Negotiating a Home Exchange
July 17, 2014
There are two stages to a home exchange negotiation. In the preliminary stage you and a prospective home exchange partner have found each other but one or both parties are not sure they are seriously interested. This may be because of lack of information, failure of other family members to buy into a choice, or a concern that other and better possibilities may become available.
Our experience has been that if you don’t move quickly out of the preliminary stage the exchange probably isn’t going to happen. We have only had a few exchanges take place after a preliminary stage delay of more than a few weeks. In most of our exchanges the preliminary stage was short or non-existent because both families had ample information and were convinced of the merits of the trade.
A problem with a long preliminary stage is it may discourage you from considering other offers. We have had non-Rotarian exchanges where the other party could not decide whether or not to negotiate seriously for three months. Our attitude has become that the other family can take as long as they want and while we are waiting for them we will actively consider and negotiate exchanges with other families.
The confirmation stage of a home exchange negotiation occurs when both parties are seriously interested in negotiating an exchange. Once you are at the confirmation stage you can seriously negotiate. When you are at this point you need to understand that you may be the only offer they are seriously considering or you may be one of several.
There are many goals of this negotiation process. The overall objective is to come to an agreement, assuming you like what you see in each other’s home exchange offer. Each goal is described in the following sections.
Build Trust and Friendship
You want to get to know the other family well and build friendship and trust with them. If you are trading with a Rotarian you start with a higher level of trust and confidence. A home exchange negotiation is with a partner with whom you may have an ongoing relationship. You need to build a good reputation with them. You need to be comfortable with each other and able to communicate freely. This trust will be valuable down the road if anything goes wrong or needs to be fixed.
Be honest, responsive, and prompt. This will help convince them you are trustworthy and competent. Promptness is important because while you are negotiating they could be having discussions with other possible partners. Coming to an agreement several months in advance can be useful for buying airline tickets advantageously and having time to plan and prepare for your vacation.
Let the other folks get to know you. Talk about who you are, what is happening in your life, the weather, your cats, the local Rotary Club, your football team, whatever. Get to know your prospective partners the way you would any new friend in your own city.
Ask Questions and Learn More
You need to make sure that their home, region, and family has what you want and/or need. Your Internet research and review of their listing will be the starting point for questions.
Photos can be helpful. If the listing doesn’t have enough photos you can ask for more. It is reasonable to ask for photos of the interior and exterior of the house, the garden, and the family. These days it is easy to take and send digital photos via the Internet with the only problem being that digital photo files can be large and the recipient may have a slow connection or mailbox with limited storage capacity. Instead of sending another member photos you can always upload them to your Rotarian Home Exchange listing.
If a topic or issue is important, ask questions. For example if bicycling is of interest ask questions about their bicycles and whether or not the area is cycling friendly. Anything that is not clearly explained in their listing or communications with you is fair game for clarification.
Promote your Needs
There may be actions your partners can take to make your home exchange experience better. Don’t be shy about asking them to help you.
We like to have suitable bicycles. More than one exchange partner has met this need by borrowing a cycle from friends for our stay.
We once had a home exchange partner buy a used Harley Davidson motorcycle for his use before arriving in the US. It was shipped to my business. We arranged for him to meet several of our motor cycling friends. Another family wanted to borrow camping equipment.
If you expect your home exchange guests to feed your animals, water plants, or do any other kind of routine household maintenance it is better to ask them before you come to an agreement. You may need to figure out how these chores will be handled if they leave your home for an excursion of several days.
Promote your Family, Home, and Region
You have been doing this throughout the process with your listing and e-mails but once you are in negotiations more detail and information are justified. We have a Word file with detailed information on our home, garden, family, city, and region. This additional information is sent to prospective partners once negotiations have begun.
We may also express mail them tourist information and maps of our region. They can see that our home is centrally located and that there are many places to visit within a two hour drive. It also shows them we are serious and committed to doing everything possible so that they will have an enjoyable vacation.
Agree to Terms and Conditions
The items that should be agreed to before reaching a final agreement include the dates of the exchange, whether or not the car is included, and any major special offers or requests.
A special offer is something extraordinary. Maybe the folks you are trading with have a beautiful second home you can use, perhaps a yacht, or a motorcycle. You will want to pass on the yacht unless you are a seasoned mariner, and shouldn’t use the motorcycle unless you have a proper license and safety equipment. And the second home while lovely might not be worth the hassle. These major items should be discussed in advance.
Special requests are things that one party asks the other to furnish as part of the exchange. Maybe it is bicycles, camping equipment, or a maid. Not all special requests need to be mentioned before the deal is agreed but by including them in the negotiations you know for sure whether or not they can be accommodated.
Any issues involving the cars should be handled in advance. If there are any special insurance conditions this should be mentioned. If the car has any major problems this must be disclosed. If you are going to be putting thousands as opposed to hundreds of kilometers on the car during the exchange you should make sure this is ok with the other family. You may want to agree to a set amount of kilometers, with any excess being reimbursed at an agreed upon rate.
There are many details that often are decided after a firm agreement is reached. The point to remember is to be as reasonable and accommodating as possible in negotiating these details. The attitude should be that these are your friends and you want their experience in your home to be as positive and wonderful as possible. These details are discussed in the next topic, How to Prepare for the Exchange.
Disclose Unusual Situations or Potential Problems
Anything that is out of the ordinary either as regards your home, your region, your family, or the way you will be using your partner’s house needs to be disclosed. For example, if you want to have lots of visitors in the other home you should let the exchange family know. In 2013 we had a place in France with four double bedrooms. We asked our hosts if friends could join us. They agreed, we had 3 Rotary families join us—you can read about it in the blog.
If a member of your family is allergic to pets or anything else, tell them. They may have animals that they don’t mention because they are planning on boarding them elsewhere during the exchange.
If a Mother-in-Law, a lodger, or a servant lives on the property and is planning on staying there during the exchange let the other family know before the exchange is agreed.
Commit to the Exchange
Once you are in negotiations there comes a time when one party or the other is ready to ask for an agreement to do the exchange as agreed. Assuming all key questions have been answered you should be prepared to say yes or no promptly. If you need more time before making a final decision you need to be specific about how much time is needed and the reason for the delay.
Some home exchangers (probably not a fellow Rotarian) may ask for a written exchange contract. It is not clear how enforceable such a contract would be and what would occur in case of default, especially if the parties are in different countries. I personally believe contracts are unnecessary as the whole system relies on trust. The listings of the exchange partners and the record of e-mails and other communications should provide sufficient information as to what has been agreed. I would be disappointed if a home exchange partner reneged on an agreement but I would not want to sue them in court for damages.
Once the commitment has been made for an exchange there might be a further significant step which is buying airline tickets. These days most people buy discounted tickets that are rarely refundable and difficult and/or expensive to change. Ask your exchange partner to signoff on your buying the air tickets as it will provide them additional confidence that the exchange will happen. They can warn you of any problems that might affect their ability to complete the exchange.
A home exchange agreement is a contract based on honor and trust. It should only be broken due to disaster such as death in the family, hurricane or tsunami, or some other massive problem. We have never broken an agreement and have only once had a partners default on us due to serious injury in an automobile accident. If we had to break an agreement we would work hard to find another family in our area that could exchange with our partners.
Accept that Not All Negotiations Will Result in an Exchange Agreement
Our experience has been that 50% of serious negotiations end in a home exchange agreement. Reasons why an agreement may not be reached are discussed below.
The family members may not be communicating well with each other. Usually one spouse is more enthusiastic about home exchange than the other.
Cost can be an issue. One year a family in Scotland declined an exchange because they discovered that air fare to San Francisco during the peak season was simply too expensive. Our family turned down an exchange in the tropical island paradise of Reunion because it would have cost twice the usual air fare budget.
The folks you are talking with may decide to exchange with another family. This can explain why during a promising negotiation you suddenly don’t hear from the other party for several weeks. They should tell you they are considering another offer but they may be embarrassed to tell you or be afraid of offending you until they have nailed down their preferred alternative. This problem is less likely if you are negotiating with a Rotarian.
I personally don’t want more than one confirmation-stage negotiation going on at a time. One year we had two good offers. We were honest about it to the disappointed party and found them an exchange in our city with friends. Although it is ethical to have simultaneous serious negotiations with more than one family, it is unpleasant and best avoided. I hate to disappoint fellow Rotarians.
You may make requests that the other family finds unreasonable or they may simply be unable to meet your needs. You may discover problems with their offer or vice versa.
You may decide during your negotiations that there is something you don’t like or trust about the other family. This is not likely to happen with a Rotarian partner. A home exchange is both a personal relationship and a business transaction and is based on friendship and trust. If for any reason you don’t like and trust you potential partners you need to end the negotiations. Do not allow yourself to be pushed around. If you have decided something is not right or is not going to work out just say so.
Occasionally a family will not be able to exchange with you but will be kind and generous and make you a one way offer. We had a Rotarian offer us the use of a second home. Or they might invite you to move in with them since they have lots of space.
Stay in Touch After Making the Home Exchange Agreement
Once you have decided to agree to a home exchange be enthusiastic and positive about it. Stay in communication because there will be many details that need finalizing. You should also change your listing at Rotarian Home Exchange to reflect that you have arranged an exchange and are no longer in the market (assuming you are not planning on multiple exchanges during the year). The next topic discusses How to Prepare for the Exchange.