Across the Pond

Swapping houses sounds appealing, except for the cleaning

DUBLIN — We have friends here who love nothing more than a good house swap, the farther away from their own abode the better.

Over the past few years, Clare and Paul, along with their three kids, have exchanged residences (and automobiles) with folks in France, Holland, and Canada. There’s even talk of finding someone in the Boston area who’s willing to trade front-door keys.

In these tough economic times, it seems a sensible way of getting to see different parts of the world. If you can find some cheap air fares and then locate a discount grocery store on arrival, the cost of such a vacation shouldn’t break the family bank.


So why do I have my misgivings? For starters, even though our house — which was built in 1990 — is a toddler compared with the dwellings in my hometown of Medford, it already has developed certain blemishes and eccentricities. It’s a sound enough building, don’t get me wrong. And it looks fabulous on Google Maps, as do the 15 other identical duplexes on our suburban Dublin road.

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Up close, though, as with every house, the imperfections appear. And of course, I’m to blame for a lot of them. If only I’d acquired a three-tiered tool box as a youngster, or been more inquisitive when my mechanically inclined uncles came to visit, our unresolved Irish snag list wouldn’t resemble one of those ancient scrolls that unfurl without end in the movies.

For instance, back in September 2010, we had our windows replaced with more durable models. After 20 years of doing battle with the winds and rain of an Irish winter, the original frames were still fine, but the glass was proving shaky, literally, on some dark and stormy nights.

Anyway, the installation team — a father and son duo, both named Derek — did a smashing job. They were quick, efficient, and tidy. Even so, we were left to do some minor touch-up work around each window casing. In the kitchen, this meant replacing a small number of tiles that hadn’t survived the tearing and pulling involved in fitting a new window.

If not for an agreeable plumber who remodeled our bathroom nine months later and obliged us by slapping a few tiles in place, our window over the kitchen sink would still have a gap-toothed look. (And even though a while back my wife bought some easy-to-apply grout to urge me along, I’ve yet to finish the job.)


Around the rest of the windows the necessary patch-up work wasn’t nearly as noticeable. Which is just as well, because the two Dereks were so adept at applying fresh plaster around each frame that I let their work stand. No need — as I saw it — for a light brush of sandpaper and then a quick lick of paint to bring our window project to a conclusion.

So on a superficial level anyway, our house needs a few touch-ups before I’d feel comfortable letting any long-term guests settle into it.

But the main deterrent to agreeing to a house swap has to be the amount of cleaning you’d have to do before handing over the keys. Beds and heavy furniture would need to be pulled out, bathroom fixtures meticulously scoured, kitchen appliances scrubbed and shined to showroom standard.

This is one area where my DIY skills are exemplary. When I choose to employ them, that is. My wife and I are pretty much in agreement about what constitutes a reasonable timetable for a thorough house-cleaning. Where we differ is in our commitment to the job. Once I get going, I’m a veritable whirlwind, sweeping into places normally inaccessible to a sponge or a brush. It just takes some time and encouragement for me to gather sufficient momentum.

As a result, you’re talking a 12- to 18-month lead-in time before I’d be ready to let any strangers use our kitchen or bathroom as their own.


The bottom line then, I’m afraid, is this: If you’re looking to swap houses with a family in the Dublin area, our property is off the market.

Medford native Steve Coronella has lived in Ireland since 1992. He is the author of “This Thought’s On Me: A Boston Guy Reflects on Leaving the Hub, Becoming a Dub & Other Topics.” He can be reached at