Tales from the Crypt

Searching For A Home Exchange In Europe

This is an account of our campaign to find two home exchanges in Europe in 2006.

We always have a home exchange listing with one or more agencies. When we have secured an exchange we change the listings to reflect that we are now looking for the next year. In March of 2005 we flagged all our listings as unavailable until the summer of 2006. We still heard from the occasional family looking for an exchange in 2005 that either didn't read the listing carefully or thought we must have made a mistake.

The first serious offers for 2006 arrived in July 2005. It is confusing and bizarre to be on a home exchange vacation and receive inquiries for other home exchanges. We received an offer from a Homelink family in Norway. The folks were first-time exchangers and didn't understand the unwritten rule to trade with similar families. They were an older couple with grown children. I would love to go to Norway so responded with interest but also suggested they consider carefully whether they wanted our three darling little monsters in their home. It took a few months but they saw the light and made other plans.

Next came an offer from an Intervac member in a famous and lovely resort area of Denmark; we responded with interest and never heard from them again.

searching for a home exchange

A Homelink Irish family from Galway wrote us. We responded positively, and never heard back from them. We also received an inquiry from an Intervac family in Scotland with a lovely home in a great location. They also failed to respond to our confirmation of interest. Do you see a pattern here? Apparently these folks were writing many possible members about exchanges and couldn't be bothered to let us know we didn't make the finalist list.

All of the above offers arrived in July or August 2005, more or less a full year in advance of a possible exchange.

Once our family had recovered from being on vacation we had a discussion about where we wanted to go for 2006. The children made the following points:

  • They wanted to get home by early or mid-August so they could have time to waste with their friends and cronies before school started.
  • They had a strong preference for English-speaking countries.
  • If we were in a non-English-speaking country they wanted one where Mom and Dad could not speak the language. They disliked listening to us yapping constantly with our adult friends in French.
  • They would prefer mountains to the beach.

My wife added that five weeks was a long time to be in one home or place. She preferred a shorter time frame.

My agenda was to find a country or region that was new. Switzerland, Austria, Spain, and the alpine portions of Germany, France, and Italy were targets of interest. I resolved to hold off sending home exchange inquiries to see what came in from other families.

In early September we heard from a Homelink member in Hampshire, England. They were experienced exchangers and had children of similar ages to ours. They had created an excellent website with several photos of their home and village. You could see from the photos that their home was well kept and stylish. A check of streetmap.co.uk showed their village to be near two major roads and about fifty miles from London. The environment was rolling hills with fields and forests and they were flanked by AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) to the west and east.

searching for a home exchange

We responded with restrained interest and negotiations began. The first problem was the dates. We wanted to get home by mid-August but schools in England generally don't break for summer vacation until the last week of July. We agreed to discuss three weeks from July 29 to August 19, 2006.

They were interested in tennis and were willing to exchange if we could meet this need. We agreed to enroll them as temporary members in my wife's tennis club. They agreed to our standard request to introduce us to their friends. We consented to an exchange in early November 2005.

Our motivation for this exchange can be summarized as follows. A good family, good car, large and stylish house in an English speaking and attractive rural environment with good rail and road links to London and elsewhere. Although England is known to us this region was new. We would be able to visit my wife's family and friends in London and elsewhere. Two of her relatives were within fifteen miles.

This was a good exchange but I still was dreaming of other locales. We decided that we would look for a second exchange to take place three weeks before the English exchange. We explained our motivation to the English family and they accepted. Multiple exchanges involve small additional risks and all families involved should agree.

During our negotiation we received an offer from a Homelink family in an attractive rural village near Birmingham, England. We politely declined.

My older daughter had been encouraging us to find a home exchange in Scotland. We tried to discourage her by purchasing the classic tome Rob Roy at a used bookstore in France. She managed to get through the book more enamored with Scotland than ever.

As I looked at Scotland it made sense. They had an interesting culture, distinct from England, and the country was mountainous with wild and beautiful scenery. They had two world-class cities in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It was English speaking but with different school holidays than England. I changed our home exchange listings to reflect that Scotland was a leading choice.

Our memberships in Homelink, Intervac, and First Home Alliance all expired in October 2005. I decided to act in a culturally appropriate Scottish way and refrained from giving them anymore of my hard earned cash.

We still had our membership in Homeexchange.com (we had signed up for their multi-year plan) and I reviewed their listings in Scotland carefully. I became intrigued with the region between Stirling and Perth. It was close to the ocean and the highlands, generally rural, yet within an hour of both Edinburgh and Glasgow. I found an appropriate family with a beautiful and stylish home in a charming village. I sent them an e-mail asking if they would consider a home exchange with us.

There was no response for approximately three weeks. Then we received an e-mail from them saying it might be possible. We did not have much of a negotiation because I thought they should figure out whether or not it might be possible before we did a lot of talking. They both had demanding professions and it was difficult for them to schedule vacation time. I explained that it would be the first of two consecutive home exchanges.

As a result of this possibility I refrained from contacting other candidates. While researching home exchange agencies for this book I came across several that were free of charge and listed our home on them.

searching for a home exchange

In mid-December we received an inquiry from Scotland, a family southwest of Edinburgh. They found our listing on HomeforExchange.com. Since this was not in our golden triangle, I responded with restrained enthusiasm. They evidently found more willing partners as we never heard from them again.

We also received an inquiry from Grenoble, France generated by Domus2Domus. We responded but he didn't.

I wrote the family in Scotland again; they politely explained that they couldn't make a decision until the end of January 2006 and that we should feel free to make other arrangements.

I ended up writing to twelve different families in late December and early January. The two weeks after Christmas are a peak time for home exchange initial inquiries. Our general method was to carefully look at new listings coming available on Homeexchange.com and Homeforexchange.com.

On Homeexchange.com we wrote to several families. There was a rare family in Spain whose primary residence was in a historic town in the interior of the country (most Spanish listings are in high rise apartment buildings or in beachside tourist resorts.) They politely declined as they had a better offer. We wrote to four families in Ireland and one initiated contact with us. All five families made other plans, with three of them polite enough to tell us.

We received inquiries from Iceland and England. We responded to the former with enthusiasm and never heard from them again. The English offer was interesting; it was a great location near the Cotswold's and a nice home. Since they had young children they did not have to worry about school holidays. We had a positive discussion and in the end we decided our home was not suitable for toddlers due to safety issues. Another reminder of why trading with similar families is an important criterion.

Meanwhile at Homeforexchange.com we were finding listings of interest. We wrote to six of them. Three replied with thanks-but-no-thanks and three ignored us completely.

A new listing appeared on Homeexchange.com; it was from the Netherlands, a country which was a poor fit for our mountains criterion but where Dad and Mom don't speak the language though English is widely understood. I liked the family and their house. It was large and beautiful with a magnificent garden, well located in the center of the country. There were four children and an American mini-van. The owners had their own small business. My children had never been to the Netherlands and I hadn't been there for twenty years. It is a cycling paradise. My wife thought it would be a good choice so I wrote them.

They responded with great interest immediately. They answered our questions, they sent us additional photos, and within a week it was a done deal. It was mid-January and they were anxious to buy their airline tickets.

During our brief negotiation we received an inquiry from Echangeimmo.com from a Spanish family and an inquiry from Copenhagen via homeexchange.com. Since the negotiations with the Netherlands family were well advanced we politely declined both.

In late February we received an inquiry from a Swiss family with a house surrounded by mountains that had seen our listing on Homeforexchange.com. That listing clearly showed we were now looking for summer 2007, but they either didn't notice it or thought they would write anyway.

To summarize, it can take a long time to find an appropriate home exchange, and many people you contact will not respond. On the other hand, once you find the right family negotiations can proceed quickly towards a happy conclusion.

searching for a home exchange