One of the many advantages to having an empty nest is the freedom to swap your nest with other adventurous types. We decided that before we sold our house, we would try using it as bait for a cheap month in New York City. Being in the habit of Googling at the drop of a hat, we decided to take the online approach to finding suitable exchanges. We looked at several different sites, and chose HomeExchange.com for its ease of use and abundant choices from all over the globe. For a small annual fee, one can peruse homes, set up destinations to visit and receive e-mails when opportunities become available.
We were looking to make an extended trip to visit our fast-walking, subway-chasing, black-wearing, taxi-flagging urbanite daughters. Bunking with them in their microscopic Manhattan flats or paying $500 a night for a "cheap" hotel were out of the question. The hotel costs alone would be enough for the down payment on Buckingham Palace.
So we logged on, posted pics of our house and set NYC as one of our preferred destinations. We were floored by the flood of e-mails from Manhattanites who wanted to escape the summer in the city. We’re talking hundreds of takers. With a few more searches, we discovered that the possibilities were nearly endless--we could take ski trips, spend April in Paris, run with the bulls (wherever they run with bulls)--anywhere from Walla Walla to Guatemala.
In no time came an offer from a designer in Park Slope with a quintessential New York brownstone. Fiona and her family were old hands at the exchange game and they suggested a three week swap. She promised to leave take out menus, a Zagat restaurant guide and a subway map. We promised snorkeling gear, beach towels and directions to the crab races. After a few e-mails and a phone call or two, we were on our way.
Upon arrival, we found two bottles of lovely wine as a welcoming gift, a list of the house’s "quirks" and a note on the individual specialties of the local markets. We immediately took the Zagat to the stoop with a bottle of the wine and mapped out our urban culinary escapades. We soon realized that Fiona’s kitchen would not get much use--there was Ethiopian, Indian, Halal and New York’s first pizza (Lombardi’s --go there!) to be consumed. And consume we did.
Here are some things were learned along the way:
--Talk to each other prior to the exchange
This is REALLY important. It's very comforting to be able to ask questions over the phone, especially for newbies.
--Create a "house file"
Ours had issues like "don't use the hairdryer upstairs and the espresso machine in the kitchen at the same time, but just in case, the fuse box is by the fridge" and "stick your finger in the hole of the TV to turn it on."
--Make sure your rules are clear
Fiona's family didn't wear street shoes in the house and forbade smoking. We put a ban on using Grandma's china.
--Remember that each exchange will pose special issues
Fiona recalled "a very amusing period in a French home trying to get into the washing machine." A highly educated woman, she found the knobs and levers of the Gallic system of laundering indecipherable. Leave clear instructions--especially for those who come from far away places.
--Think about the first day
Make sure your exchangers know where the closest grocery store is (with directions and store hours). They are going to show up tired and hungry so be sure to let them know how to find the nearest late-night diner too. If your area has unique customs, fill them in.
--Give them an option of a housekeeper
We took advantage of this--less stress and more time at the Statue of Liberty, eateries and cheesy tourist diversions
--Exchange cell numbers
Try not to use it, nice if you need it.
--Replace anything you use or break
Most of the online exchange sites have a rating system--you don't want a bad rating--you will be black balled in the future. Plus, it's mannerly--don't be a heathen--it's not nice. Remember, they're in YOUR house too!
--Leave a thank you note
Be sure to let them know about the great time you had and problems, if any, that arose--it is helpful for future exchanges.
Overall, our experience was fantastic and our research shows that most all exchanges go off without a hitch. So don't be afraid to take wing and swap that empty nest.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com