Your house for mine
You can find home swap organizations by Googling "home exchange," but exercise caution and seek the opinion of a trusted source. Reports of apartment rental scams (especially in Paris) abound. A personal recommendation, as we had, helped us feel comfortable.
Here is the organization we used and a couple of others we considered:
Home Exchange, http://www.homeexchange.com. Started in 1992. 46,000 members. $119 per year
HomeLink, http://www.homelink.org. Started in 1953. 13,000 members. $89 per year
Intervac, http://www.intervac-homeexchange.com. Started in 1953. 30,000 members. $99 per year
Keys to a successful home swap:
Trust is essential in any exchange. We felt an instant connection with the people we swapped with after our first Skype conversation. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, keep looking.
Communication is key. We exchanged more than 80 emails before, during and after our trip. Clear and frequent communication combined with an English proficiency reduced the number of unexpected complications.
Photos are important. Their house looked as beautiful and well appointed in real life as it did in the photos. I don't want to stay in your home (or have you stay in mine) if you can't make the bed, clean the bathroom or turn on the kitchen lights for your photo gallery.
Know that you won't be able to accept every invitation. You'll politely decline many invitations before you get to the home swap that fits your needs. Expect just as many rejections before you find what you want.
Make life simple for your guests. You never realize how hard it is to explain how something works until you try to write it down in a user's manual for your home. Spell it all out, from the TV remote to the microwave oven to the tricky doorknob.
Make a plan. Figure out where you'll leave the house keys and which neighbors can help in case of an emergency.
Feedback helps. At the end of our visit, I wrote a how-to guide for the next exchange family (and our hosts) explaining all the things that took us awhile to figure out.
Expect damage of some sort. You're bound to break something. Expect to fix something on your visit — just as you do at home.
Make time to clean. We spent a month getting our home ready for the exchange and set aside the final day of our trip to get their home back in order.
Manage your expectations. Every culture, country and family is different. Experiencing those differences is all part of the joy of traveling.