In the film The Holiday starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, two women in search of change and travel adventure swap houses, a luxurious Beverly Hills mansion for a quaint cottage in the English countryside, using an online house swapping service. This online house swapping service was not a fictional plot device—it actually exists in real life!
House swaps, also called home exchanges, are the ultimate budget traveling feat—you get to stay for free and get the added cultural experience of getting to "live like a local" in someone else’s town. With the advent of peer-to-peer marketplaces and the "sharing economy" house swapping has gone mainstream. According to the CEO of LoveHomeSwap.com, over 3.2 million people are planning home swap vacations in 2012!
Popular House Swapping Websites
HomeExchange.com: HomeExchange.com is the largest home swapping site on the Web featuring over 42,000 listings in 148 countries. Home exchangers trade their homes, condominiums or apartments, but these are not the only types of accommodations that one gets to choose from. There have been home exchanges on the site where a member traded his home for another member’s 40-foot yacht and another home exchange where a couple swapped their villa in Italy for a RV in Oregon. Often, home exchangers will include their automobiles as part of the home exchange package.
Members can post a listing of their home on the site and then search the site's database of listings for a swap partner. Potential swappers can communicate through sending privacy-protected emails through the site. The service costs $9.95 a month for a one year unlimited membership or $15.95 for a three month membership. The service also guarantees that if you don’t find a home exchange partner during your first full year of membership, your second year is free!
LoveHomeSwap.com: LoveHomeSwap.com offers thousands of properties available for house swaps in over 80 countries. A four-week trial membership to this site costs only $1.00. Beyond that, a one year unlimited membership costs $159.00. Once a member, the first step is to register your property on the site by creating a profile about you and your home. Once you set up a profile, you can then search the site's database of properties around the world that are available for swaps. Then you send and receive emails through the site with potential swap partners.
Most people are understandably nervous about having a stranger in their home. To put your mind at ease while you’re away, you can ask a neighbor to check on your home during the swap. And remember that because the swap goes two ways, most people will treat your home as they would expect you to treat theirs!
While you should always put valuables away during a swap, in over tens of thousands of house swaps on HomeExchange.com, the site claims to have never had a report of a theft, malicious vandalism, or a case of someone getting to their exchange home and finding a vacant lot. Also, you should talk with your insurance provider to ensure that your home will be fully covered when occupied by other people and take out any additional coverage to cover the house swap, if need be. However most home insurance policies will cover an exchange, with the other party regarded as invited guests in your home. Most house swapping sites also have a referral/feedback system so you can read member reviews prior to arranging a swap.
Tips for a Successful Swap
- Communicate extensively with your house swap partner prior to the swap. Swap partners will often send around 20-30 email messages to each other as well as talk on the phone and sometimes even video chat on Skype prior to the swap. House swap partners should also be easily reachable during the swap in case questions come up.
- Ensure your home is stocked up on basics such as toilet paper, towels, and basic kitchen equipment prior to the swap.
- Ensure your home is clean for the swap. Likewise, make sure to leave the home you’ve visited clean and in the same condition that you found it.
- Make firm arrangements with your swap partner about the collection and return of house keys. Perhaps a neighbor could help with this.
- Consider using a swap agreement, such as the one found here on HomeExchange.com, to help firm up all the specific details of the swap.