This Could Be the Summer of Home Swapping
Kindred, a members-only website for exchanging homes, is giving Airbnb a run for its money.
Sometimes travel is a bit like imagining an alternate reality: What if you traded the daily grind of New York City for the laid-back beaches of Miami? The sleek cityscape of Chicago for the organic architecture of Mexico City? Or your Hollywood-funded LA mansion for a quaint cabin in the English countryside, a la the movie The Holiday?
Kindred, a house-swapping website, allows travelers to explore these possibilities at a fraction of the cost of an Airbnb. Once accepted into the members-only network, you’ll be able to temporarily exchange your home with that of another member, choosing from a pool of over 2,000 abodes in more than 50 cities. It’s essentially a barter, so there’s no cost to rent—you’ll just pay a per-night service fee and one-time cleaning fee per trip. Do a 1:1 exchange or host your home while you’re away to earn credits for a future stay.
The company, founded by Justine Palefsky and Tasneem Amina, recently raised $15 million in funding. Inspired by the transition to remote work, the duo started the company in April of 2021, publicly launching the following year. “I was staring at the same wall, day after day, and felt a little stuck,” Palefsky says. “I was thinking, If I don't need to be showing up to the office five days a week, I might as well be able to experience life somewhere else." What started out as Palefsky and Amina’s swapping network of a hundred or so friends became an international community, with a European expansion currently in the works.
Prior to founding Kindred, Palefsky had been working at the technology-enabled home building company, Homebound, and before that, online real estate platform, Opendoor. “I love homes,” she says. “I love these places that are the backdrops for our lives.” And the beauty of Kindred, she believes, is an invitation to a space that has soul. A Kindred home is used as a primary residence, with photos on the walls, a well-equipped kitchen, and a workstation with monitors. “It’s a warm space that's equipped for life, instead of an investment property that was designed to feel more like a hotel,” she says.
Those empty properties, bought up by business people or corporations and often listed on sites like Airbnb, have a tendency to increase housing prices in neighborhoods, placing a cost burden on the locals. This gentrification is just one of the reasons that travelers have been veering away from Airbnb for quite some time now. At its inception, the company offered a cheaper way to experience new places, but as booking fees and customer responsibilities increased, hotels became much more appealing.
Kindred’s set-up takes some of the best parts of the Airbnb homestay, offering it for a much cheaper deal. “You can take 10 trips for the price of one trip in a short-term rental,” Palefsky explains. “And when it’s that much more affordable, your relationship to travel can change, because you can justify squeezing a whole lot more adventure into your year.”
Kindred memberships are free. The cleaning fee, which varies by home, costs around $150. The service fee—which covers the 24/7 concierge support (in case the wifi stops working, or you lock yourself out), matchmaking service, and host protection program ($100,000 in case of accidental damage)—costs up to $25 per night. If you find yourself swapping often, you can make an annual commitment for $600, which allows you to book an unlimited number of stays on Kindred without having to pay the service fees.
Kindred is available to those who own their apartments as well as those who rent them. Because there’s no financial exchange between the guest and host, using Kindred is not the same as listing your home. Each time you host a stay, you’ll receive a complimentary kit with guest sheets, towels, and a lockbox. Kindred arranges professionally cleanings of your home before and after each stay, so when you return from your trip, you’ll come back to a spotless apartment (and if you don’t have an in-unit washer and dryer, the cleaning service will take the linens to a nearby laundromat).
The concept of home swapping is not new. In the film, Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz likely used a service inspired by HomeExchange, which was founded in the nineties. And then there’s the good ol’ home swap section of Craigslist. But what sets Kindred apart from legacy home exchange platforms is what Palefsky calls “an environment of trust.” The application process ensures that people are who they say they are; that homes are represented accurately; and that only people who are contributing to the community are able to book stays. In other words, as the website proclaims, “everyone has skin in the game."
"Your relationship to travel can change, because you can justify squeezing a whole lot more adventure into your year.”
Kindred also excels from a convenience perspective. Instead of adopting the classified ad approach, you simply enter a wishlist of places you’d like to stay in. The matchmaking team— part algorithm, part human—pairs you with members living in such destinations who can cater to your interests, i.e. a home amenable to dogs, or one that’s near an F1 race. Connections are also based on shared personal details, like mutual friends or similar professions.
With a waitlist of over 25,000 homes, one might wonder if a sense of exclusivity is part of the appeal. After all, Curbed dubbed Kindred the “Raya for home swapping.” But Palefsky pushes back on that idea. If the door were open to everyone, she asserts, the team would struggle to ensure that each member gets a safe and reliable experience. “We want to grow really intentionally,” she says. “We’ve seen some of the risks and challenges that come from tech companies that scale too fast and cannot keep the same service level—to be able to make good on the promises that they have made to their customers.”
Applications with an invite code are reviewed quicker, but you’re still encouraged to apply without one. And you don’t have to have an ultra-chic apartment, either. According to Palefsky, it’s all about geography. Most of the time applicants are rejected, it’s because they live in a location that’s not yet serviced with photographers or cleaning professionals. For potential applicants that do reside in a city that Kindred services, the team looks for homes that are “safe, functional, and furnished,” as well as interior design “that reflects a real human’s personality,” Palefsky says.
One of the best moments in The Holiday is the final meeting between Amanda and Iris; it’s a funny thing, getting to know someone through their empty home. “We joke that we set out to create a travel company, and we accidentally created a friend-making company,” Palefsky says. She recalls a time when a musician stayed at a Kindred home in Whidbey Island, off the coast of Seattle. The environment was particularly inspiring for the artist, and he created an original song using the sounds of the house—the cupboards closing, the microwave buttons, the sounds of Goss Lake—as a thank-you gift for the host.
In addition to its national hubs, the company features properties in Mexico and Canada, and will be expanding to major European cities—Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris, to name a few—later this year. It’s a promising possibility for cost-conscious travelers who are looking for ways to romanticize their routine come summer. Palefsky adds, “The groundswell of interest really shows us that there's an appetite for a new way to travel.”