even better news this morning.
On perusing our exchange agreement, we found a clause we had put in  "You agree to pay for any use of our pay-per-view television service that you do during your stay, if you want it, otherwise we'll deactivate it".
They signed it. That's how we can get our money back, theoretically anyway. Of course they also signed the following, "We will leave the home clean. We will ensure a high standard of cleanliness, and make sure that the floors are vacuumed and mopped, refrigerator emptied of outdated food, stove and oven are grease free, bath and shower are free of mold and grime. You agree to maintain and leave our home in the same state."
What became of that I started to describe.
In not heeding this clause, they actually violated several principles of home exchanges that that website lists at the top. More about that....
Advice #3: make sure your ON DEMAND/ Pay TV function is disabled.Password protect it to avoid quibbles over money.