- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

1. Don't set your plans in stone.

"Flexibility is key to a successful match, says Karl Costabel, who runs the exchange company Homelink USA. "In general, the more time you have to plan your trip and the more flexible as to destination and dates, the better off you'll be. If you want to be in the south of France sometime in the summer, you have a very high probability, whereas if you're looking for a particular town on very hard dates, it's going to be tough."

The Bentons, a Bethesda family of six and veteran home swappers, have always gone where the wind (and the offers) have taken them.

"Every time we go on an exchange, we always have a place in mind, but I can't remember one time that that was the place we ended up," says mother Patricia Benton. "You might have a place in mind, but people from that place may not be interested in coming to your home that summer, but someone from some other country may be interested."

2. Have faith.

"We've been hearing the same questions from day one: How do I know my home is safe?" Mr. Costabel says. "My answer is you don't. There are no guarantees. But we've done this for years and years, and the horror stories people have imagined haven't happened. And the liability would be no different than if you have a houseguest. It's not a business transaction you're really just inviting a friend to stay in your home while you're gone."

Ms. Benton says exchangers should remember their priorities.

"If you think the most important things you have are the paintings on the wall or the china, it's not going to work, because something's going to get broken, or your car battery may go dead," she says. "Things happen in everyday life just like they happen when you're living in your home."

Perri Green, a McLean exchanger, suggests that homeowners stash items they especially want to preserve.

"If things are really dear to you, put them away," she says. "Don't make them someone else's responsibility."

3. Be considerate.

"I do a total cleanup of the house, and I start a month before," Ms. Green says. "You're always trying to put your best foot forward."

The Greens and the Bentons say they try to make the stays easy for their houseguests. For example, Ms. Benton leaves local contact numbers for visiting families that address every conceivable need: the dentist, pediatrician, veterinarian, plumber, electrician, auto shop, car-insurance contact and friends.

In addition, she leaves a binder filled with owner's manuals for every appliance in the house even the can opener; very detailed instructions for taking care of the home and pets; and maps and directions to the grocery store, swimming pool, library and playground in addition to the obvious attractions.

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