1. Home Exchange
What is home exchange?
Home exchange is when two families agree to exchange their homes for a period of time for vacation. There is no set time limit; exchanges can last a weekend, a week, a month, or even a year. Nor is there is a rule for the location; the two parties can live in the same general area of in totally different countries.
What is home swap?
Home swap is the same as home exchange. The term home swap is more often used in Europe.
What are exchange partners?
These are the two families that agree to exchange their homes. Initially they meet at Stay4free.com, but frequently long lasting friendships evolve out of these home exchanges.
Is home exchange safe?
This question is often asked because people want to feel good about who they exchange their homes with. At the end it comes down to trust: how do you know you can trust the other party?
Home exchange is not unlike other human interactions where you're not quite familiar with each other: for example, the person that you date, or buying a car from an ad in the newspaper. Most people are fundamentally honest and trustworthy. In general home exchange has a long history of successes, and we're not aware of any unfortunate stories.
Keep in mind that your exchange partners (the other family or friends swapping with you) is asking the exact same question, but this time about you. How do they know that you are trustworthy? The way to show you are responsible and trustworthy is through frequent and detailed communication. Be very clear about what you expect and if you have any doubt of uncertainty ask questions. Also, create an agreement in which details, requirements, expectations, are clearly spelled out. Stay4free helps you write such an agreement. You will see it in the message area when two parties agree to swap.
Another suggestions that will help to get to know each other better is to communicate via phone or Skype: this is far more personable than email. Another thing to consider is ask for references. If these are experienced swappers, remember to ask for prior exchange references.
Arrange for someone you know (neighbor, friend, family) to hand them the keys and show the house upon their arrival. Also, have them stop by after a few days and ask if everything is in order and whether they have any questions. This way the other party will feel they are taken good care of and you will know that everything is going as expected.
What are the benefits of home exchange?
First, you can travel the world and save thousands of dollars (or euros, pounds, etc) because you're not spending any money on hotels or other accomodation. In fact, this benefit is in our name: Stay 4 Free!
Secondly, you're at home while away, that is, your home has all the comforts that you expect from living in a home. You won't live 'out of your suitcase', and there is no need to continually look for places to eat (3 times a day). If you've traveled extensively, particularly with children, you know what we mean.
Lastly, you live like a local which allows you to experience different lifestyles and cultures from the 'inside' rather than from the 'outside' like a tourist. Clearly, the best way to do this is to live like a local, where the locals live, rather than a tourist. Hotels tend to insulate you from any meaningful cultural experiences. Staying in a genuine home does offer you that experience.
What costs are involved?
No money changes hands when arranging home exchanges and so your stay will be free. The exception are homes that are also available for rent if you choose go that route.
2. Membership Levels
What membership options do you offer?
There are three levels of membership: Standard, Plus, and Pro. All plans include a risk-free 14 day trial period. To compare the different plans click here.
What can I do as a Standard member?
As a Standard member you can list your home, create a profile, manage your own list of favorite homes, and communicate with all other members. To send messages you must have your home listed with at least one photo.
What can I do as a Plus member?
As a Plus member you can freely communicate with all members in the community, that is, view and reply to messages and requests from other members -- as often as you wish, there is no limit. These conversations allow you to build trust between you and the other exchange party and freely discuss dates and other details relative to a home exchange.
What can I do as a Pro member?
As a Pro member you can freely communicate with all members in the community, that is, view and reply to messages and requests from other members -- as often as you wish, there is no limit. These conversations allow you to build trust between you and the other exchange party and freely discuss dates and other details relative to a home exchange.
Do I need to sign up to use Stay4free?
You don't have to sign up to search and explore available homes. However, to list your own home and send messages to other members you need to sign up, either for the free BASIC membership or the paid PREMIUM membership. The free BASIC membership doesn't cost anything, and we invite those who may be interested in exploring home exchange to sign up and give it a try!
Is there a limit to the number of exchanges I can arrange?
No, there is no limit. You can swap as often as you want.
What can I do as a visitor (without signing up)?
As a visitor you can find, view, and explore all listed homes. You cannot list your own home, maintain your profile, manage your own favorite homes, or contact any of the other members. For that and more you need to sign up.
3. Listing your Home
Is my home suitable for home exchange?
Some people think their home is too small, too much out of the way, or too average to be listed on Stay4free.com. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not everyone requires a luxurious home with a view, a hot-tub, and a pool. In fact, most people have average homes and are more than happy to exchange theirs against your modest place with the primary goal of staying in an authentic place, having a great experience, and save a lot of money. When listing their homes, we tell members to highlight the strong points, but not to over-inflate so that both parties can make informed decisions about a possible home exchange.
What information do I provide?
Your home listing is a bit like a marketing brochure and it is best to present a clear and complete picture of your home and yourself. Fill out all fields and, most importantly, add clear, attractive photos. Having quality photos really helps. It is best to include photos of the outside, both front and back, the inside, the bedrooms, bathrooms, outside view from inside the home, and and a couple pictures of your neighborhood. If you consider automobile-exchange also include a picture of your vehicle. We recommend uploading horizontal photos only (i.e. landscape format) as they will look much better.
I received a swap proposal. Do I have to accept?
No, you are under no obligation to accept any proposal or request. Also, there is no need to rush to a decision. Take your time and carefully evaluate whether the home and the timing appeals to you. If not, be courteous and thank the member proposing the exchange. If you are not certain and need more information, ask questions, lots of questions, before agreeing to the exchange. It is not unusual to have a lengthy exchange of messages followed by a couple Skype sessions before the two families come to a final swap agreement.
What if I own more than one home?
No problem. All plans allow unlimited properties. Additionally, your home listing does not have to be your primary residence.
4. Searching Home Listings
How do I search for a home?
The easiest way to start a search is to enter any combination of a city, country, and/or postal code in the search box. Stay4free will then find the homes that best match those criteria and list them in descending order.
Alternatively, you can click on the quick links with popular destinations and get started that way.
On our homepage you also find a 'reverse search' capability. Essentially is answers the question, where can my family go? Let's explain with an example. Suppose you live in Rome, Italy. You enter Rome, Italy and then the system will provide you with a list of all members who would consider going to your place. It is an easy to way to explore the possibilities you have with your home.
What if I have certain requirements?
To meet your requirements, Stay4free provides so called filters which allow you to filter your search results. The most common ones are 1) your travel dates, and 2) number people you travel with. These common filters are always available on the search page and home details pages.
On the search results page has additional filters on the left hand side. Any combination of these can be selected, such as, number of bedrooms, automobile exchange, property type (apartment, villa, boat, etc) and more. Avoid selecting too many filters as this will severely limit the number of homes returned in your search results. Too many filters may lead to no results at all.
5. Contacting other members
How do I contact other members
There are two primary ways to contact other members: messages and pings™. (explained below)
How do messages work?
Each Stay4free member has their own private messaging area that only they can see.
Messages are text based, threaded discussions, similar to email. You will be notified by
email when a new message has arrived in your Stay4free inbox.
To help you communicate better, your messages follow certain steps. Intially your messages are in a status called 'In Discussion'. Once a member proposes a swap (which includes dates) the status changes to 'Swap proposed'. The other party can then choose 'Swap agreed' or 'Swap denied'. A rarely used option is 'Cancelled', meaning the discussion was cancelled. To minimize travel plan disruptions, the "Cancel" option should only be used in very rare circumstances.
What are pings™?
A ping is a query (or signal) to check if another member may be interested in swapping with you. Pings are a convenience tool. They prevent you from writing messages when there is no chance of a swap. Those who receive a ping, can respond with a 'Yes' or 'No' pingback. Yes means they are potentially interested and No means not. Optionally, a pingback can contain a short 60-character message. Once a 'Yes' pingback arrives members typically start discussing details using standard messages. You can ping as many members as you like, but any particular member can only be pinged once every 3 months.
What is a Swap agreement?
Once a discussion is in 'Swap Proposed' status, you can start filling out a Swap Agreement. It contains details, such as, home addresses, arrival and departure dates, key pickup, emergency contact numbers, things to know about the house, and more. Each party gets their own copy of the agreement. These documents clearly establish the rules and expectations for each visiting party. It is best that each party completes and signs their copy.
What is a message Template
Next to each home listing is a 'Send Message' box where you enter your message to the listing's owner. To avoid having to write the same message over and over, you can create your own template message (under your Message area). Templates can save you considerable time and effort. The nice thing is that each message can still be adjusted before pushing the send button.
Would you rather sit in a hotel, or relax on your
own private veranda in the evening sun?
Car exchanges are frequently included in
home exchange arrangements