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Home Page > Tips for Planning Your Home Exchange

Following are some suggestions to help you plan a successful holiday through mi casa su casa. This material is provided as a framework, a guide, and was written by David Marcus, the original founder of mi casa su casa. None of the material is truly absolute. It is members' responsibility to make arrangements with one another and to carry them out in whatever manner and style best suits your individual personalities. Above all, don't get bogged down by details. Have fun and enjoy all aspects of your trip, including the planning and getting to know each other.

Table of Contents

Quick Steps to Planning a mi casa su casa Vacation

  1. Begin planning your trip at least 2 months in advance. Many people will plan a home exchange 6 months or more in advance.
  2. Compose a typewritten Letter of Introduction telling about yourself (occupation, hobbies) and why other members would want to visit your home and community (see a sample letter of introduction)
  3. Look through the Member Journal and note at least 5 members you might want to exchange with. You'll have more success if you're flexible about where you're willing to visit, if you're not set on finding a home exactly comparable to your own, and if you can be flexible about the exact dates of travel (for example, take a 3 week trip anytime during the months of June and July).
  4. If the member has given a phone number, address, and/or email, contact them directly. If a member does not list contact information, use the email forwarding link provided on the listing (the email should be forwarded to them within 24 hours) or snail mail to mi casa su casa your Letter of Introduction (see a sample letter of introduction) along with a blank, stamped envelope and a Transaction Request Form (these were provided to you after you joined mi casa su casa). Remember to list their member number on all correspondence. The information will be forwarded by our office to the member and they will contact you to discuss the exchange.
  5. You may also receive Transaction Requests from other members. You should answer every request (see a sample response).
  6. Continue to arrange the details of your trip through correspondence and phone calls with other members.
  7. When you've finalized a transaction, notify at your convenience our office so we will have an idea of how our service is being utilized.
  8. After you've taken your trip, write or email us and tell us how your experience went. We may choose to publish it on the about mcsc page of our website so other members can be inspired to create their own homestay vacation.

Planning your Trip

(The majority of our members will be doing house/apartment exchanges or hospitality exchanges so most of the planning information will relate to these two kinds of transactions.  Unique elements of other transactions (Room Exchange, Room Rentals, and House/Apartment rentals) will be addressed individually later.)

If possible, make your arrangements with other members at least two months in advance of your vacation dates.  That will give you plenty of time to become acquainted with one another and iron out the details of your transaction.

To successfully set up an exchange, we highly recommend flexibility in destinations and dates of travel.  Even if you have a particular destination that you prefer, see what else is available in the Journal. It just might spark your imagination to go somewhere that you hadn't previously considered.  It is also wise to take initiative in contacting other members rather than just waiting for people to contact you.  However, when you do receive a request, please respond as soon as possible, either by mail, phone or fax.  Don't be intimidated by long distances. Overseas letters with correct postage, particularly between the U.S. and Western Europe, generally only take between 5-10 days to reach their destination (allow 2-4 weeks, however, for Eastern Europe).

Sending out a Transaction Request

Use a Transaction Request Form (these were provided to you after you joined mi casa su casa) to contact those members who don't list their address and telephone information in the Membership Index and do not have an email link or email forwarding provided. To initiate a transaction, fill out one form for each member you wish to contact.  Enter the membership number of the other member, check off the transactions you are offering, and sign and date it.  Mail or fax (925 944-9904) the form(s) to our office.  Once mi casa su casa has forwarded your request form and a copy of your Letter of Introduction to the members you are interested in exchanging with or renting from, you will start to receive letters and phone calls in return.

To reduce postage and handling time, please limit your Letter of Introduction to one page, typewritten and, in English if possible.  You can also include on the back of the page more text, xeroxed photos of your home or city, a map of your city, etc.

Letter of Introduction

The Letter of Introduction is your opportunity to tell other people why they will enjoy spending their vacation in your home.  Following are some items you may want to include in your letter (see a sample):

  • Your name, address, telephone number and fax number,
  • Your membership number, in which Journal your listing appears, and on what page,
  • How many people will be traveling with you,
  • Who your traveling companions are,
  • Possible dates of travel,
  • Your profession, your hobbies, your travel experience,
  • Languages that you speak, read or write,
  • The layout and furnishings of your home,
  • How long you have lived in your home,
  • How many beds are available, size of beds, types of beds (i.e, standard, waterbed, futons, hide-a-beds), degree of privacy, etc.,
  • Amenities of your home such as garden, terrace, patio, view, fireplace, privacy, hot tub, boat,
  • Attractions in and around your community,
  • Location of your home, i.e., accessibility to tourist sites, community attractions, public transportation,
  • Whether you have pets and whether they will travel with you, stay with friends or at a pet hotel, or be waiting to greet the guests,
  • Whether you're interested in exchanging automobiles.

Receiving Transaction Requests

It's always fun to receive mail and this is the best kind (next to a lottery check).  Someone has seen your listing and is interested in visiting your home. It's like being asked to dance!

If you wish, you can telephone the other member.  Otherwise, the Transaction Request form has a response section in the lower right corner.   Check off your response and fax or mail the form to the other member as soon as possible.  Depending on your response you may wish to include a Reply Letter (see a sample).  Remember that they only know you by your listing. At this point they don't know your name, address or phone number so do provide them with those details so they can contact you directly to further discuss a transaction.

As you continue to correspond with one another, you may want to exchange photos of the interior and exterior of your homes as well as photos of the people who will be involved in the exchange.  Also, let one another know what types of activities you want to do on your vacation so you can offer each other suggestions about what's available in the area.

If you decide at any point to decline the offer, notify the other party promptly either with a postcard, letter or telephone call.

Accepting an Offer

Okay, you've corresponded with one another and both parties have agreed on a transaction and specific dates.  Fantastic!  You're all set and can move on to taking care of details, such as getting time off from your job and making plane reservations.

CAUTION:   Be certain you can truly take your vacation in a particular place on a particular date before committing to a transaction.  The other party will also be investing a lot of time, energy and money to making the transaction happen, and nothing is more frustrating than having someone back out at the last minute.

If you do need to cancel at the last minute, a considerate gesture is to attempt to find alternative arrangements for your exchange partner.

The Details of a Home Exchange Agreement

Once you've agreed to an exchange and determined the dates of travel, you'll need to discuss some details regarding the use of one another's homes.  Though most of these details are discussed informally through letters and phone conversations, both parties may wish to draft and exchange a Letter of Agreement that reiterates in writing the details you have negotiated for your exchange.  The following are some of the details to consider in your discussions and Letter of Agreement (see a sample):

  • Dates of arrival and departure,
  • How many people are in each party,
  • Whether you will overlap your trips by a day or two so you can meet each other in person,
  • What transportation arrangements need to be made to-and-from airports,
  • How you will exchange house keys (either by mail, in person, or held by a neighbor),
  • Providing names and phone numbers of a neighbor, friend or landlord who can be contacted for any assistance,
  • Cleaning arrangements (during the stay and before departure),
  • Arrangements of house pets (covered in more detail below),
  • Whether watering of plants and garden and other yard work will be done by the guest, a neighbor, or a gardening service,
  • Providing each other with information regarding times when you will be away from the home for side trips or if you will have overnight guests,
  • Agreements made about phone calls and the payment of long distance phone calls.  Since you will both probably make local phone calls, there is no real need to calculate cost of usage, except in countries where local calls are expensive.  It's possible to have your phone company temporarily disconnect long distance calling capability while you're away.  If you decide to do this, inform the other member so they know they have to use a public phone.  if they have a long distance calling card which charges calls to their account, it isn't necessary to turn off long distance calling.  If your guest doesn't plan to use a calling card, credit card or call collect, the guest should keep a log of their calls so their host can match it against the phone bill at a later date.  If there is a big variation between one another's long-distance usage and cost, the one who made the most calls will want to pay for the difference.
  • Providing each other with closet and drawer space,
  • Respecting one another's privacy by not looking through closets, desk drawers, file cabinets, or other personal effects,
  • Not using items such as bicycles, musical instruments, or clothes that are not a part of the exchange agreement,
  • Replacing staple items such as coffee, flour, sugar, toilet paper, soap, or firewood used during the stay,
  • Agree to take special care of each other's dishes, glassware, or other breakables and offer replacements or money for anything accidentally broken,
  • Agree to pay for household damages that may occur during your stay.

Room Exchange

Room Exchange is the transaction of choice for members who share space with roommates, i.e., non-spouse family or friends.  The procedure is the same as house/apartment exchange in that the two parties exchanging stay in one another's home during a simultaneous time period.  The difference, obviously, is that each party will be sharing space with the other's roommates during the stay.

It is important, therefore, that the roommates participate in the initial negotiation stage of the transaction.  The extent of their participation may be as simple as appearing in photos so that the other party will have an idea of who they will be living with.  Or the roommates may also choose to participate in correspondence or phone conversations just to become somewhat acquainted with the prospective guest.  In any case, if you rent, permission for such a transaction should also be obtained from the owner or landlord of the building.

In addition to following the guidelines above for house/apartment exchange, you should consider the guidelines below for hospitality exchanges.

The Details of a Hospitality Exchange

Instead of simultaneously exchanging your house or apartment, you may want to stay with another member in their home.  Then when they visit your city, they stay with you for an equal period of time.

Hospitality exchange is obviously the best way to become acquainted with other members because you actually spend time with one another.  If you feel uneasy about home exchanging and leaving your home unattended with strangers, do a hospitality exchange first. You will then know each other well enough to possibly do a home exchange at a later date.

If you're traveling alone, a hospitality exchange is an easy way to meet local people with whom you can sightsee, go to the beach, go out to dinner, etc.  Even if your host has to work during the day, he/she can certainly steer you towards otherwise undiscovered attractions in the community.  And if you're visiting a country whose language you do not speak fluently, your host/interpreter can help make your entrance into their culture less intimidating.

In addition to the items stated above for a home exchange agreement, there are a few guidelines specific to hospitality exchange that you should also consider.

1.Limit yourselves to an initial stay of 2-3 days. This is a safeguard so no one gets stuck in an uncomfortable situation.  Before your trip, set up the trial period and also agree to a maximum length of stay beyond the trial period, provided the first few days go smoothly, which is usually the case.  Corresponding a lot before going ahead with a hospitality exchange will help both parties decide whether they are compatible enough to live together for the length of the stay.

2.Before your trip, look into alternative accommodations in case the trial period is unsuccessful. One option is to set up a series of 2 to 3 day hospitality stays with a number of mi casa su casa members in the same city or in neighboring cities or countries.  But also find out about hotels, bed and breakfasts, etc. in the area.  For gay and lesbian establishments, consult our sister site, Purple Roofs.

3.Agree on the absolute final departure date for the guest.

4.Discuss in advance what expectations both parties have.

  • Is the guest expected to help with household chores and pets?
  • Should the guest be responsible for buying their own groceries and preparing their own meals, or will the host provide and prepare meals (given that the roles will be reversed when the other member serves as the host)?
  • Will the guest be given a set of house keys for the stay, either before or after the trial period?
  • Will the guest have use of an automobile?
  • Once you have determined the details of a hospitality exchange, write up a Letter of Agreement similar to that used for a home exchange.

Room Rentals

This category was formerly called B&B's, but we've changed the name to more accurately reflect the type of transaction. Our members who list this as a transaction option normally do not run a full-service bed and breakfast guesthouse.  Rather, they are private home-owners who have a spare bedroom available for a modest rental fee, which is determined by the host and paid upon arrival by the vacationer to the host.  The host may provide one meal per day.  The guest then has the option to use the kitchen to prepare his/her other meals, with groceries that the guest has purchased.

The experience is similar to hospitality exchange where the host shares living space with a guest.  The guest, however, is paying for the privilege and is not expected to host the B&B member in their home at a later date.

The same guidelines for setting up a hospitality exchange should be applied to arranging a Room Rental stay.  We strongly recommend, however, that the Room Rental host, prior to the visit, provides their guest with a typewritten rental agreement that specifies the terms the two parties have agreed to regarding dates, fees, and household responsibilities and privileges.  Both parties should sign and date the agreement.

House and Apartment Rentals

Some of the homes listed in the Member Journal are also available for rental.  Like other transactions in the mi casa su casa organization, members make arrangements with one another.

The person offering a property as a rental decides what the terms of rental are, determines and collects the rental fee and security deposit, provides and processes a typewritten rental agreement that adheres to legal requirements of their city, and is responsible for carrying out the services set out in the rental agreement.

If you rent rather than own the property that is offered for rental to other  mi casa su casa  members, consult your lease and/or landlord to verify that you can indeed legally sublease your home to other members.

When renting a property to an overseas member, there are a number of ways to accept foreign currency.  The easiest way and with the best exchange rate is to have the person renting to pay by credit card, provided of course, that the homeowner has credit card merchant status, which isn't likely.  The second easiest way is to have the renter pay by personal check (or Eurocheque in Europe) in their native currency; most banks will accept the check, change to local currency, and deposit the money without any fee.  There is, however, the risk that a personal check won't clear; Eurocheques are guaranteed.  However, banks will not accept checks in certain currencies, including those of Italy and Spain.  Research your bank's policy in advance.

The least risky method is to have foreigners pay in your local currency with an international money order, which is processed by the postal system.  This works either way between countries.  It takes, however, 3 to 4 weeks for the post office to process the money order.

Another option is to have the person renting obtain a foreign draft from the bank.  The draft is made out in the foreign currency on the spot so you can then mail the draft.  The fee is currently $25 and you must have an account at the bank.

You can also wire amounts between countries and bank accounts, but the sender pays a $25 fee and the recipient also pays a lesser fee of about $10.

Preparing Your Home for Guests

If you're doing a house/apartment exchange (or offering a rental), you'll want to get everything in order so your guests will have a smooth and relaxing stay.  Included in these preparations are attending to household bills, cleaning house, managing valuables, making space for guests, coordinating deliveries to the home, and welcoming your guests with information. 

Household Bills

Depending on how long you're going to be away, you may want to think ahead about mortgage or rent payments, car insurance, utility bills, etc.  Of course, there are a number of ways to handle bills such as advance payment, temporarily forwarding your mail to the home you'll be occupying, leaving blank checks with a neighbor or relative and so on.  In any case, your guests shouldn't have to worry that the telezphone, heat, water or electricity will be disconnected. 


And then there's cleaning.  As in dusting, vacuuming, mopping.  If you've ever considered hiring a cleaning service, this is a good time to start.  When getting ready for a home exchange, it's always spring in terms of a thorough straightening up of piles of old magazines and newspapers, cluttered closets, stubborn soap scum and crust-coated ovens.  The way to approach the standard of cleaning is to pretend that you are selling your house and want to attract buyers.  Or that your mother is coming to visit.  In addition to general cleaning of bedrooms, bathrooms, living room and kitchen, also include outdoor areas and amenities.

Cleaning for your guest is another situation of mutuality. Clean your home as well as you would like the home you're visiting to be cleaned.  And it also gives your guests an example to follow when they clean up after themselves before departing your home.

Part of cleaning up is making space for your guests' clothes and toiletries.  Depending on the length of stay and number of guests, you should clear 1-2 feet of closet space as well as at least 2 drawers of dresser space (leave a note indicating which ones are for them).  Also make space on a bathroom counter top or in the medicine cabinet for toiletries.  It's a good idea to completely empty out your items from the medicine cabinet and store them elsewhere.

Also empty out the refrigerator except for staple items and condiments.  Your guests probably won't mind if you leave a few perishables like eggs or apples, but in general, make room for your guests' groceries.  Everyone's eating habits are different.

Protecting Valuables

Though home exchanging is based on trust, you also need to be practical when it comes to jewelry, fine china and glassware, vases, silver flatware, artwork, electronic equipment and so on.  Accidents can happen so protect yourself from disappointment by (1) buying either homeowners or renters insurance, and (2) locking up or storing off-site valuable items.  Many home exchangers have a spare closet that they can put valuable and breakable items in and then lock.  Or if your guests don't need to get into the garage, you can also store and lock items there.

Bulky electronic items such as stereos, computers and fax machines may be too cumbersome to store away.  If there is anything you feel is too complicated and delicate for a novice to operate, specify clearly in your Letter of Agreement which of those items are off-limits to guests.

Think also about whether your guests will have full access to your liquor cabinet and wine cellar.  You may want to separate and store whatever is not for guests.  Then leave a note telling your guests to help themselves to a cocktail from the liquor cabinet now and then.  Guests may also want to replenish the cabinet before their departure.

Home Deliveries

If you have products such as newspapers, spring water, flowers, or milk and eggs regularly delivered to home, consider having delivery stopped during your trip.  Or leave instructions for guests so they'll know what they can expect to find on the doorstep.

In terms of mail delivery, home exchangers often just agree to take in each other's mail and set it aside until the end of the exchange.  Or have a neighbor collect it from your mailbox, if you're in an apartment building.  If you decide to stop mail delivery, keep in mind that you won't be able to send mail to the guests staying in your home.  Sometimes it's nice to be able to keep in touch with a card of thanks or a letter about your adventures.

Information Kit

To make one another's stay as enjoyable as possible, it is important to share information with each other about your homes and communities.  A good approach is to create an Information Kit by compiling the information in a notebook or a 3-ring binder so it will always be handy for guests.  Following are some ideas of what to include in your kit:

1.where to find telephone directories and how to get directory assistance over the phone;
2.names and phone numbers of neighbors available for assistance;
3.emergency telephone numbers of police, fire department, hospital, dentist;
4.names and telephone numbers of maid service, appliance repair service, plumbers, electricians, pool cleaners, auto mechanics, etc.;
5.typewritten directions or manuals with detailed information about how to operate:

  • locks and alarm systems,
  • heating and air conditioning systems,
  • kitchen appliances including garbage disposal, food processor, microwave oven,
  • washer and dryer,
  • hottubs, saunas (plus unusual bathtubs, showers, toilets),
  • fireplace and barbecue,
  • hot water heaters,
  • cordless phones and answering machine,
  • TV and vcr, and stereo equipment,
  • computers and fax machines,
  • garage door opener;

6.where they can find household items such as sheets and towels, soap, vacuum and cleaning supplies, tool kit, toilet paper, light bulbs, candles, extra firewood;
7.location of fuse box and main valves for shutting off gas and water;
8.fire/emergency exits and evacuation plans for apartment buildings;
9.where and when garbage is put out for pickup; location of garbage bags;
10.location of recycling bins and pickup schedule;
11.if not using a garage, regulations and suggestions for parking in the neighborhood;
12.maps of your city and region;
13.public transportation maps and schedules including buses, subways, trains;
14.recommendations and directions (perhaps in map form) to the local grocery stores, shopping malls, pharmacy, post office, bakery, tourist information office, travel agency, rental car agency, gas station, auto mechanic, taxi or limousine service, laundry service, dry cleaners, hair salons, banks, currency exchange, liquor store and video cassette rental store;
15.recommendations and/or local newspapers with information regarding restaurants, night life, cultural activities, parks and nature trails, bicycle paths, beaches, swimming pools, tennis courts, health clubs, etc.

Exchanging House Keys

If possible, mail one another a set of house keys in advance of your trip.  That way there is no wondering on a long flight whether a mix-up of schedules upon your arrival might leave you stranded on the street, homeless in an unfamiliar city.   And then, of course, don't forget to pack the keys in your suitcase before you leave on your trip.  (It has happened!)

Another option is to leave the keys with a friend or neighbor, but then it is also a good idea to have that person greet your guest at the airport, the train station, or at the house.  Have a back-up plan in case you miss each other.

Auto Exchange

An important part of any vacation is the ability to see as much of the destination city or country as possible.  While public transportation is readily available in some parts of the world, it is less likely to be found in others.  One sure way of getting around is to plan an auto exchange in conjunction with the home exchange.

Many exchangers may be more reluctant when it comes to letting visitors use their automobile.  The reasons for this are clear:  while a home is certainly worth more than a car, the risk of damage to a home is much less likely to cause any inconvenience to any party.  On the other hand, if a car is involved in an accident, the chances that it will be out of commission for awhile are great.  It's with this in mind that many exchangers decide not to swap autos.

On the other hand, renting a car can be the single most expensive part of a vacation, depending on where you are in the world.  In terms of savings, it is certainly worth considering an auto exchange.  If both parties are willing to lend their automobiles to their exchangers, the following are prudent steps to take.

First, contact your insurance agent and/or look at the fine print of your insurance policy and ensure that it covers any person you have authorized to drive the vehicle.  Some policies differentiate between family members and guest drivers.

Second, draft a written agreement of understanding between you and the people that will be using your vehicle.  (This agreement can be generic in type and used over and over.)  In the agreement, address some of the following concerns:

  • The operating condition of the vehicle before the exchange; what features are operable and which are not;
  • Agreement to a full tank of fuel upon arrival as well as at the end of the usage period;
  • The amount of miles/kilometers that can be put on the car during the period; if the limit is exceeded, you may want to agree on a per-mile wear-and-tear charge, based on standard rental car mileage rates;
  • Who should be responsible for any routine maintenance that may be necessary (i.e., flat tires)?
  • What if there is an accident?  Who will be responsible if your exchanger is at fault?  Who will pay if a third party is at fault?  What if the third party has no insurance coverage?  What actions will be taken if the price of your insurance premium goes up?

When leaving the car for your exchangers, be sure and leave the proper insurance and registration papers in the glove compartment.  Also, if there are any strange parking or driving conditions in your city (i.e., getting towed if you are parked in a bus zone), please leave them in a note to the exchanger.  Leave directions as well regarding car alarms or special locking devices, suggestions about the best routes to take, what hours are best to avoid heavy traffic, best fuel prices and so on.  There should also be names and numbers in your Information Kit about emergency road service, auto mechanics, and your insurance agent.

Above all, once you have agreed to exchange automobiles, don't worry.  You know yourself that driving another person's car is something you do with great care.  Enjoy the mobility and count all the money you have saved!

Caring for Pets

One detail of an exchange may be the existence of pets.  If you are in an exchange situation involving pets, please remember that everyone treats their animals differently.

For example, you may have an independent cat at home, one who is mainly an outdoor cat and requires little attention other than some dry food once in a while.  On the other hand, the home you arrive to may have an indoor cat which is used to being treated like royalty.  You will need to adjust accordingly and give it all the love and attention it requires.

Another common difference you'll need to take into account is that of people who have dogs and a large yard in which they can romp, and city dwellers who need to walk the dog a few times a day.

These differences should not pose a problem for the exchanger, especially if the pet's characteristics are known well in advance of arriving at the vacation destination.  In many cases, the pets become an exciting part of the stay.  In order to be prepared, communicate with your fellow exchanger the following:

  • When is the pet allowed inside/outside?
  • How often does it get fed?  What does it eat?  What can't it eat?
  • Where does it sleep?
  • What if I leave for a few days?  Can the pet be alone?
  • Who do you call in case of an emergency?

With all the fine details out of the way, the benefits of having pets around will be pleasant, especially if you are missing your own!

Ending Your Stay

Funny how soon a vacation is over, isn't it?  Hopefully, you will have lots of thrilling memories about your  mi casa su casa experience to tell your friends.

Before leaving an exchange home, you'll need to do departure cleaning, as agreed to with your exchange partner.  If you're not hiring a maid service to do the chores, you'll be expected to do a thorough cleaning.  Basically, leave the home as you found it.  Usually exchange guests are not expected to do major cleaning of swimming pools, hot tubs, boats, windows, etc.

If you haven't been in touch with each other during your stay, leave a note for your host about how your stay was in their home, any problems you had, and about your adventures in their community and what you discovered.

Take one long last look at your home-away-from-home and make sure that you have all of your luggage, your toothbrush and slippers.  After locking up, follow whatever arrangements you made regarding the return of the house keys.  If there isn't a place to put the keys that is safe from burglars or there isn't a neighbor to give them to, you can always put them in a secure envelope and mail them from the airport to your host's address.

This section Copyright © 2001 by David Marcus. All rights reserved. No portions of this material may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author. marcusdw@aol.com

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