Want to take the family on a vacation this year, but your travel budget is tight? Consider doing a home exchange instead of spending money on a hotel. Home exchanges are when you trade your own residence for someone else’s--anywhere in the world.
"We all want to get away on vacation, but more and more of us are looking to have more authentic holiday experiences that don't cost a fortune. With Luxe Home Swap, we're allowing people to go on vacation and stay in stylish homes all around the world as many times as they like during the year – for less than the cost of a night in a hotel," says Debbie Wosskow, founder of Luxe Home Swap.
There are a variety of reasons to consider a home swap, says Katie Costabel of HOMELINK INTERNATIONAL, considered the world's largest home exchange organization with swap homes in 75 countries around the world. "You save on cost. The cost of accommodation can be a major factor in vacation budgeting. HomeLink membership can eliminate accommodation budgets, irrespective of the duration of your stay. Many members also exchange cars, which can save even more money. Car rentals can be expensive, particularly if you need a large family car," she points out. "Home exchanges also allow you to make new friends. Meeting new people through the exchange process is a real benefit. Many of our members develop long-lasting friendships with their exchange partners. Then there’s the flexibility factor. There is no limit to the number of exchange vacations you can take during your membership year. Well-matched home exchange partners go on vacation with the knowledge that their accommodation is likely to be tailored to their needs. For instance, parents of young children may find it easier to relax when their holiday home is child-friendly."
Because of all of these reasons, home exchanges are on the rise, with more and more people joining the various home exchange organizations. You can find many of them via the Internet. But when choosing an organization, ask for recommendations for current members. "Home swapping as a whole is booming at the moment and recent research carried out by leading international insurance company Lloyds TSB found that twice as many people are home-swapping this year compared to last year," notes Wosskow. Adds Costabel, "HomeLink USA has seen a relatively significant increase in its new memberships."
Here’s how the process works. Potential home exchangers join an organization such as Luxe Home Swap, whose annual membership is $159. Membership allows you to view other home exchange houses as well as including yours in their catalog. There will be some planning necessary to coordinate a home exchange with your choice of house. "The length of time to find an exchange partner and finalize the exchange details varies from exchange to exchange as we leave this process completely to the discretion of our members. General rule of thumb is to start seeking an exchange anywhere from 3 to 6 months prior to an actual exchange, especially if you are seeking an international exchange. If you are seeking to travel to a specific international major event (i.e. 2012 Summer Olympics), then the sooner you start seeking an exchange the better, perhaps up to a year in advance," explains Costabel. "Once you have found a suitable exchange partner through the search functions at our website, you decide how you want to communicate with them during the process of discussing and finalizing the details." HomeLink charges $119 annually for membership.
From there you literally exchange homes. And if you are worried about the security of your home and property during the exchange, Wosskow says preparation is key. "We advise members to be sensible and lock away any precious items before they go on a swap. We also recommend that members inform their insurance company before they go. Most insurance companies actually prefer for people to be staying in your home when you're away on vacation, rather than it being left empty, but it's worth taking out any extra coverage if you need to," she explains. She adds that stolen property or destruction of property has been a rare occurrence for their members. "In the 58 years since HomeLink has been in business, there has never been an incident of intentional theft or vandalism," she says.
There are a few tips before you opt to do a home exchange." Having the right chemistry with your home exchange partner is important. This is a vital ingredient. Unless you feel good about the exchange, it's not going to work out for you. Think online dating," says Wosskow. "Be thoughtful – ensure your home is tidy before your swap partner arrives and stock up on basics such as nice kitchen staples and clean linen. Lastly, assign a key-holder to check on the place while you’re away. Perhaps a neighbor or friend could help. My cleaner does this for me and also makes sure the place is spotless when we return so it doesn’t feel like anyone has been staying there."
According to Costabel, it is important to remain "flexible with their dates of travel and their preferred destinations," she says. "Once you have found a suitable exchange partner, share plenty of information, ask lots of questions and get to know each other before finalizing arrangements. We have electronic Exchange Agreement Forms available to help guide you through the exchange process. We encourage our members to address and sort out all concerns or special circumstances regarding the exchange in writing. Of course, all the details of how our members come to agreement are left completely to their discretion. Also, providing a detailed "Home Manual" explaining various operations of home appliances and the like and detailing local attractions and conveniences like grocery stores, etc. go a long way to creating the most pleasant home swap experience possible."