Is this a free stay? Most people don't like to talk about money even in the best of circumstances, but this is so important. One awkward conversation could save you years, maybe even a lifetime of conflict and stress. If you are the host, decide in advance if you want to charge rent or if this is a gift. Communicate your expectations clearly before the guest moves in. If you are the guest, and have the means, offer to pay what you can.
How long will the visit last? You may not have an exact answer, but you still need to talk about it. Come up with a ballpark figure. Are you looking at days, weeks or months? Again, this may feel awkward and not very gracious, but it needs to be discussed. If you are the host, the best thing may be to state a time in your invitation. "I'd love to have you stay for a month while you look for a new place." If you are the guest, give your best guess about how long you may need. If you really don't know, just ask what would work best for the host.
Who will cover groceries and meals? Do you want to eat together or separately? Really think about this and come up with a plan. This may be one area where things aren't cut and dried. You may go with the flow: someone shops; someone cooks; both throw money at the groceries. For the guest, if you are at all able, it's great to be generous here. If you don't cook, offer to order takeout.
How will you divide chores? I polled my friends and what came up over and over was the suggestion to treat guests as one of the family. A simple way to do this is to invite them to pitch in with household chores. For the guest, offer ways you can contribute. Obviously taking care to keep your room or designated areas neat and clean is a great start, but think of ways you can help with the overall household. Are you a gardener? Lend a hand with yard maintenance or a big project.
Where does everyone belong? Sleeping arrangements are straightforward, but figuring out public spaces can be tricky. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law both work from home. In the summer Thom's de facto office is the screened-in porch overlooking the lake. We kept out of there to give him literal and figurative space. When Aunt Dawn was on the phone or at her desk, we tried to leave her alone. For the guest, are there certain places the host would prefer to keep private? Are there times of day when everyone needs to be out of the house? Questions like these can help a host recognize and articulate some basic needs without feeling ungracious.
What are the habits of the house? Do the hosts take off their shoes at the door? Retire early? Get up late? Are you quiet in the morning? Who makes the coffee? Paying attention to the seemingly little things can make a big impact on everyone's comfort and happiness.
Where will stuff be stored? Where should the guest park the car? Hang a coat? Store shoes? For the guest, ask your host if there are any no man's lands. Be explicit: "Is there any place it will drive you crazy to see our junk?" Dawn is easygoing, but when I pressed her about pet peeves, she realized she liked to keep her island clear. The corner near the front entry was a natural landing spot for the household's miscellanea, but once I knew her preference, I was on our family's stuff like a hawk.
Special considerations: If either party has children, this needs to be discussed thoroughly. Parents need to be clear and direct. What should be done when a child is acting up and the parents aren't around? Because of our level of trust, my husband and I gave Thom and Dawn permission to step in on our behalf. Our kids are older and (for the most part) well behaved, but once, when Paul and I were away, one of the children threw mud at a neighbor's shed. (Why?) Thom identified the culprit, talked it over and made him clean up the mess.
All told our family stayed with Thom and Dawn for six weeks before we found a good rental and began the arduous task of rebuilding. All of us look back at this part of that terrible summer with tenderness. My children still say, "Remember when we lived with Aunt Dawn and Uncle Thom? I loved it there."
How about you? Have you ever hosted a long-term guest or been one? Please share your story in the Comments.