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Welcome to Episode 3 of The Room Xchange. The platform that’s changing the way we live.
Are you a traveller, or maybe you just want more independence and freedom but the thought of renting well that’s just out of the question it’s way too expensive you just can’t afford it. Let me ask you, what if you explore the world, or have that independence, that freedom that you crave, without the high cost.
How, you ask? With The Room Xchange.
The Room Xchange is an online marketplace that connects busy people who’ve got a spare room with guests who are willing to give a couple of hours around the house each day in exchange for food and accommodation. It’s taking the sharing economy to a whole new level, and we’re going to show you how you can benefit.
Hi I’m your host Anne-Marie Cross and joining me today is CEO and Founder of The Room Xchange, Ludwina Dautovic. She’s here to tell us more about how as a guest you can find accommodation without the hefty cost with the Xchange program.
So welcome Ludwina.
[Ludwina]: Hello Anne-Marie, I love that music intro, I feel like having a dance now. [Anne-Marie]: I know. You know when we selected it, I just knew from what I’d read about the Xchange, and the values that you bring as a CEO to your company, that it really fits the style, it’s all..yea love it, love it, love it.
[Anne-Marie]: We spoke about the cost of living and we mentioned that across the other episodes as well, it really, really is scary from a traveller’s perspective, you know, when you’re looking at some of the places that they can stay – just too exorbitant, but also for millennials too, that younger group who want to have that independence, they want to move out of mum and dad’s home but they just can’t because it’s too costly.
[Ludwina]: Yea, absolutely. You know I was doing some research the other day and looking back, I’m 50 now, but looking back, to when I was 22, which is my youngest daughters age, the cost of rent, in comparison to what I was earning, I think it was only about a third or something at the time, but now it’s ridiculous. It’s like, you know, the amount of money that they get or can make is like at most $25.00 an hour, which is a pretty good rate for a 22 year old, and when you look at how much it costs to rent a room in a place, and then the utilities, transport, you know medical, all of that it’s just insane now.
[Anne-Marie]: You know one of the things that we mentioned in an earlier episode, episode one and it really is something about this high cost of living that the millennials have inherited. If we don’t address it, and the housing situation, it is going to become a social issue.
[Ludwina]: Absolutely. You look all over the news at the moment, it is a massive topic. But the challenge with this is that by the time that they figure out what solutions they need in terms of government, which is obviously to build more affordable housing for them, by the time they actually put the infrastructure in place and then build them, it’s 5 or 10 years down the track, and the problems probably doubled or tripled even by then. So we need a solution now, and you know, there’s 7 million spare bedrooms in Australia, just in Australia.
So, you know, if we got you know, like 1% of those, that’s 70,000 bedrooms.
Anne-Marie]: Absolutely, and I mean you have yourself have been a host for four guests and so you certainly been, you know, living with a guest, and certainly have incredible benefits, and you’ve shared many of those across other shows as well.
But some of the things that we have shared already is the actual benefits of joining the exchange program as a guest.
Obviously we’ve covered one already about the cost, but there’s so many other benefits that you know that your guests have experienced as well. Share more about those.
[Ludwina]: Well our current guest is Guillaume, and he’s been with us for 18 months now and he’s French-Canadian. So he came over on a working holiday visa and he decided one day to take a different route. He went into a different direction on his trip, he was travelling around on a van and it was all decked out at the back, and he ended up at a music festival. My daughter was working at the gate as a volunteer and ended up meeting. He gave her a ride back and it changed the whole trajectory of his life. Because he just, you know that movie where, I don’t know, ‘sliding doors’ or whatever, where you can go one way or you can go the other, and he was just telling me this story the other day, and he was saying that you know, I chose this different direction and it’s changed his life, and he’s come and he’s living in this home with us, he calls us his second family.
He’s learnt more about our culture, he’s had the stability to be able to find work without having to worry about whether he’s got a meal or a roof over his head. He has a gorgeous bedroom with a queen size bed, flat screen TV. Shares a bathroom with my daughter upstairs, and you know, and he’s got this family unit that he has a meal with every night, and this place, this sense of connection, and a base that he has that gives him that certainty and that confidence for him to be able to go and do and explore, what it is that he wants to explore. So that’s just kinds of I guess, the big picture of it.
Yea more of a, I guess the kind of personal stories that I hear from him is that how much he’s learnt about himself, how much more he’s opened up emotionally, and you know obviously every young person’s, every person’s family is their family. They go and live with a different family, that’s a different family, and you learn new things about yourself you know. So that’s been really exciting for him, and he’s just felt a lot more confident and comfortable having the security of us here.
[Anne-Marie]: Yea, I know as a parent of you know, young adults, if they were to go travelling overseas or even study overseas or even you know, within Australia, not knowing you know, who they were staying with, and of course the cost in itself too, but not knowing that where they’re staying, who they’re staying with, ‘cause often they just can not afford to rent on their own so they need to, you know, bunk up with other people – you just don’t know where they’re staying.
So from the point of view of a parent thinking about you know, my child becoming a guest in a home that provides a homely, friendly space is incredible just from a parent’s point of view as well. I would imagine that’s something that even Guillaume’s parents have commented too.
[Ludwina]: They have actually, a little while ago his sister was travelling around Australia as well and she came for dinner, and she said that she had a message from her parents to tell us, to thank us for having him, and how much more comfortable and confident they felt with him travelling around knowing that he had another family and his base here. So you’re absolutely right there, and it’s the same for me as my eldest son has already left home a few years ago, but my daughter is 22 and is about to, and she’s going into an exchange, and you know I like that feeling that I know that she’s got somewhere that she’s going to go with that same you know, security and comfort that she’s had here. So you’re absolutely right.
[Anne-Marie]: Yea, absolutely, and I think also for a guest too, that sometimes we go to places that we really don’t know what the environment is going to be like and I know that for the process of becoming a host and of course we talked about that in episode two, but the process that they need to go through is quite a rigorous process, so that means that as a guest when we have been placed, and you’ll talk a little bit more about how that process works, but when we know that when The Room Xchange has come up with a potential host, and a family or a home you can then go to, all of the boxes have been you know, ticked, everything is right and you really are positioning guest and host with the right qualities and what they’re looking for in the expectations. It really is quite a thorough process isn’t it?
[Ludwina]: It is, it’s not arduous though
[Anne-Marie]: Safety and security
[Ludwina]: Yea, safety and security. Give yourself 20 minutes to fill out your profile and there are three sections. One’s just your basic information, which will take you 10 minutes. Section two is about your preferences, which is really important. We want to know more about you as a guest, personality type, things that you’re interested in, stuff you’d like to do and what you’d like to do to contribute around the house. So that tells us a lot about your personality and we ask the same thing of the host as well so that we can get a better match in terms of you know the right fit for the environment. And then the third is the verification process, and that’s sort of adding some social media links, you know, and government ID etc.
So that’s just then everybody’s gone through the same process and they can all feel secure knowing that, as you said, all of those boxes have been ticked.
[Anne-Marie]: Mmmm absolutely. Talk about the expectations as a guest to be able to then have that room
[Ludwina]: Well it’s pretty simple. We’ve worked out an equation based on the fact that our target market, we feel, for hosts as you know, middle class homes that have got a spare bedroom, so they’re generally working long hours and don’t have a lot of time to have to themselves ‘cause a lot of that spare time is actually spent maintaining the house and you know, sort of running their life so you’ll have a home, you’ll be living in a home, you’ll have your own room, it’s not like couch surfing you know, you’ll have your own private space , you’ll have either an ensuite or a shared bathroom and generally it’s sort of kind of 50/50, in regards to what we’re seeing with hosts signing up, and the kind of things that you’ll be expected to do will just be based on the criteria of what the hosts actually wants done around the house, and what you’re willing to do as part of the match up that we do for you when we receive your profile and information.
But you know apart from that it’s like, you know going into the home with an open heart and open mind and know that it’s no different to if you’re going into a house, you’ve answered an ad for a flat mate and you’re going to live in a shared house with other people, it’s exactly the same thing, it’s just that you’re going in to contribute a couple of hours a day helping around the house instead of the exorbitant amount of money that you would normally for rent, food and utilities. So it’s, find out, you know, what the expectations are, and make sure that you make time each day for what it is that the host needs you to do. Most of the time it’s not usually locked in, as to when that gets done, unless you’re working with children, you might have to be there when they get home from school, but generally most of the time it’s quite fluid and not so timely if that makes sense. So you know, find out what needs to be done each week and make sure you get that done.
You know, be really kind and helpful, supportive around the house and you’ll have a blast! [Anne-Marie]: Mmmm absolutely, and I know Guillaume is currently staying with you and as you’ve mentioned he is your 4th guest that you’ve had, and some of the stories that you’ve shared, and of course if people haven’t listened to our episode one or two, go back and have a listen because you know you really do share the story of how The Room Xchange came about and the ongoing development of it, but some of the things that you’ve shared is that Guillaume has really grown. He calls you ‘Ma’ doesn’t he?
[Ludwina]: Yea, he really does
[Anne-Marie]: So yea that really does show that as a guest staying with a host family you really feel safe, secure and almost really do become part of that family unit. [Ludwina]: Absolutely, the person we had before Guillaume, her name is Judette, and she’s from Spain, and she was actually friends of some friends of ours, and I sort of put the feelers out that I’d like to you know, get another exchange, and some of my friends helped me find her. She literally came from the airport into, directly to our house, so she’d never been to Australia before and she’d never met us before. We just had two Skype calls and that was how we made that arrangement. So she came and she was here with us for three months. But she was looking for work, she spoke 2 languages Catalan and Spanish, she worked in the hospitality industry, she helped run her parent’s hotel actually back in Catalan, and she was going through the process of putting her resume together and she asked me to have a look at it and I said listen put at the very top that you speak two languages, and that’s Catalan and Spanish, and I said I bet you that’ll help you know improve your work, and I said add photo in there as well etc. Within two weeks, she had a job in a Spanish restaurant in Docklands.
[Ludwina]: You know, so that one little thing that we were able to help her out with actually helped her get some work. We helped her understand the public transport system here, we loaned her one of our bikes that she needed to ride to the station. She just had such a ball getting to know a new country, but with the space that she had here to be able to do that and she was meticulous, oh my gosh, and I think it had something to do with the fact that she helped around the hotel, but she was just like, ‘Ludwina what other cupboards do you need sorting?’ And I was like ‘ok, you go do this one and go do that one’, and it was fantastic, and she would make sure every day before she left for work, she’d have her, you know, her contribution taken care of, and then most of the nights she was..oh sorry half the night she’d joined us for a meal and half the night she was working. And we just worked around each other’s schedule, and she was able to get to the point where she’d ended up with two jobs and then within three months she moved out and she then went to a shared apartment in the city. She was able too.
[Anne-Marie]: Yea, amazing, and I mean had she’d been perhaps renting or staying in a place where she was her own, the support that you were able to extend for her as a guest staying in your home would’ve been incredibly empowering for her. [Ludwina]: The other thing too which I think is interesting to mention is that her other option was the Backpackers, which cost about $350.00 a week. [Anne-Marie]: Wow, really?
[Ludwina]: Yea, I know, I know.
[Anne-Marie]: For Backpackers?
[Ludwina]: Backpackers, they’re pretty expensive. $300 – $350 a week and you don’t get your own room.
[Anne-Marie]: That’s right
[Ludwina]: Most of the time you have to share a room, you know, you don’t have your own privacy, and you know, the luxury that you have on an exchange. Where are you keeping your luggage? Like you don’t have that kind of security and stuff as well, so you know, this is such a better option for young people, and as you said, who are travelling or looking to leave home or are students, to be able to give themselves that opportunity to go, ‘ok I’ve got this space here, it’s not going to cost me anything. All I have to do is contribute, and man that’s it I can live freedom rent-free. That’s amazing
[Anne-Marie]: Ah, it is, and I think from on one of the other shows that you mentioned too, and I’d like to repeat here ‘cause I think it’s important and valid, is that when you’re as a potential guest, when you’re filling in your form you can actually express how long you would like to have this room for, so you’re not locked in for a whole 12 months or longer, or shorter if that’s not what is your requirement, yes?
[Ludwina]: Absolutely! We do recommend that you commit to at least a month. This is mid to long term accommodation, it’s not short term. So you know, travellers are going to be a big part of our users in terms of guests, but if you’re just coming to travel around going to spend a week here, a week there, we’re not the right platform for you. So.. But if you’re coming on a work visa and you’re wanting to stay in a particular city or place for you know, at least a month at a time, then we’re perfect for you, you know in that particular case.
[Anne-Marie]: At the moment with Guillaume, he is a guest that’s stayed at your home for the longest period of time, which I think is now over 12 months isn’t it?
[Ludwina]: Oh it’s 18 months altogether
[Anne-Marie]: 18 months?
[Ludwina]: So we’ve had the first 2, where one was four weeks, one was a couple of months, then Judette was three months and then Guillaume has been 18 months.
[Anne-Marie]: Yea fantastic. I know that you’ve mentioned a number of key qualities that you’re looking for, a guest or the type of person who would really make a great guest to become part of The Room Xchange program. Just share a little bit more about who would really suit this. The reason I say this is because sometimes as we’re listening to this we’ll often pre-empt something – ‘oh I wouldn’t really be suitable’, and we come up with all these reasons why not. Let’s share, we welcome you with open arms, if this is who you are and what you’re looking for. [Ludwina]: Great question, thank you – so we’ve got you know, I guess some personas in mind in regards to who would be ideal to become a guest. Now let’s just say that although our main focus is what we call the millennials, and if you’re a millennial and you hate that term, I’m so sorry but for want of a better word, it’s just describing the generation of 18-30 ish right?
But I also see you know, there’s a market of, I’ve heard lately, of women over 50 who are divorced and have got very low superannuation, and are finding it very challenging to cover their cost of living.
There are you know, it’s really interesting some of these other fringe groups that we’re finding that will end up being able to utilize The Room Xchange. I heard another story of a man who went through a really bad divorce and lost his house and financially ended up losing his job, and ended up on the street, and I think that’s just ridiculous if you have somewhere like The Room Xchange that he could stay at for perhaps a year. Long enough to you know–
[Anne-Marie]: Just to help out
[Ludwina]: –put some money back in his coffers yea, just to put him back up on his feet again. So you know, different scenarios like that which I find really interesting but primarily you know we can see that there’s a big problem with housing for students. We’re talking, Uni students because the minimum age is 18 if you want to use The Room Xchange, so Uni students housing near universities is very, there’s not a lot available. So the cost for either the student or the parent to actually house their student is massive. International students as well, we need international students as at our universities, ‘cause they help keep our universities open. But again, there’s so many articles in the media about the minimal amount of housing that’s available for students.
Now travellers, whether you’re travelling from overseas on a you know, work visa and looking at staying in one place you know, for a particular amount of time as opposed to short term, but also people travelling just around Australia. We’ve done some research and Australians do a lot of travel within Australia, and you know, and if you’re looking at sort of like long term travel for a long holiday, then it’s absolutely perfect and ideal for that. We’ve already spoken about independent youth, so young people are wanting to leave home but don’t have the finances to set themselves up in their own place or to live in a shared accommodation space with somebody else that’s decent to lease, this is also a primary opportunity for them. But we also see what we call ‘new starters’, and new starters could be any age group, but people who are looking at a new start in their life.
Now that might be you know, as I said someone who’s perhaps divorced and looking to start something new, maybe you’ve got an entrepreneurial idea but you know, you don’t have the funding to cover your cost of living and to develop it or maybe you just want to travel around the world with your laptop and have a laptop lifestyle, you know and you would’ve heard a lot about the you know, the laptop lifestyles now.
[Anne-Marie]: The nomad kind of life
[Ludwina]: Yea, yea, yea
[Anne-Marie]: Yea, the grey nomads, but you’ve also got the entrepreneurial nomads as well
[Ludwina]: Absolutely. Yea, yea, yea, so there’s a big group of people who can use it, you know, backpackers of course again, as long as it’s long term. And one of the things that have come up as of late last year actually was the whole issue in Australia around backpackers stats, and we had a couple of media articles run on the back of that, and you know, it’s ridiculous.
There are backpackers who you know, they come on a working visas and they’re the ones that go where generally they’re the ones that go mostly fruit picking and things, now the government wants to charge them more tax for the money that they earn here, which is increasing their cost of travel here as well.
So The Room Xchange can help buffer that a little bit, you know if they are, you know looking at well, ‘wow by the time I’ve paid for accommodation and then the extra taxes of the work, is it worth it’? Yea so you know, come over here and you know stay and then exchange. And just while I’m on that I just want to just clarify at the moment that we are Australia and New Zealand in terms of hosts and guests, if you’re from another country, as a guest you can come and you can stay in one of the host homes in Australia and New Zealand. We’ll be expanding in terms of host opportunities in other countries as we raise that capital and we unfold. So, just so that people knew that if you are from overseas and you want to be a guest in Australia, absolutely we welcome you the same as people within Australia that want to actually live on an exchange.
You know I talked to my daughter and she goes, ‘aww you know I know so many people who can just exchange all the time’, and that’s how they could just live like that all the time.
[Anne-Marie]: I could imagine them going, ‘hurry up Ludwina I want to go to Italy, I want to go to Germany, or some you know, wherever to set up the exchange over there.
[Ludwina]: Do you know what, we’ve actually had registrations in 17 countries.
[Ludwina]: I know, that was so unexpected. [Anne-Marie]: That’s amazing, and you know what, it is but it isn’t, because the more that you’re sharing this, the more excited I’m getting because just sharing who could be a great guest, I mean, I would never of even thought that yes what incredible support we can give people you know just the change of life. They’ve had this significant change in their life, imagine that someone could then go and stay in a room with a family or in a unit that, family unit, whether they’re single people or have got kids there that could be such an incredible support to help them get back on their feet. Oh, It’s just amazing.
[Ludwina]: Yea and imagine like, the opportunities that will open up to you. You know like, if you’re a young person and you want to leave home, and you’ve got your own sort of like, entrepreneurial or career you know, dreams and goals you might, you know, well suit a busy professional household as a host. You know, imagine like, what can actually be learned in that scenario if you… it would almost be like having an in-house mentor.
[Anne-Marie]: Yea for sure. So I can see that..yea absolutely. The people that are going to be registering I think are going to be rushing over. Share a little bit more ‘cause I think at the moment you’ve got your Beta program running. How can people access that, find out more information and they want to put their hand up – I wanna be a potential guest.
[Ludwina]: Ah it’s so easy, just head over to The Room Xchange, that’s the letter ‘x’ change dot com, and just the first step is just to register on the website, that’ll take you thirty seconds. Once you’ve done that, you can go back at anytime and start building your profile. So just liken it to if you were going on a dating site or something, you know, what would somebody want to know about you, they’re the kinds of questions that we’re asking, but obviously not relating to dating, but related to being in a household.
[Anne-Marie]: That’s a whole other topic, a whole other podcast series.
[Ludwina]: You know, just looking at well, what kind of personality type are you, what are the kinds of things that you like to enjoy with your hosts or your host household, what kind of things would you like to do around the house, what are some things that are quirky or interesting about you that might be of interest to them.
Yea you know, those kind of things. So it’s just letting us know, you know, also what your preferences are, what you would like. We welcome people from all religions, culture, races, gender, age, sexuality, disabilities etc. So as long as it’s – everybody needs to understand that The Room Xchange is an open, we’re very open like that. So you know, if there’s something that we need to know about you that would be helpful to help create the right match for you then please let us know. ‘Cause you know, everybody’s got their own values and their own, you know some people have absolutes in regards to you know, the kind of people that they do or don’t want to be with, you know in terms of living. So those sorts of things. So just let us know as much as possible then we can create the best match for you and then you go on from there, and at the moment because we’re in the Beta exchange phase, which means that the first 100 hosts and the first 100 guests who sign up will get to use The Room Xchange for free in 2017.
[Anne-Marie]: Amazing and of course as you have stressed on other shows too, if someone has a question, you’ve got a potential question because you’d love to know more about being a guest and you can see that alot of the benefits that Ludwina has shared today are certainly what you’re looking for, but you’ve got one question, I mean you’re open for them to contact you to find out further information aren’t you?
[Ludwina]: Oh absolutely.
So we’ve got a support email it’s firstname.lastname@example.org we’ve also got an FAQ section that’s quite exhaustive on the website, so please just make sure that you head over there. Chances are the question’s been answered there.
But if you do want to have a chat then by all means our phone numbers on the website in the contact section so just go there and give us a call. But once you do create a profile, you’re going to get a call from our team anyway and at the moment, it’s likely to be either myself or Kelly, so we will talk to you directly in which we’ll also give you the opportunity to answer any questions.
[Anne-Marie]: Fantastic, and of course that web address again in becoming a guest, and finding out more about being a guest www.theroomxchange.com the letter ‘x’ dot com. Thanks so much Ludwina, it really is an incredible concept, and I know that once people start to find out about this you’re going to have registrations coming in galore. Both for hosts, both for guests, as well. And of course next time we’re going to talk about becoming a partner of The Room Xchange, for those of you who have started to listen and can really see what an incredible impact this is going to have in the lives of many people. It’s a win-win venture for everybody involved in the sharing economy, and you want to really support The Room Xchange. We’re going to talk a little bit more about how people can become partners aren’t we?
[Ludwina]: Yea absolutely. Yea definitely, that’s going to be really exciting and we’ve actually got some really exciting partners onboard already, and there’s some exciting conversations that are happening. But just before we go I just want to say to all our wonderful potential guests, please also head over to our social media platforms, you can find us on all of them at The Room Xchange and you can also pop questions over there, and we’re going to be doing some Facebook Live for you guys too, so you can also engage with us in that way.