Home Exchange – Wish we knew then what we know now

Home exchange in Spain

4 bedroom, 3 bath apartment overlooking the sea in an exclusive town in the Costa Brava region of Spain

Don’t we all! For one thing we wouldn’t have married the men we did.

Whoops – got off topic – sorry! This is supposed to be about our home exchange experience!

Late last year Blonde listed her (then) Boston home on HomeExchange.com . A fellow blogger had convinced her to take the plunge. The process is like Match.com. You put a picture of your home looking better than it ever has before on the site, you describe its virtues, don’t mention any issues and hope someone asks your home out. So to speak.

Home exchange in Boston

Charming 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath, two floor condo in old brownstone in hip neighborhood n Boston!

Several  home exchange potential “suitors” came along but we rejected them because of bad timing, not a location we were interested in or sometimes just because they didn’t even make the bed to take the picture so we assumed the place would be a mess.

The the one appeared, a 5 week exchange in an area of Spain we love with a woman who had once lived in Boston and would be staying with her 14 year old daughter who had been given a scholarship to a prestigious local college. A deal was made! To make it even more clearly a fated exchange the owners of the home we would be using lived in Dubai and we were headed there. We met them, were all aglow with how wonderful they were (not sure they were so aglow as we’d been dressed head to toe for hours in the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi earlier in the day and our “glow” was less attractive).

They even agreed to exchange two homes for one! We didn’t want to spend the entire 5 weeks in one place so planned to do about three weeks there, see some other towns in Spain and then conclude our trip in Madrid – where they owned another home.

We had lots of correspondence back and forth and everyone was excited and good to go. But this is some of what we learned that we didn’t know at the time:

Ask if the people with whom you’re exchanging have been living in the property recently.

We knew this family lived in Dubai, that the coastal home was a second home and the home in Madrid the family’s base. We didn’t know that they hadn’t spent any real time at either place in about a year and a half. And culturally, in Spain, mi casa really is su casa! This means that your cousins, siblings, children and their friends, parents and anyone who can get their hands on a key may (and will)  live in your place when you aren’t there. And these are all nice people but they don’t take care of a home they don’t own and are probably a lot less hyper than two Americans about things not working.  And these people don’t seem to do much, OK any, cleaning.

When we arrived at the coastal home there was mold in the refrigerator, the windows were filthy and in general it wasn’t in great shape. The owner had had someone come and clean it throughly, before we got there. But she hadn’t used the (highly recommended) person previously and apparently didn’t realize that this person was in need of cataract surgery or had some other major issue that caused her to not see dirt.

Brunette has tempermental lungs and can’t risk being around mold or a lot of cleaning chemicals so Blonde, who never cleans her own home, had to clean this one!

Blonde woman cleaning kitchen

Blonde doing work, in a nightgown and with dirty hair, that she wouldn’t even do at home (no matter how much it needed it).

Lesson learned: If they haven’t been living at the property take that into consideration and realize that if you use it you may need to take care of some things that haven’t been kept up in their absence.

If there’s something critical for you to have at a property and it doesn’t have it, then don’t go   For Blonde wi-fi is a necessity for her consulting business and she had given clients assurances that they would never even know she was out of the country. The owner of the home told Blonde the internet had been turned off and she would work to get it turned back on. But it turns out that in Spain that can take weeks, months, years, generations or until the very last day as we were leaving and passed the wi-fi installer literally coming up the steps! Not for lack of immense effort on the owner’s part, that’s just how it is there.

Lesson learned: There is working wi-fi (or whatever your particular must-have is) or there isn’t. If there isn’t don’t assume there may be when you get there. Other countries operate very differently and your assumptions can be your downfall. This was Blonde’s “bad”, not the owners’.

Trying to pickup wi-fi signal in Spain

Trying to get a wi-fi signal from the long-suffering caretaker’s cottage from our magic corner on the balcony.

Ask for directions on operating any major appliances you anticipate using 

We travel under the mistaken assumption that we have the basic competencies needed to live in a home. Not a home in Spain apparently! Did you know that some clothes dryers have condensers that collect literally quarts of water as your clothes (don’t) dry and that you have to keep emptying out said condenser? Have you lit a gas stove with a match since you were forced to go camping as a child? Do you think hot water comes from hot water heaters? Do you expect electricity that was working at night to work in the morning?

Well we had all of that wrong and once again many phone calls and even things as embarrassing as emailing the owner pictures of stove knobs and hot water heater setting ensued. Once again the owner was extremely responsive and even arranged a significant electrical repair. Of course she never called us to ask how to operate anything in Blonde’s house because she was able to figure it out.

stove knobs

An actual picture we sent the owner. What were we even asking with this??

Lesson learned: Don’t exchange a house with us. Ask ahead of time that written directions or manuals be provided for operating any major appliances you anticipate using. Also get a local person’s contact info if you need to fix any problems and can’t reach the owners.

Research the location and its proximity to things you want to do.

We knew the home in Madrid was in a suburb about twenty minutes out of town and we had not rented a car. We assumed we could easily use public transportation to get us back and forth. Worst case we could spring for a taxi. Well, a taxi was 60 euros one way, you can’t easily get them in a suburb and there was only one bus a day to the city.

Because we had plans for some tours leaving Madrid early in the mornings we had to either move into Madrid or cancel the tours. So we spent one night in the home and left the next day for a hotel in Madrid! The ride to Madrid was highly entertaining as it involved a cousin’s son’s flatulent turtle so don’t miss that tale!

Lesson learned: Don’t assume. A good idea in general. This thing called “the internets” has been invented and you can look up all kinds of information about what it will take for you to get to Point A from Point B.

Don’t ask someone else to take care of something very dear to you and very fragile

Blonde has a cat who at the moment is scratching out a list of invitees to her upcoming 21st birthday party. This cat has always been treated as a rare gem of the highest quality and doted on beyond anything excusable. She is abnormally old and on medication.

Blonde asked the home exchangee if she would take care of the cat and she agreed to do so. Blonde had major misgivings about leaving an old, frail, dearly beloved kitty behind for five weeks but knew she would be in good hands. And she was.

And those good hands had to take her in a taxi late at night to an excellent, astoundingly expensive animal hospital where she remained for 8 days (or $2,000 but who’s counting?). The exchangee was stressed and Blonde was sobbing in Spain, calling the animal hospital daily and just hoping the kitty would live so she could see her again.

The good news is that despite what absolutely everyone expected the kitty survived and has since even moved to Florida with Blonde. But she won’t be left in anyone else’s care for 5 weeks again, it was too stressful for all parties involved!

White cat

Don’t believe it – I didn’t cause anyone a problem. It’s a privilege to serve me! And no, I don’t have an overly polished glass eye. Blonde’s just too stupid to touch up the picture.

Lesson learned: It’s just too much to ask of someone to handle a “special needs” pet or other creature or garden or spider collection or whatever you hold dear. Arrange for a professional to do it or at least don’t ask them to do it for 5 weeks!

These are things we wish we had known; not us complaining about our home exchange. We are so happy to have met the wonderful family we did the exchange with, we had a lovely time in Spain and we will live to exchange again. As a matter of fact the Florida home got listed last night and is waiting for eager suitors to appear!

But we did learn that there were things we needed to learn before the next time. Oh if we knew then what we know now!

Back to the husband thing………


  1. says

    Hi to you both and thanks for a great read. A good list of items to look out for, just a pity you had to expreince them as you did.

    Home Exchange is such a great concept, which is why it is becoming more and more popular. Why pay to stay in a hotel when you can stay for free?
    If your readers have not tried this way of traveling it is to be recommended and not just for the savings but the great experiences and friendships made.




    • says

      We agree that it’s a great way to travel and save a lot of money, have more space to yourselves and best of all to make new friendships. It’s funny that when we mention it to friends the first thing they always say is “Aren’t you afraid they’ll steal your stuff”? This makes us wary of having those friends around – they apparently have inner thief demons! But I have to say that when staying at other people’s homes their stuff is of zero interest other than if you’re having a hard time finding the corkscrew!

      • says

        Being able to spell defines the person so you will have to exchange with my wife Catriona instead of me as she is the one that proof reads in our partnership!

        When I first mentioned swapping homes to Catriona all those years ago, her first reaction was similar to your friends and we still receive the same comment from many potential members today and I can’t really see that changing. Prior to any arranged swaps we ask our swap partners to put away any valuables and any potential breakables, that way we and they don’t have to worry about these items so both parties can enjoy the trip even more.



  2. says

    We have experienced 8 fabulous home exchanges in the past ten years. Listing with a reputable and established company is the first step. Carefully researching the home you wish to exchange with is the next. Get references if you wish. Every home should have a detailed book about all the appliances and there should be a contact person who can come and help with any problems. Approached intelligently and carefully, home exchange is a great way to travel and should be trouble-free. Good luck next time round!

    • says

      It was a learning experience for us and I think also for the couple we exchanged with as they didn’t realize their coastal property was in less than ideal shape until they ended up going there themselves a couple months later. We will definitely do it again!

    • says

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond – several of my social media accounts got hacked so I didn’t want to use them until I knew it was all cleared up! I agree that home exchange in general is great and definitely intend to do it again! Many of the issues we encountered were our own fault. I don’t think I would exchange for a second home again though as several people have told me they haven’t done as well as exchanging primary residences. I’m mulling trying to exchange for a home in Portugal in August or September. Thanks for stopping by!


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