This Thursday we're off to our next adventure, which is a home swap vacation in Paris. Back in 2007, we saw an advertisement in the newspaper about a new home swap website www.geenee.com which was just launching and was at least initially going to be free of charge. Intrigued at the idea of having free accommodations when we travelled, and since it was free, we decided to register and see what happens.
You start by registering and creating a profile that describes your home, neighbourhood and yourselves. Personally I find the listings with photos are alot more appealing that the ones without, so we made sure to show photos of our entire home. Our geenee listing is here: http://www.geenee.com/Details/102345/
After signing up, we excitedly browsed the website and sent requests to listings of places we wished to visit in Europe and USA. What we found was that in many cases, people did not even bother to reply to us. My guess is that because this is a free website, many people joined on a lark and were not that serious about it. When we retire, we plan to join a paid website, with the assumption that those people would actually be actively wanting to swap.
We did finally get a hit and did our first home swap in Sept 2007, trading our midtown Toronto condo with a couple that had a condo in downtown Chicago, right across from Grant Park. In both cases, the location was ideal for getting around our respective cities.
When you first send out the swap requests, the identities of both parties are kept secret. When the other party agrees to the swap, then your email addresses are released so that you can continue to communicate, get to know each other and make further arrangements. The geenee website does offer up an "agreement document" that both parties can fill out detailing the terms of the swap (e.g. no smoking or pets, can you use my car or computer, could you please water my plants while you are here), and an agreement for a "deposit". However the agreement is in no way legally binding so to be able to swap, you really do have to feel comfortable with the other party. You can start by picking swap partners that have stable jobs and homes that seem comparable to yours. After your identities are revealed, you can continue to get to know each other through email or phone calls. Ultimately you need to trust that they will treat your place in the same way that they want you to treat theirs. If you can't get over this thought of having strangers you don't know living in your place, then swapping is not for you.
The Geenee website gave us templates for creating a "house book" which detailed things like how to use appliances, where to find things, as well as tourist information about Toronto.
Our Chicago swap worked out amazingly well for both parties. Since we both owned condos, we each left our keys with the concierge. If you swap with a house, other arrangements would have to be made (e.g. mailing the keys ahead of time, leaving them with a neighbour). While we were in their home, we found we were more careful and tidy than in our own. When we got home, our place was sparklingly clean so obviously they acted in the same way. One nice thing that happened was that we actually got to meet our swap partners at the end of the trip. They arrived home several hours before we were scheduled to leave for the airport, so we spent some time with them in their home before we left.
After this home swap, we hit another drought of people not interested in our offers or not bothering to answer. We did get two offers that we had to turn down ourselves. The first one was for a place in the Amalfi coast in Italy, which would have been awesome if we hadn't coincidentally just returned from a vacation there earlier in the year! The second offer was from a couple who lived in Liverpool England, which was not really close enough to anywhere that we wanted to visit. It would be like offering to swap your home in Mississauga or some other suburbs... this would generate less interest than downtown Toronto or a lake-side cottage.
Not having any success for so long, we'd more or less given up on this swap site when suddenly out of the blue, we were offered to swap with a couple with a condo in Paris, in the 14th arrondissement. Although we already had plans to go to Barcelona this year, it took us about 5 minutes to decide we would go to Europe a second time for this opportunity. After all, this was Paris, and who knows when or if we'd get another offer! We have already been to Paris about 6 years ago as tourists and seen all the big sites, so this time we want to live like Parisans for 10 days. Stay tuned for our escapades.