|Home Swappers Newsletter|
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Lois Sealey, Editor, Home Swappers
'While searching through the Home Base Holidays listings recently, I noticed that many members do not include a link to their Personal Website (found under "Exchange party details" when viewing as a member). Designing your own website offers significant advantages to help you promote your beautiful home. Firstly, you can add more pictures of your property. They can also be larger in size. Secondly, you can add links to the attractions in your area, giving potential swappers much relevant local information at the click of a mouse.
Designing a website may seem a daunting task. But, if I can do it, so can you! Most Internet Providers will give you personal web space when you sign up for your internet connection. All you need are the software tools to develop and publish your website and to edit your pictures.
There are many web design tutorials on the internet; here are a few examples:
If you perform a Google search for "personal website design tutorial", you will find dozens more.
You don't need to learn HTML coding to develop your website if you have a reasonably good web editor; I use Microsoft Front Page (an old 2002 version). Front Page is usually included with the Microsoft Office suite of products. You simply design the page, as you might design a Microsoft Word document, and the software writes the code for you. (HTML is an acronym for Hyper Text Markup Language - the language which describes how web pages look).
The basic rule for a good web page is "Keep It Simple". I like to set up my page in a table, with discreet rows and columns. Then I know exactly where everything is going to be and that it will look neat and tidy when displayed on the web. Remember to use simple fonts (I personally like Verdana and Tahoma, as they display very well on most monitors). Also, make sure that your font colours are easy to read. I was reading a web article this morning with a light grey font on a white background - almost impossible to decipher! Also, avoid overly bright, gaudy colours; they can be quite grating to the eye, and annoy your readers.
No personal website is complete without an attractive set of photos of your property. Most people nowadays have a digital camera and some basic photo editing software. As I fancy myself a dedicated amateur photographer, I've got a reasonably good digital camera. More importantly, I have Adobe Photoshop (an older version 7.0) which is absolutely essential for optimizing my photos before publishing them to the web. You can use Photoshop's Web Photo Gallery command to automatically generate a Web photo gallery from a set of images. A Web photo gallery is a website that features a home page with thumbnail images and gallery pages with full-size images. Each page contains links that allow visitors to navigate the site. For example, when a visitor clicks a thumbnail image on the home page, the gallery page with the associated full-size image will open.
As of version 5 and greater, Photoshop includes a very handy "Save for Web" command. This feature allows you to produce a copy of your image that is optimized for Web use. This means that the image file will be as small as possible (reducing download time), and that the image will use only Web-safe colours (if desired). "Save for Web" can produce GIF, JPEG, or PNG format images. By trial and error, you can find the right balance between file size and picture quality. Surprisingly, you can compress a .jpg file by nearly 50% with little discernable difference in quality to the human eye.
I hope this little article may encourage you to design your own personal website, and that it may help you attract more visitors to your home.
The photo is of my friend Sharon and I taken in August 2007 while I was on a wonderful home exchange in Limburg Province, Holland. Sharon came over to visit her family, and stayed with me for a week. We took a Rhine cruise and visited Bruges, Antwerp, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Amsterdam while she was visiting. I still maintain contact with the Dutch family; they were terrific, charming people. I hope to see them again.' - David Glover, HE19136
Editor's Note: See David's attractive home exchange offer in Richmond Hill, Ontario (near Toronto), HE19136. And check out his personal website (link below). Note that David wisely doesn't include contact information on his site to avoid the attention of spammers looking for email addresses to copy.
Home exchange was the discussion topic on BBC Radio North Yorkshire recently and I am including links to the recording below. Martin and Marion, Home Base Holidays members and experienced exchangers, discussed their home swapping experiences while showing the interviewer around their bungalow (in photo) near York.
The home exchange feature was broadcast and recorded in two parts. Do listen to both as this is a very good introduction to home swapping:
I was also interviewed for the programme, mainly to answer questions on possible problems that can occur when swapping homes (very rare), along with New York exchanger, Nicole, who publishes a blog based on her many personal exchange experiences. Nicole provided a list of the modest costs involved in her family's most recent home exchange. Her iteminised list of expenses gives a very good idea of the cost savings that can be made when swapping homes over more conventional holidays - an increasingly important consideration for many travellers during a time of recession.
As well as the radio feature on home exchange, read the accompanying story, 'Swapping homes!', on BBC Radio North Yorkshire site; a quote:
'Martin and Marion .... are a retired couple from Dunnington near York. They've done five home exchanges, visiting places like New Zealand, Australia, America and Canada. They began in 2000, by registering their bungalow on a home exchange website, within days they'd lined up a swap with another retired couple from Brisbane in Australia. A happy holiday followed and both couples, and their neighbours, are still in touch.
Marion explained just what the benefits of home swapping are; "Meeting people is part of it, really getting to know an area well, experiencing a new community. We've made some great friends through home swapping."'
North Yorkshire has much of interest to attract home exchangers, including the wonderful historic city of York. Do check out Martin and Marion's attractive exchange offer (link below) in Dunnington, a good base for visiting York and beyond.
I was delighted to read this finished article on home exchange in the Wall Street Journal. This was a profile Q&A article based on a lengthy email correspondence between Leslie, a freelance writer from California, and myself that took place this summer. The article on home swapping (link below) is a featured travel story published in a section of the Journal, Encore: A Guide to Retirement Planning and Living (on the website, it's under Personal Finance - Retirement Planning).
The strap line sums it up,
'With the cost of travel skyrocketing, home exchanges are attracting more vacationers'.
Although, as I said in the interview, most home exchangers cite the opportunities that swapping homes offers to experience real neighbourhoods and different cultures as the main reasons they enjoy this form of travel, the economic slow-down and need for many people to cut down on expenses will no doubt make home exchange an even more attractive proposition. As this may include many readers considering home exchange for the first time, with often initial, understandable reservations about having 'strangers' in their homes, I hope the Q&A, and the separate, 'Going Swapping: A Step-by-Step Guide' in the article will be a useful introduction and entice more readers to consider home swapping. It's a great way to continue to enjoy travelling while cutting out a major expense - hotel or rental accommodation.
I take part in many interviews every year for articles about home exchange but this was one of the best and definitely the most fun. It was a real pleasure to work with Leslie who took so much trouble to research the topic thoroughly and to write a comprehensive article for Encore.
'Do you want your children's education to take in the best of what the world has to offer and not just the four walls of a classroom? Are you planning time out with your family to do something extraordinary?'
Twenty Twenty Television, a UK TV production company, is planning a new series for Channel 4 about families taking gap years. Victoria, a researcher at the company, is looking for a British family planning a long term home exchange prepared to share their adventure to be featured in one episode of the Channel 4 series. The series will include a number of other families on gap years, e.g. going to a far flung destination, going on safari or volunteering (i.e. taking a gap year with a purpose rather than going the traditional travelling route).
Victoria assured me that any Home Base Holidays members who agree to take part will not be followed around by a film crew the whole time they are on their extended home exchange! Rather, the company would provide the family with compact camera equipment to record aspects of their experiences while living in another country and this would be supplemented by the director's filming (who would be with the family for a short time, perhaps to record a particular aspect of the exchange or a special occasion).
'I'm looking for interesting and outgoing people with children who would make good subjects to base our series on. The family would ideally be travelling outside of Europe and although they do not need to be away for a whole year, it would be great to find people who are taking substantial breaks away from work and/or taking children out of school for a while to home school.
Potential people could be departing any time between now and Spring 2009 but we would like to make contact, through you, as soon as possible.
Twenty Twenty Television is an established independent production company that has won a number of awards for programmes such as The Choir, That'll Teach Them, Brat Camp and Lads' Army.'
If you are interested, please contact Home Base Holidays (subject line: Channel 4), giving your name, a daytime phone number and a brief outline of your proposed trip. Your message will be forwarded to Victoria who will contact you directly with more information.
Long time Home Base Holidays members, and experienced home exchangers, Maureen and Gerry, live on Australia's Gold Coast. Maureen supplied a drawing of a map, basically fitting Europe into Australia to show relative size of countries (see the map on the blog, link below). Maureen sends this map to all potential European home exchange partners so they have a realistic idea of distances before committing to an exchange. She wrote:
'We find heaps of folk have no idea how BIG Australia is and seem to think they can breakfast in Perth, have lunch at the Opera House in Sydney, snorkel the Barrier Reef in the afternoon and have dinner at Ayres Rock!
Many ask to swap with us on the Gold Coast thinking they can pop in after dinner to family in Townsville or Melbourne as if it is just "up the road".
It's a great, friendly and safe country to visit and most folk return to see more.'
Check out Maureen and Gerry's attractive exchange offer:
'Our house is situated on Queensland's Gold Coast, magnificant beaches & tourist attractions. Excellent golf courses & the sun shines all the time - warm weather guaranteed any time of year.' See full details and more photos, HE14532.
The moral of Maureen's story is the importance of taking the time to research a location thoroughly before an exchange so you can plan what you can do realistically. But, as Maureen demonstrates and David Glover does so well in his personal website (see feature article above), it's really useful to provide lots of local information to potential exchange partners.
Apart from the odd scammer in the past who joined Home Base Holidays solely to collect members' names and email addresses to compile mailing lists (for an unscrupulous start-up home exchange agency to mail our members), our closed, niche membership site is not an obvious target for scammers as are large open sites like Craigslist, Gumtree and many commercial rental sites that are a scammer's paradise. Our messaging system (which hides all contact information) has thwarted the mailing list compilers but, it pays to be alert to anything that doesn't seem quite right when using any website. There are many variations on similar types of scam but, as some members offer second homes for rent as well as exchange (rental only offers are not appropriate on a specialist home exchange site) here are a couple of scams to be aware of when letting or renting property:
1. If you have agreed to let your property and, for example, you are asked to hire a car, bicycle or whatever on behalf of your tenant, you could fall victim to the 'over payment' scam if the tenant claims to have made a mistake and sent you a cheque or money order for too much money and asks for a refund of the difference. The hope is that you will send the refund before the original cheque has cleared (which can take two or three weeks for cheques in foreign currencies) or, as will happen, it bounces.
2. If you are renting a property, it's reasonable to expect to pay a deposit up front but be aware of the scammers' methods to defraud you: never, ever wire funds via any wire service, including Western Union and Moneygram. You are very unlikely to find that the property you thought you had paid a deposit for is actually available.
Never give out any financial information that could be mis-used (bank account details, PayPal information, etc).
Most Home Base Holidays members will be savvy enough to spot a potential scam and decline a rental offer that seems too good to be true but do exercise caution and let us know if anything doesn't seem quite right before you part with any money. Members are responsible for their own arrangements and transactions but, if we find the very rare case of a scammer in our midst, we will de-activate their listing immediately and warn any members they have been in contact with as soon as we are aware of a potential problem.
Now, I need your feed back on best practice ideas for the security of both renter and tenant in regard to paying rental charges, including advance deposits and refundable security fees. Some of you will use a specialist rental agency to let your second home when not using it or have a contract form and established safe methods for taking payments directly. But other members may let a second home only occasionally on a more informal basis. Members with second homes often offer discount rental rates to other members when unable to exchange. Although it is disappointing to be offered rental in response to an exchange offer, having a small number of rentals available (members' homes or second homes, not commercial rental operations) can be very useful when unable to arrange an exchange in an area. For this reason, it would be a shame to disallow all rental offers on the site but both members offering rental as well as exchange and those taking up a rental offer need to have secure booking and payment methods in place for peace of mind on both sides.
Newsletter Contributions: We are always pleased to hear from members and subscribers and to receive contributions for the newsletter and blog - short reports on your exchange experiences, tips you feel would be useful to those new to the idea of home swapping and any questions you have on home exchange. Please include 'home exchange' in the subject line when contacting us as messages with no subjects (or dubious sounding subject lines!) or unexpected attachments may end up in our spam folder and deleted unread.
Reading this on the Website? Use the newsletter subscribe link to add your email address and receive the newsletter regularly. If already on the list but not receiving your copy by email, there can be a number of causes:
Reminder to Members about Messaging System: A short alert message is sent to you by email to let you know whenever there is a new message for you in the Inbox in your member area. The subject line in the alert messages you receive by email is: New home exchange message for you from HExxxxx (the member's User ID). Alert messages are automatically sent from the site whenever a member leaves you a message. You then need to log on to your member area to read and respond to the message. Please respond to all messages promptly even if you can't consider an exchange offer.
Although you should receive alert messages without any problem, it's a good idea to skim through your spam folder before deleting messages as a very few alert messages, like other 'good' messages, may be filed there by mistake - ISPs' spam filtering systems aren't perfect! If your ISP or email programme enables it, add our email address, homeexchange 'at' btinternet 'dot' com (replacing the 'at' and 'dot'), to your 'safe senders' list to ensure you don't miss any alerts.
The site based messaging system is for your security - you decide when you are ready to provide another member with your email address and any other contact information.
Be Alert: The Home Base Holidays private member area is for one-to-one exchange offers between members only, not for any other purpose. Please let us know if you receive any other type of message via your member area. Never respond to unsolicited messages from unknown sources.
Further Information: Check the archives to read past issues of Home Swappers Newsletter. Also, don't forget to visit the Travel the Home Exchange Way blog for regular information and updates plus special exchange requests. To receive notices by email whenever a new post is added (generally no more than three a week), add your email address to the box above 'Get email updates' in the left hand column of Travel the Home Exchange Way.
Copyright: All Home Swappers content is copyright and cannot be used in any form without written permission from Home Base Holidays. However, please feel free to forward the newsletter (in full) to friends and colleagues who may be interested in home exchange (use the Forward Email link below the newsletter).
Home Base Holidays, London, UK 1985-2009: 24th year providing a home exchange service worldwide