Home for the holidays: the benefits of house-swapping
A home-exchange not only opens up destinations you may never otherwise visit, there are considerable cost savings to be made as well
The best thing about home-swapping is that it opens participants up to new experiences by visiting places they may have never previously considered. Photograph: iStock
What do the Spanish resort of Islantilla, the Baltic Sea port town of Rønne, the Californian seaside town of Carlsbad and Montélimar in south-eastern France have in common?
Not much, in reality, but they are some of the locations our family would probably never have visited, were it not for the phenomenon of the modern-day house-swap.
Increasingly popular as an option for holiday makers seeking to cut their costs, home-swapping is a no-brainer for many and while it is not without its downsides, the upsides far outweigh them.
Accommodation is usually the most expensive part of any holiday and the prospect of cutting such a significant cost entirely from the holiday budget can open up so many more possibilities.
The potential savings can make the prospect of taking a holiday further afield more affordable and can free up funds for other holiday experiences such as day trips to theme parks or other visitor attractions that may otherwise be beyond budget.
While sharing platforms such as Airbnb make much of being the new kids on the block, house-swapping is pleasingly old-school and the practice of swapping lodgings dates back to the 1950s when house- or apartment-swapping arrangements were originally made by post or over the phone.
As with so many aspects of our lives, the internet has turned everything on its head and with technology the idea has now become mainstream – a quick glance at any home-swapping website will give you a flavour of the properties that are available across the world.
Planning for a house-swap holiday, where you exchange your home and sometimes a car with someone you have in all likelihood never met in person before, is in many respects like preparing for any holiday.
If you plan on travelling abroad, you will need to get your travel documents in order, you may consider holiday insurance, compile a holiday reading list and depending on the climate, perhaps consider what you and yours should wear while away.
When house-swapping, budget may still determine how far you travel but in place of having to research the cost of hotels, hostels, guesthouses or camping sites, an annual subscription rate will give you access to homes and apartments worldwide.
The length of the swap can vary but this means you can arrange times that suit both you and your exchange partner, allowing you to make yet more savings by taking advantage of cheaper flights – even during the high season.
The crucial difference between home swapping and a typical holiday is, of course, that the destination you decide upon will need not only your agreement but also the agreement of the stranger whose home you will stay in.
The idea of staying in a complete stranger’s home and allowing them to stay in yours might seem a little off-putting to those who have not done it before but once you start to get to know them as you discuss and organise the exchange, the less daunting it becomes. Add to that the opportunity to stay in a home that surpasses the standards of your own and suddenly all fears dissipate.
Home-swappers have the option of submitting online ratings and reviews of the homes they have stayed in. This is one of the backbones of the system as the more positive reviews that members get, the better their reputation, and the more attractive their home becomes to future swappers.
There are four main steps involved in the process. Firstly, choose a reputable site. There are plenty to choose from but well-known sites include homeexchange.com, homestay.com, lovehomeswap.com and bedycasa.com. They will typically charge you a fee (usually ranging from €100-€150 a year).
Secondly, list your home. This involves creating a profile featuring photographs and information about your home, the surrounding area, your preferred destinations, family profile and the time of year when you are open to exchanging.
The third step then is to specify the dates you are willing to swap. Of course, some may be open to swapping at any time. The choice is yours.
Fourth, search for a potential exchange. You can be specific with your request and seek out properties in one or two locations or you can arrange your settings to indicate a willingness to exchange by continent or anywhere in the world.
Trust is essential
Trust is essential in any exchange and communication with your swap partner is key. Once someone has viewed your profile and wants to stay in your home, they will contact you with their proposed dates. This process is automated on most sites, which means you can accept or reject interest without causing offence with the push of a button.
Once both parties indicate an interest in swapping, you will then contact each other directly to establish compatibility of dates and so on. This is key to cultivating trust with your exchange partner.
The home-swap transaction is built entirely on trust and it is worth bearing in mind that your swap partner is also taking a risk and will in all likelihood share the same concerns about their property as you do about yours. That is not to say you shouldn’t take a few simple precautions to ensure peace of mind during your holiday.
One upside is the added comfort of knowing that someone whom you have corresponded with at length will occupy and look after your home while you are away.
While we have never experienced any problems, things can, of course, go wrong. In order to avoid difficulties, most sites will provide exchange agreement forms where parties can specify the terms of the exchange.
You should contact your home insurance provider to ensure cover is in order and also make sure you secure valuables and important documents before you leave. If you plan on swapping cars, you should contact your insurance company to change cover.
For those on a budget, opting for a house-swap is the most obvious money-saving measure that is easily overlooked when planning a break abroad.
It requires a little bit of planning, organisation and preparation but once you try it once you are likely to return to the practice again and again.
Cutting the cost of accommodation can open up many more possibilities. For some, it might mean the difference between a holiday at home and being able to afford a holiday abroad. But savings aside, perhaps the best thing about home-swapping is that it opens participants up to new experiences by visiting places they may have never previously considered. And that is no bad thing.
Build up a rapport with your exchange partner. You can do so by email or telephone but speaking by Skype can give added reassurance.
Have a friend or family member meet and greet them at your home for extra peace of mind.
Read their guestbook messages. They will give you an insight into how others rated their experience in their home.
Swapping property of similar/equal value means equal risk to both parties.
Remember a house swap means you can travel light since you can swap with families who have bikes, kids paraphernalia etc.