Over the last several years, home exchanges have become more and more popular with travellers all around the world. The Home Exchange website – and its French counterpart Trocmaison – listed no less than 3,700 Canadian homes as members in 2016, half of which are located in Quebec. There are many reasons for choosing this method of travel. Tempted by adventure? Benefits, hassles, precautions to be taken and effects on your home insurance: Here are a few tips to help guide you!
The concept behind home exchanges is pretty simple: While you live in someone else’s home during your trip, that person lives in yours. You have to be comfortable with the idea that strangers will be using your spaces, property and belongings. Once you’re comfortable with this part of the deal, the benefits are many:
- Travel for less: In addition to avoiding hotel costs, you also have the option of paying about the same amount for food as you would if you were at home.
- Get a genuine cultural experience by living in the home of a “local” during your stay.
- Live more comfortably by staying in homes that are equipped with everything you need.
- Travel lighter: You can do your laundry and wear the same clothes several times.
But there are also a few risks and inconveniences
As with everything else, home exchanges carry their own share of risks and inconveniences:
- Possible let-down: You might be disappointed by the home you will be living in for the next little while. When you view the house online, the photos don’t allow you to see every detail. And of course, some owners will present their homes only in the best light.
- Cancellation risk: You may have to scurry to come up with a plan B if the other home owner cancels at the last minute.
- Risk of breakage, theft and vandalism: Even though you have had the opportunity to discuss by phone, email or Skype, the fact remains that the people who will stay in your home are strangers. That means you will be relying on their good faith and judgement when they use your property.
- Risk of legal action: If a visitor gets injured in your home, you could be held liable if it turns out that your negligence caused the injury. In such an event, your home insurance should cover you, but it may not be able to spare you from certain headaches and procedures that result from legal action.
6 ways to reduce the risks
1. Inform your insurer. In all cases, your best bet is to call your insurer and inform them of the exchange, make sure your coverages are adequate and find out what’s covered and what isn’t.
- Check to make sure the amount of civil liability coverage provides adequate coverage should you accidentally cause any damage during your stay at your exchange partner’s home.
- Also, find out about coverages you could add so you are more adequately covered when you’re staying temporarily in a residence that you don’t own.
- Check whether this situation would reduce your home’s insurance coverage or whether certain adjustments are required. You should know that with certain insurers, such as La Capitale, your home insurance continues to apply as it normally would during a home exchange (which is not the case if you rent your home [lien vers article Airbnb]).
It may seem surprising but insurers see home exchanges favourably. During a home exchange, your home is occupied during your absence and means certain coverages won’t have to be suspended. Your home becomes a less appealing target for would-be burglars and if any problems pop up, someone can reach you right away, meaning your home is less vulnerable to certain risks.
2. Get to know the people you wish to exchange your home with. Prior to the exchange, have as much contact with them as possible. This way you will avoid any misunderstandings and unpleasant surprises.
3. Create an occupant’s guide, and ask your exchange partner to do the same, containing the following information:
- how certain appliances work
- regulations regarding noise
- garbage or compost collection days
- where to park
- all telephone numbers you think would be helpful
- what to do in case of an emergency
4. Put your valuable objects in secure areas, or places that can’t be accessed. You can, for example, keep them in a locked room or hand them over to a relative while you’re away.
5. Make sure someone drops by during your absence. Ask a neighbour or family member who lives close by to discreetly remain on guard. Make sure whoever is occupying your home can reach this person and that he or she can get to your home quickly if need be.
6. Protect your personal information. If you leave your computer at home, make sure the occupants won’t have access to your personal information. Same goes for your documentation, which you should store in a locked filing cabinet.
Are you also lending your car or borrowing your exchange partner’s vehicle?
Many home owners also allow their house guests to use their cars during their stay. If you decide to lend or borrow a car, call your insurer to find out what is covered and what isn’t by your auto insurance.