No budget for your vacation? Try home exchanges－swapping houses with strangers. Agree to use each other’s cars, and you can save bucks on car rentals, too.
Home exchanges are not new. At least one group, Intervac, has been facilitating such an arrangement since 1953. But trading online is gaining popularity these days, with several sites in operation, including HomeExchanges. Founded in 1992, with some 28,000 listings, this company bills itself as the world’s largest home exchange club, reporting that membership has increased 30% this year.
The annual fee is usually less than US$100. Members can access thousands of listings for apartments, villas, suburban homes and farms around the world. Initial contact is made via e-mail, with subsequent communication usually by phone. Before a match is made, potential swappers tend to discuss a lot.
However, the concept may sound risky to some people. What about theft? Damage? These are reasonable causes for concern, but equally unlikely. As one swapper puts it, “Nobody is going to fly across the ocean or drive 600 miles to come steal your TV. Besides, at the same time they’re staying in your home, you are staying in their home.”
Exchange sites recommend that swappers discuss such matters ahead of time. They may fill out an agreement spelling out who shoulders which responsibilities if a problem arises. It does not matter if the agreement would hold up in court, but it does give the exchangers a little satisfaction.
Generally, the biggest complaint among home exchangers has to do with different standards of cleanliness. Swappers are supposed to make sure their home is in order before they depart, but one person’s idea of “clean” may be more forgiving than another’s. Some owners say if they come back to a less-than-sparkling kitchen, it may be inconvenient but would not sour them on future exchanges.