As with online dating, commonsense measures can make the swap safe and fun. Experienced "exchangers" recommend you stow valuables, clean your house, prepare homemade neighborhood guides for your guests, and clearly communicate your house rules. Ans Lammers, owner of HomeForExchange.com, offers members a template for writing their own contracts. "We have created a dynamic online document that eventually has to be digitally signed by both parties [and] states in clear terms what has been agreed upon," she says. Lammers says she also introduced "accommodation insurance," which pays for alternate lodging in case one of the parties has to cancel the swap.
To reel in exchange offers, in addition to listing your home on websites such as HomeExchange.com, HomeForExchange.com, or Digsville.com, or posting it for free in the "Housing Swap" section of Craigslist.com, Brazilian Couto recommends building a website where, he says, you can list "a lot more information about the region, about the house, [and] more pictures."
Joe Alvarez, 57, also suggests keeping your exchange partners informed about any changes. After he reached a trade agreement with a couple in Rome, they had the courtesy to ask permission before bringing a third person to his suburban New York four-bedroom Tudor home. "Of course it was fine with us," Alvarez says, "but the sensitivity of making sure we were each keeping the other informed of our intentions created greater ease of mind."
Even if you think your casa isn't exchange-worthy, don't fret. "If someone has a really big house in Paris, if they come to Miami, they don't necessarily need a three- or four-bedroom," Kushins says. "All they want is a place to stay in a local neighborhood."
The home-exchange impresario, who estimates his site facilitated up to 45,000 exchanges in 2007, says the concept is perfect for retirees. "They've got the time, the interest, the energy, and a lot of them have second homes. They're flexible," he says.
If you're ready to swap, you can join a home-exchange website. Once you're a member, the savings, the countries you can explore, and the number of exchanges you can make—from month-long stays to weekend getaways—are unlimited.