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7 Must-Do’s for Home Swaps and Short Term Rentals

Once in a while, I hear from someone who knows someone who had a terrible experience with a home swap or short-term rental. “They moved in all their friends and trashed the place.” “They called and sent me texts with one question after another.” “The water heater went out and I spent a full day of my vacation trying to get it fixed.”

I worry about those kinds of things every time we let strangers stay in our home. But we’ve had great guests, and our home exchanges and short-term rentals have all gone pretty smoothly. Our 7 must-do’s can help yours be successful, too!

Must-Do #1 - Know who will be staying in your home
When short-term tenants or exchange partners are found to be holding raucous house parties, it’s a good bet the hosts didn’t really know who they were renting to. I think it’s a no-brainer to make sure our guests are who they say they are, will do what they say they will do, will respect our neighbours, and will take care of our property. That’s why we screen guests carefully by checking references, collecting employment information, and asking for an I.D. such as a driver’s license or passport. Most importantly, we communicate directly with guests by phone or Skype early and often. It’s amazing how much you can learn from a person-to-person conversation.

Must-Do #2 - Make sure guests know what they’re getting
I don’t want my guests to be unhappy. Aside from the fact that I want them to enjoy living in my home, unhappy guests can cause problems and take up time I’d rather spend in a sidewalk café doing nothing. Guests who expect the beach to be right outside your door will be disappointed, even angry, if they have to cross a busy highway to get there. People who chose your home instead of a hotel so they could cook will be dismayed if your kitchen doesn’t have enough pots, pans, dish-ware, and utensils for their family. Those who are excited about being in the city center will not be pleased when they find that it’s a 20-minute drive or bus ride away. To avoid disappointing your guests, be sure they know exactly what to expect. Keep your home swap or short-term rental listing truthful and accurate. Then highlight key information in your emails and in your discussions with guests.

Must-Do #3 - Have a written agreement
We always prepare a written agreement for a short-term rental that specifies the amount and due dates for the rent and deposit, the maximum number of people who will be staying in our home, our “no smoking” and “no pets” policies, and more. We also like to draw up a simple agreement for our home exchanges, even though money is not involved. Verbal agreements too often descend into, “But that’s not what I said” or “I told you that…” when problems come up. To avoid misunderstandings, put agreements in writing and have both parties sign a copy.

Must-Do #4 - Plan for the “What-ifs”
Things change. People have to cancel or come home early. Guests lose the keys. A broken pipe floods the house. The time to think about those kinds of situations is before you leave on your trip. Try to anticipate problems that might come up and make plans for dealing with them. Put important what-ifs, such as cancellation, in your written agreement. Have people available who have an extra set of keys and authority to do repairs.

Must-Do #5 - Leave guests a clean, neat, well-functioning home
I like staying in hotels. I like walking into a place that has been cleaned just for me. I like knowing that the lamps and shower and TV will work or that it takes only a quick call to the desk to get them fixed. But what I like even more is a rental or exchange home that is also newly cleaned, relatively clutter-free, and where everything works. Then I can spread out, settle in, and enjoy my visit. To help your guests feel the same about your home, carve out time to get it ready. Fix things that need to get fixed. Put away things that do not need to be out. Clean everything thoroughly. Your guests will thank you – and they will say nice things about your home in their reviews.

Must-Do #6 - Prepare a user guide for your home
“How does the heater work?” “What’s the wifi password?” Every short-term tenant or home exchange partner has these kinds of questions. A simple user guide helps them get to know their way around your home and keeps you from getting endless texts, emails, or calls with questions. Include essential instructions for finding and using things in the home and contact information for people to call if something breaks. Restate your rules and expectations (“no smoking” “use pads on the dining room table” “pick up the mail”). Finally, give guests instructions for what to do when they leave (“lock the doors and windows” “leave toilet paper in the bathrooms” “put the keys on the kitchen table.”)

Must-Do #7 - Alert your neighbours
We have a wonderful neighbour who keeps a close eye on our home and nearby houses.. He doesn’t meddle, but he’s always there if something goes wrong. Even if your neighbourhood or building doesn’t have someone like that, most people pay close attention to what’s happening in their immediate surroundings. To keep neighbours from being concerned when they see strangers on the street or in the building, let them know that guests will be staying in your home. Give a trusted neighbour or two your guests’ names and contact information, and tell them how to reach you in case there are problems.

“Thanks to Janis Fisher Chan for submitting this article. Visit her site, travelonthehouse.com, for more tips on successful short-term rentals and home exchanges.

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