What is a cottage exchange and how does it work

Wooden cottage on a lake Photo by ksenchik30/Shutterstock

You love your cottage and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Permanently, anyway. But do you ever wonder what it would be like to experience cottage life in some other part of the province, country, or world? If so, then perhaps you should consider a cottage exchange.

Before you go down that road, there are a couple of hurdles to clear. First off, you must be comfortable with the idea of strangers staying in your space. You’re free to change the linens and restrict guests from using certain items (more on that later) but know that swapping cottages means that someone else will be sleeping in your beds, using your cutlery, and so on.

You should also check with your insurance provider to see if they have any concerns or restrictions on sharing your cottage with strangers and make sure you’re covered for any liabilities. Some insurers won’t cover short-term rentals, for example, but may have a different policy if no money changes hands.

Types of cottage exchanges

The simplest form of exchange is a direct swap: you trade places with someone else at the same time for the same length of time.

The second option is an indirect swap. In this case, you exchange properties at different times. You might, for example, want to use someone’s cottage in winter that’s close to a ski hill, while they’re keen to explore the fall colours in your area.

Finally, some cottage exchange websites have points systems. You earn these by signing up with an exchange site, completing exchanges, accepting points in lieu of a swap, or by buying them from the exchange company. Once you’ve accumulated enough points, you can offer it as a trade without necessarily having to make your place available to someone else.

How to find someone to swap with

The easiest way to find a cottage exchange is to sign up with a home exchange company such as Love Home Swap or HomeExchange. Other than registration costs (Love Home Swap starts at $11 a month while HomeExchange is $150 for an annual membership) there are no other fees involved in arranging an exchange.

These sites and others like them list thousands of homes and cottages available around the world. Start by entering the location you’d like to visit, then peruse the detailed listings to find what you’re looking for. Once you do, contact the owner through the site to see if they’re interested in a swap.

You could also take the DIY approach to track down someone to trade with. If there’s a particular area you’re interested in visiting, try contacting local cottager associations to see if they’d be willing to share a message about your proposal for a swap with their members.

Another option is to post a message on social media. That’s how Andy Mullen found a cross-border swap during the 2020 Covid lockdown. Mullen, an American teacher with a Thousand Islands cottage on the Canadian side of the border didn’t want to be locked out of the area for the summer. So, he posted a request on a local Facebook group and arranged to swap with Canadian Phil Murdock whose family cottage was on one of the American islands.

What you need to prepare before your exchange

There are some preparations involved in exchanging a property. As part of the process of arranging an exchange, some people like to set up a video conference call to “meet” the people they’re exchanging with.

You also need to do some work to get your property ready. Store any fragile heirlooms and valuables, for starters. If you think you’ll do this more than once, it might be worth investing in guest towels and linens.

A common practice in the property exchange world is to put together a package of information and rules for your guests about the house and local amenities and attractions—key information to include covers how to operate the heating and cooling systems and appliances. Photos with diagrams are useful in helping explain, say, how to adjust the flow and temperature on your multi-function shower.

And you might want to set rules on what can and can’t be used. Your insurer might also have restrictions on allowing guests to use powered watercraft.

You could also include a list of your favourite restaurants in town, the best places to shop, the location of the closest Beer Store or LCBO, and favourite trails to explore, along with local tourism maps and event calendars.

Finally, include instructions on cleanup and lockup procedures: do you want your guests to strip the beds, or should they wash the bedding before leaving? And where should they leave the key?

Cottage (and home) exchanges are a great way to explore new areas and create new cottage memories. Happy swapping!

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