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Hello,

Welcome to our Winter 2012 edition of HomeLink Connection!

We hope you enjoyed the holidays and are starting 2012 with renewed vim and vigor.

This newsletter brings with it two new sections.  The first, titled, HomeLink Internet will keep you informed on our latest efforts at improving the look and functionality of our website. 

Seeking USA” is our second new feature.  We currently have a similar sidebar feature at our website.  However, the website features a random sampling of our HomeLink members from around the world who have included their preference for visiting the USA.

We have narrowed the scope of this feature for this and future newsletters, so that we can attempt to help those few members who have exhausted all resources in finding an exchange in the USA to no avail. 

This issue’s “Media Focus” includes two recent video interviews on home swapping. The first came to us from Ireland and the second took place right here on our own soil with one of our longtime HomeLink USA Members.

Our “Member Stories” section is filled to the brim with three wonderful adventures experienced by our members!

We hope you enjoy our newsletter and, as always, welcome any feedback you may have:  homelink.us@gmail.com.

FYI, we have extended our phone hours to Mon – Thur, 10am to 5pm Eastern Time.

Kind Regards,

Karl & Katie Costabel

 

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HomeLink USA News

 

 Just a Reminder… 

Email Address Updates:

We have recently changed our email address to homelink.us@gmail.com

Please update your address books accordingly.

As always, please continue to notify us at homelink.us@gmail.com with your email address updates so we can properly update our local database.  Our occasional messages to you, including this newsletter, are sent from our local database.



Please Update Your Listings…

Please make a point of updating your listing (at least) annually as we frequently receive comments about member’s listings that still contain dates from previous years.  Visitors viewing our listings through the free database search falsely assume these outdated listings are not current members of HomeLink.

You can find detailed instructions for updating your listing as well as uploading new photos at our “Member Help” link.  This link is found under “US Functions” at the left side of the Database Main Page after logging in.



Exchange Request Etiquette:

A member of ours brought this issue to our attention after an unfortunate experience with a member from another home swap organization.  Even though the request did not come from a HomeLink member, it is still worth addressing, because it’s something we all need to consider prior to sending out requests for exchange.

What happened is that she received an exchange request from a member and when she replied positively to the request, the sender actually told her he was unable to commit to an exchange just yet because he was considering other positive replies he had received.  He ultimately reneged on his initial request to her.  The general rule of thumb here is to only send out a request when you are prepared to follow-through with a positive reply to your request.  

Of course, we encourage our members to be proactive in sending out requests for exchange.  However, if you are sending multiple requests within the same time frame, please consider including this fact within your request.  By including this information, the recipient knows you are considering more than one exchange possibility.

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The comment below from another member lends itself to this discussion, explaining the benefit of sending only a few requests at a time…

“…The template idea works well in HomeLink but for only one listing at a time. I like this method because it forces me to slightly customize each letter I send. I start with my template that has xxxxxs where the greeting and region/city we [want] to visit will go.

 Then I add one personal comment that I try to find from their listing about that family's situation (children/no children, interests--maybe based on their occupations).

 I never send more than 2 letters out at a time because I HATE to get caught with both families saying yes. I think it would be potentially confusing and lead to many more people stringing families along if we were allowed to send out many emails all at once. One or two at a time allows for civility and patience, something HomeLink members are good at--for the most part. What do others think?...”



Exchange Evaluation Forms:

Please take the time to complete our Exchange Evaluation Form (and ask your exchange partner to do the same) after each of your exchanges.  They serve as great future references.

 

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HomeLink Internet Technology… 

New Exchange Agreement Form Status:

We first want to address the request (sent in our last newsletter) for volunteers to test our new and simpler Exchange Agreement Form (EAF).  We certainly appreciate the positive response to our request and assure you the form is close to being tested by our general membership.  However, we have run into a couple unexpected hurdles in getting it to that level of testing. 

In response to the many suggestions we have received from our members over the past couple years, we assigned a small group of HomeLink International Organizers (myself included) to discuss and develop the new form.

The new form has gone to our programmers and we are currently correcting minor programming bugs so that we can properly bring it to our volunteers for testing.  We anticipate being able to bring it to our volunteers soon.

In the meantime, you might consider following the suggestion sent in from one of our members.  He explains how he has managed to simplify the process of putting an exchange agreement in writing.

“…I finally had to give up using your Exchange Agreement Form because filling it in, and sending it back and forth didn't seem to work for us and frequently with our exchanger, so I typed up an agreement on MS Word that has worked very well with my fellow exchangers.

 I initiate it, send it to them for their input and revision, and after some changes by both of us, we have a very simple 2-3 page written agreement we are both happy with.  It is so much simpler and there is no learning curve necessary to use Word….”



Scheduled Maintenance:

We have developed a schedule for implementing a series of revisions/upgrades and maintenance launches over the course of the the coming months. 

Our first planned maintenance launch is scheduled for January 24th, so you may experience a few hours when our site is not available, depending on when you go to our site. 

This launch will include only minor functionality upgrades.  However, we plan to launch more noticeable improvements in a series of “sprints” over the coming months.

Of course, we will keep you informed via separate email about these future server interruptions and system upgrades as they come into play.

Once the January 24th and future launches have been completed, we  encourage you to report any glitches/bugs you might come across while at our website.  Please notify us via email at:  homelink.us@gmail.com

 

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Media Focus…

Our first article comes all the way from Ireland’s morning show, “Ireland AM”.  Travel expert, Julianne Mooney, highlights HomeLink Ireland.  We want to thank Paul & Marie Murphy, our HomeLink Ireland colleagues, for their exceptional representation of HomeLink International.

House Swapping TV Interview on Ireland:AM, and House Swapping blog by Julianne Mooney, October 20, 2011


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This next interview comes from Arizona Public Media’s show, “Arizona Illustrated”.  Our longtime HomeLink USA member, Clara (and Bill) Stahle gave a wonderful interview and Karl & I sincerely thank her for shining such a positive light on the home swapping experience.

Saving Money on Travel: House Swaps , Arizona Illustrated, Arizona Public Media, January 4, 2012


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Member Stories…

We would very much like to hear about your home swapping stories and include them in an upcoming HomeLink Connection newsletter.

Please send your stories to homelink.us@gmail.com and let us know if it would be okay to include your name.

We have actually received so many stories over the past few months, that we were unable to include them all in this newsletter.  We promise to eventually share all of your stories and look forward to receiving them from you, as they are all so interesting!  Thanks to all of you for such a wonderful response to this section.

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This first story was sent to us by our members, Linda & John from Uruapan, Michoacan, Mexico.  They had the unique opportunity to exchange with a HomeLink member in Cuba. 

Thank you, John & Linda, for sharing your amazing HomeLink experience with us!

 

Exchange in Cuba

While we in Mexico are still suffering from misplaced fear and paranoia, by U.S. Citizens, we are just back from an exchange in Cuba. Since we were attending a conference in Merida, Yucatan, just as a whim I looked to see if there was an exchanger in Cuba. Turns out there is one.

Since we had already booked out hotel, we only stayed for two nights, but have offered him as much as he wants here in Uruapan, Michoacan.

William White is British and an investment banker. In front of his home in Miramar is a beach house. That is where we enjoyed our stay with him and his family. Before the Revolution Miramar was home to many wealthy Cubans. Today it has 146 Embassies, far above the average of most countries. This is an indication of the friendship Cuba has around the world. We stopped to take pictures in front of the Spanish, Mexican and Canadian Embassies. (I am a Canadian.)

One interesting thing about the home is that it is owned by the government. The bank rents the home. Following a major hurricane a few years ago, the bank and the government each put in $ 100,000 USD for renovations. The bank has been paid back. Those who stayed in Cuba kept their homes. Homes of those who fled were taken over by the government as in this case. The home next door is under repair. When finished, it will be rented by a foreign partner of the Havana Club company.

The Cuban wife of our host is a marine biologist who studies turtles. This was of interest to us because we split our year between homes in the states of Baja California Sur and Michoacán and we have turtles laying eggs in both states during their season.

My wife Linda had been in Cuba several years ago. She was impressed with how far they have [come] with renovations of stately old buildings and commerce. During her stay, they ate mostly in homes. We found several excellent new restaurants that have opened in recent years. Also in the Plaza of old Havana there are several new stores such as Giorgio and Colors of Benneton. Signs outside the newly remodeled building show before and after, In Cuba, education and health are the top priorities, if any funds left over they are for old buildings. In the case of the plaza, the United Nations has made significant donations

We will be at a Conference in Orlando, Florida in November 2012. At that time if the home is available, we will ask for another exchange. By the way it was interesting for me to see a plaque commemorating the opening of the La Habana airport. It was April 199??? with President Fidel Castro and Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien officiating. I knew that the airport was designed by a Canadian architect and built with Canadian engineering skills.

Our flight was delayed by an unusual event. As we sat waiting we noticed a parade of wheel chairs heading on to the plane. They returned with patients. The plane had come from Venezuela and obviously was a medical mission. While waiting at the gate, Linda struck up a conversation with a high ranking official from International Affairs. He was there to see off the daughter of the head of a political body.

One final note and it is about television.  Both in La Paz and Uruapan, we receive CNN, International. When we turn on at 6 p.m. we hear, “Greetings from Hong Kong. Here is a picture of Victoria Harbour. The Asian markets have just opened etc… “In Cuba we watched CNN U.S. regular programming. Go figure.

John

 

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The next story was sent to us from our members Bill & Patty.  They have sent a few stories to share, which we plan to include over the next few newsletters.  Their first story tells of some valuable insight they acquired with their very first exchange.

Thank you very much, Bill & Patty, for sharing the valuable experience you gained on your very first HomeLink exchange.

 

STORIES I TELL MY FRIENDS ABOUT HOME EXCHANGES

 

STORY ONE           

Whenever I began talking about exchanging homes, there is often a look of apprehension on the faces of my friends.  Their responses vary from the extreme, “What!! Ugh!! You mean some strangers would be sleeping in my bed??”

I love to reply to that response by saying, casually, “Oh, I’m sorry—I didn’t know that you cannot sleep in hotel or motel beds.”

But, usually, the retorts are milder like, “We’ve got all these personal things; how do you know if the people would honor these or not steal them?  Does this exchange organization check out the people who join it?”

To such a mild retort, I then tell this story:

Our first home exchange was with a retired professor from Cal Poly—he was coming to our home in Arizona and we were going to his home near San Luis Obispo.  On the telephone before we exchanged, I asked him if they had ever had a problem with an exchange—his web site said that they were experienced exchangers.  He said that we were to be his twenty-third exchange and that they had never had a problem.  Then he said, “Oops, we did have one problem.”  Then he went on to explain that one couple left cash and a note on their kitchen counter that apologized for breaking a wine glass—it had slipped from the lady’s hand while unloading the dishwasher—and the cash on the counter was to compensate for the loss.  After a bit more conversation, he then said, in a serious voice, “What you have to understand is: if you are the kind of a person who will let us use your house, you will also be the kind of person who will take good care of our house.”

This made a lot of sense to us, and we have now done six exchanges, including a month in New Zealand and two different months in Australia, and have not had a single problem—not even a broken wine glass.  And we are doubly convinced that our first exchanger was correct; it you are the kind to let us use your house (and car), you will be the kind who will take good care of our house (and car).

 

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Our last story in this issue is from our member Vicki in Minnesota.  She too shares her first (and 2nd) experience with HomeLink and reinforces the fact that HomeLink is comprised of a wonderful group of people—one that Karl & I are very proud to be a part of.

Thanks, Vicki, for sending your story to us and for bringing such enthusiasm to the wonderful world of home swapping!

 

Serendipity in My First Exchange Year

by Vicki in Minnesota

 

Last year, 2011, was my first year to participate in a home exchange through HomeLink.  I had a few pleasant surprises!  At the time I signed up in HomeLink, I was hoping to find an exchange in the UK.  I loaded my pictures one evening as my page became active, and planned to begin scouring the websites the next weekend for a home in Great Britain.  The very next morning I saw that I had [received] a response email from someone in Australia  (“AU” was the clue).  That was fast!

My immediate reaction was a wee bit of disappointment because, I’d either have to decline and disappoint someone, or spend my money going somewhere [that] wasn’t really my first choice.  Two years prior, I had tried on my own, through friends, to find a home sitting situation near the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia.  In 1991 I had exchanged homes and teaching jobs with an Australian for one year.  I have kept contact with several people on the Sunshine Coast and had always wanted to return for an extended visit to see people and places I had known. The area north of Brisbane was the only place I would consider going for a few weeks in Australia. My efforts to get there never panned out, and I back-burnered that idea.  

So...anyway, I went to the HomeLink website, opened the note, and was pleasantly shocked to find that this Australian couple lived in an area I knew well!!  Their home was only two miles from the primary school where I had taught.  This was EXACTLY where I wanted to go!  I quickly replied to their request with an enthusiastic “Yes!” 

I was so excited, I forgot to check out their page on the website before I responded (not recommended).  Fortunately for me, their home was quite lovely, in a nice neighborhood, with a swimming pool in the backyard. We had a lot of communication through email and phone calls during the 8 months prior to our exchange.  We became friends before we had even met.

I invited them to come one week early when I heard that their exchange arrangement, in Arizona the month before mine, had fallen through.  I would be out-of-town for most of that week, so they would have my place to themselves, and we would have a chance to meet.  When I returned to town, I invited some neighbors over for grilled dinner on the patio to meet them.  The Aussie gentleman was setting the table outside and noticed that my umbrella table was crooked.  The next thing I knew, he was under the table straightening it out!  After I thanked him for doing a fixit job, which had stumped me, he remarked that he was able to “fix that shower door” (which hadn’t shut correctly in about 3 years!)  By the time our 4 week exchange was over, and I returned home, I found that a plastic bathroom faucet handle had broken and been replaced, the wheel on my bicycle was fixed, and my wonky kitchen cupboard door was good as new!

I never anticipated having free handy-man services as part of the home swap deal.  I told them they were welcome to visit me any time, and I would gladly supply the tool kit. 

I have tried to conceal the identity of this wonderful Aussie couple, since I am sure they would be bombarded with home exchange requests from everyone who read this article.  I felt extremely fortunate to have had such a great experience on my first home exchange.  The story got even better for me.  I DID get another 2011 offer from a couple in the UK.  I went to Wales for two and a half weeks in the fall---another very positive experience (without the home repair services, however). In addition...my neighbors now have a standing invitation to visit their new-found Australian friends on the Sunshine Coast!

 

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Helpful Hints… 

“Members Since YYYY” Annotation:

I have received another great idea from Annalisa, our HomeLink Italy colleague.  She has encouraged her current members to add at the beginning of their descriptive text the phrase, “HomeLink Members since YYYY”.

This would be a great addition to your listing.  We have actually contacted our IT Team about implementing this as an automated component of all new listings once they have been uploaded.  We hope to add this in the near future.

Please consider adding this to your listing and if you are unsure about the year you joined HomeLink, simply send me an email from this link, homelink.us@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to add this bit of information for you.



Car Exchange Insurance:

Below is a comment sent to us from our longtime member, Skip (and Judy) Hare, from Naples, Florida about insurance coverage during a car exchange. 

I apologize for taking so long to include this, Skip, but certainly appreciate your feedback and useful advice.

“…A detail that I thought might be of interest: prior to our first trip when we exchanged cars, I called our car insurance company to see if they had any problems with that.  They said no problem, other folks would be covered in our cars, and suggested we let them know of the names of exchangers and dates that they will be using the car so that if they have an incident and call the insurance company, that the company will be aware of what’s going on and provide them with assistance. 

Skip Hare”

 

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HomeLink International News


Seeking USA…

 The members included in the link to this new feature (below) have contacted their respective HomeLink Organizer, asking for their help in finding an exchange.

This feature is still in its infancy and we will certainly include any of our USA members who have been unable to find a US exchange after an exhaustive search.

Further, if any of you have been unsuccessful in finding an exchange abroad, we would be happy to forward your situation and preferences to our corresponding HomeLink Organizer.  After all, we are here to help all of our members in anyway we can.

Of course, we are please to bring this new feature to you, but need to let you know that there is potential for us to be overwhelmed with requests for help in finding exchanges.  Therefore, we feel the need to emphasize that we will do our best to help, but encourage you to make a sincere and proactive effort in finding an exchange before asking for our help.

Seeking USA Exchanges

 

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Upcoming Events Worldwide…

 ITALY
HomeLink Italy’s 3rd International HomeLink Meeting
June 2, 2012

 I have actually only included the introduction part of Annalisa’s invitation due to space limitations.  If you are interested in attending her lovely event, please contact me at  homelink.us@gmail.com   and I will send you the link to the entire invitation plus more information on B&B’s in the area in case you are unable to find a suitable exchange during the event. 

HomeLink Italy’s Annual International Member Gathering Official Invitation (Intro):

 3rd International Homelink Meeting

Palermo (Sicily)  2nd June 2012

For the 3rd consecutive year, the annual international meeting ( 9.th National) takes place in Italy. This time HomeLinkers will discover beautiful Sicily, both the historical and mysterious one, including the part marked by the struggle worldwide known as ‘Mafia’.  The Official Meeting will be held on SATURDAY 2ND JUNE in the Cloister of the Convent of Carmine Maggiore in central Palermo.  Guests will meet in the afternoon and will have dinner there.  For the ones who wish to stay longer we have planned something special, as follows.

 

ENGLAND

Summer Olympics 2012

Our HomeLink UK Organizer is setting up a registry of their HomeLink members’ homes near Olympic 2012 venues. Once they have a significant number of members on this list, they will let us know and we will pass this valuable information on to you.

Click here for HomeLink UK Olympic Registry

 

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