House swaps offer a cost-effective holiday choice, and you can use this site to advertise your off-grid home or even your normal old on-grid home and seek a swap.
While you’re making the most of someone’s beachfront apartment in Sydney, Australia, they could be enjoying your home in La Jolla, thanks to the increasing popularity of this type of break. Just go to our Classifieds section and place a free ad. The link is at the top of this page.
The idea is simple: you swap your home with someone who lives in a part of the world you want to go to. You fill out an exchange agreement, they come; you go; you water each others’ plants; and you get a holiday for next to nothing. It’s simple – for some so simple it’s scary. If you’re a worrier, house swapping probably isn’t for you – spending the holiday wondering whether the nice couple’s six-year-old twins have set fire to your antique rug is not going to be very relaxing. But if you’re willing to go with flow, you could get a lot out of it.
Guidelines for a Successful Home Exchange Holiday
(SCROLL DOWN FOR A TEMPLATE EXCHANGE AGREEMENT)
The Home Exchange Guide: How to Find Your Free Home Away from Home – Buy from amazon US
The Home Exchange Guide: How to Find Your Free Home Away from Home – Buy it from Amazon UK
Home exchange is a mutual exchange of homes or holiday homes, usually at the same time. Your exchange partner may live across the country or across the world. Your homes may be similar in size and type or totally different – all that matters is that you are both happy with the exchange arrangements you have agreed.
Each exchange is unique; a relationship of trust should develop as you get to know your exchange partners through e-mail and phone calls. These Guidelines are meant to act as a check list to help you plan your exchange from the initial inquiry stage, exchanging information, agreeing an exchange to the final preparations before your holiday.
Stage One: Making Contact
Be as flexible as possible about exact destinations. Part of the fun of home exchange is discovering exciting exchange offers in places you may not have considered visiting before.
Allow plenty of time to arrange your exchange. Take the initiative and contact people directly. Many experienced exchangers contact 20 or more people initially. It is easy to contact people by email so do send messages to as many as you want. At this stage you are not making a commitment but just gauging interest in your exchange offer. You will soon narrow the field to those who are interested in an exchange with you.
Information Sheet Check List
• Introduce your family – the ages and interests of any children plus a little information about your own hobbies and work.
• Describe your home – type of home, age, size and any special features it has along with a brief list of household equipment your exchange partner will be able to use. *Note: if you are offering a swimming pool make sure you indicate if the pool is shared rather than your private pool.
• Describe your neighbourhood, climate, local amenities and other areas of interest that are accessible from your home. Look at your area from a visitor’s point of view.
• Give details of public transport and distances to closest airports and cities.
• If you are offering to exchange your car, give details of make, year, automatic or manual and condition (Note: do not make a definite agreement to swap cars without first checking that your insurance company will cover your exchange partners).
• Try to exchange with people in like circumstances if possible. If you are a retired couple, your home may not be geared up for the needs of a family with toddlers. Likewise, if you have a young family, exchanging with another family – with baby equipment, toys, books and often local playmates and baby-sitters – makes the holiday so much easier.
• Prepare your Information Sheet to save in your Drafts folder so that it is ready to copy and paste in email messages . Offer to send photos of your home to people who are interested in your offer. Always send your exchange offer to one person at a time, addressed personally, and start your message with a sentence or two on what has attracted you to their exchange offer.
Sample Information Sheet
Michael Pearl, a very experienced exchanger, has kindly allowed us to reproduce the information sheet he sends to potential exchange partners. Michael gives an introduction to his home and area, providing extra information on parking, car hire and taxi costs in US dollars for members who may be unfamiliar with central London prices. It’s a little time-consuming the first time you compile an information sheet but, once you are happy with it, you will have it ready to send out to future potential exchange partners:
“My house is situated 200 yards from the south west corner of Hyde Park in Central London, in an area called Kensington. This is a prime residential part of the metropolis which still has a “village” feel – as much as you can say that about any capital city! There are shops within five minutes’ walk where you can get the necessities of life all day and all night. Not much further is major shopping in Kensington High Street where department stores and all the multiples are situated. Also within a few minutes’ walk is Kensington Church Street with a wealth of antique shops. Hyde Park is the Central Park of London. A glorious area of trees, flowers, lakes, statuary, wild life, cafés and outdoor activity; roller-blading, walking, bicycling, boating, fishing, sunbathing and picnics. You can walk from my home entirely in the park to Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Buckingham Palace, Westminster and many more famous places. My street faces Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana lived.
There is a plethora of public transport nearby. Buses run to all over London every few minutes and the nearest subway stations are High Street Kensington (6 mins), Gloucester Road (8 mins) and, across the park, Queensway (10 mins). London Heathrow airport is 60 minutes by subway from Gloucester Road (Piccadilly Line) or 45 minutes by cab (fare US$40, plus tip). London Gatwick Airport is 30 minutes by train from London’s main line Victoria Station, which is 15 minutes by taxi from the house. The train goes right in to the South Terminal and is a better bet than the 1-2 hour car journey.
My home is situated in a quiet street without through traffic. It is a modern town house backing onto a Victorian mews. The whole house is extremely light and sunny. It is fully centrally heated. It is on four floors and, at the back, opens onto a delightful courtyard shared with five other houses (includes a fish pond and fountain). The ground floor is tiled and has a dining room seating eight and kitchen with double oven, microwave, electric hob, fridge/freezer, extractor fan, dishwasher, a combined washer dryer and a small breakfast table. There is a door to the courtyard.
The whole of the first floor is a living room with French windows onto a good-sized balcony overlooking the courtyard. There is a TV with cable television and about 20 channels, and a stereo. The house is mainly furnished with antique furniture.
On the upper two floors are three double bedrooms, two with queen sized beds, a dressing room and two bathrooms both with full baths and showers. There are also a further two fold-away beds if needed. My home has been completely re-furbished this year; we have completely re-decorated and the bathrooms and kitchen are all entirely newly fitted. Above ground floor level the house is carpeted throughout. There is an entry-phone with handsets on every floor. The house is very quiet and the street and the neighbourhood are very safe. I have no pets and my few plants need minimal care. My maid comes in once a week, more often by arrangement.
Parking is a nightmare in the area, and in most parts of Central London. Parking meters cost US$3 per hour and the fine for parking on a prohibited street (i.e. most streets) is US$45. Consequently I do not have a car. An average taxi drive for a 2 mile journey (i.e. most destinations in Central London) is US$7-8. It is very easy to hire a car to go out of London (but more expensive than the US – we have a general sales tax of 17% in the UK) for about US$45 per day including insurance.
We are half a mile from the museums in South Kensington; the Victoria and Albert, the Science, the Natural History, as well as the Royal Albert Hall. There are 50 mainstream theatres in London’s West End (i.e. centre of town around Piccadilly Circus) which is 15 minutes on the Tube or the same by cab (US$9 fare). There are restaurants of every conceivable nationality in London and at least 40 within ten minutes’ walk of the flat. There are restaurant guides with my personal recommendations in the house.
I am a 47 year old self-employed lawyer, a non-smoker, with a girlfriend. I am an experienced exchanger. All the people staying in my apartment over the years have loved it.”
Multiple exchanges – when travelling abroad some do not wish to spend their entire holiday in one area. It is possible to arrange more than one home exchange on a trip; however, if complications occur in one link in the exchange chain it can affect the plans of other members. Generally it is wisest to arrange only one exchange at a time and use other accommodation if you plan to travel around.
Stage Two: Finalising Your Exchange Plans
• Once you have found definite exchange partners, provide them with photos of your home and family and any further information they have requested or may find useful. In turn, ask for any information not yet given which will help you with your plans. *Note: if a swimming pool is included with the exchange home, and it is not clear if this is a private or shared pool, ask for this information if it is important to you.
• It can be reassuring to exchange references before finalising your exchange plans. If you have exchanged before your previous exchange partners would be ideal referees; otherwise, send details of two or three people who know you well and would be prepared to write reference letters for you. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for references – potential exchange partners will understand your concerns.
• Check that your home insurance will be valid while your exchange partners occupy your home. Emphasise that they are non-paying guests. Most insurance companies will acknowledge that your home is at lower risk from burglary when it is occupied but your insurance cover may be invalid if the company has not been informed before your exchange holiday. Note: Theft claims are hardly ever met unless there is evidence of forced entry.
• Car Insurance: if you plan to exchange cars, again check that your exchange partners will be covered to use your car. It is particularly important for British members planning to exchange with Americans to ensure that their guests will be covered as some British motor insurance companies refuse to cover Americans. Exchange members should not jeopardise no-claims bonuses for relatively small sums – agree maximum repair bills to be paid before making a claim. Also agree any restrictions on use or mileage.
• Agree payment of household bills (most exchangers continue to pay their own bills apart from the telephone bill which can be billed separately for the exchange period if arranged in advance).
• Although you may make most of your arrangements by email or phone, do keep a check list of everything you have agreed and send a copy to your exchange partners for their approval – having a written agreement which you have both signed avoids misunderstandings later. This is the stage when it is crucial that you are both happy with all the arrangements.
• Repairs to household appliances – you may agree to reimburse your partners for small, emergency repairs but ask them to consult with you before arranging major repairs.
• If you can arrange an overlap at one of the homes that’s ideal as you will both feel more comfortable about your holiday if you have been able to meet. However, this is not always possible and, if not, arrange for a neighbour or friend living nearby to act as your agent, handing over keys and helping with any problems (unfamiliar domestic appliances can sometimes be a puzzle so it is reassuring to have a ‘local’ to turn to for advice).
• Exchangers are expected to allow use of most of their household equipment by their exchange partners but if you have anything of value which you don’t want used, make certain your exchange partners are aware of what is ‘out of bounds’; ideally, lock away anything not to be used.
• Pets/plants – Many exchangers are quite happy to look after plants and/or pets for their partners but don’t feel obliged to do so if you are worried about the responsibility or want to spend some time away from your exchange base. If your guests agree to look after plants please keep to simple requests – few people want to spend hours on holiday tending someone else’s garden!
Stage Three: Exchange Confirmation
• Make a list of all arrangements agreed. Sign and send/fax two copies to your exchange partner. Ask him to return a signed copy if he is happy with the agreement. All members will have received information similar to these Guidelines from their own agency but the form may vary slightly. If your exchange partner sends you a slightly different confirmation form, that’s fine. If any aspects of your exchange arrangements don’t appear to be covered, just add these before returning a copy to your exchange partner. If your exchange is being arranged by a custom matching service, the agent will prompt you for the information needed. Still go through the Guidelines to ensure you are happy that all arrangements agreed have been covered.
• Airline Tickets and Travel Insurance: as deposits/fares paid are usually non-refundable, do not buy tickets until you are sure you have a firm exchange agreement. When you both agree to go ahead and buy your tickets, you may like to exchange copies as an extra reassurance for both parties. When buying travel insurance, check that your policy will cover you if your exchange partners must cancel due to death or serious illness in the family (no policy will cover against a member just changing their mind about going ahead with an exchange and this is a small risk you must accept when arranging a home exchange holiday). We can personally recommend Derek Adams of Spear Travels (tel: 01782-644499) who is knowlegeable about the special needs of home exchange members regarding travel insurance and will also suggest the most convenient flights and best fares to suit your needs. Do of course shop around for the best deals on both flights and insurance to suit your needs.
SAMPLE EXCHANGE CONFIRMATION
Note: to save having to re-type the form below highlight and copy it to a word processor program. Make any changes needed, enter your own exchange details, save the file and send it to your exchange partner as an attachment to a message. If you have any problems contact Home Base Holidays and we will send you a copy of the sample exchange confirmation agreement.
Name & address:
Tel no: Email address/fax no:
No. of adults: No. & ages of any children:
We have asked a friend to hand over keys to our home and be on hand to help you during your stay. His/her details are:
Name & address:
________________ will be expecting you at our home around ___________. Please call her if you are delayed.
Flight details (airline, flight number, arrival airport, arrival time, anticipated arrival at your home):
We have made a definite agreement to exchange our home with:
Name & address:
Tel no: E-mail address/fax no:
No. of adults: No. & ages of any children:
Please complete details of the friend or neighbour you have asked to hand over keys to your home and help with any problems we might have:
Name & address:
Please give your flight details (airline, flight number, arrival airport, arrival time, anticipated arrival at our home):
Our holiday dates are from to inclusive.
We have agreed the following:
1. Payment of household bills –
2. Repairs to household equipment –
3. Replacing or paying for damaged articles –
4. Pet/plant care –
5. Car exchange (details of insurance and car usage) –
We agree that the above covers all necessary arrangements discussed and further agree to treat the home entrusted to us with care:
Signed – Date –
Signed – Date –
Also see: sample of a member’s home exchange agreement for reference.
You have now both made a binding agreement to go ahead with the exchange. Any Home Base Holidays member known to have broken a firm agreement without good cause will be excluded from future listings. In the case of unavoidable cancellation (death or serious illness in the family) contact your exchange partner without delay. If at all possible agree to exchange at another time or arrange for a friend or neighbour to take your place. If you, or your exchange partner have a second home, try to arrange a non-simultaneous exchange so that one party may still have their exchange holiday as planned. Also, if you are looking for an exchange at short notice log on to your member area and search New Listings and the Last Minute Offers list.
The prime focus of Home Base Holidays is to provide home exchange listings – both for holiday exchanges and short weekend breaks. However, there are other options which you might like to consider along with home exchange.
Rentals – When renting your home it is imperative to take care in selecting your tenant (with a home exchange, knowing that someone is occupying your home gives a great incentive to take good care of the home you are living in – this is not necessarily the case when renting). Do confirm a rental agreement in writing so that both you and your tenant understand the terms of your agreement (dates, rental charge and when payment due, arrangement for keys, etc).
It is also very important to describe the facilities you are offering accurately and to ensure your home is clean and tidy with clean bed linen and towels provided. If you are not able to meet your tenant, arrange for a friend or neighbour to act as your agent to hand over keys and help with any problems.
Rental listings are only accepted from members offering their own home or holiday home for a reasonable rental rate for fellow members, not from commercial rental agencies.
Hospitality Exchange – If you would enjoy having people come and stay with you and, at another time, visit them in return, then hospitality exchange will be of interest. This often appeals to members travelling on their own and is also a popular way for young people to get to know another country and culture. As you will be spending some time in each other’s company, it is important to feel happy that you have interests in common. Compatibility can never be guaranteed but, provided you have taken time in your arrangements before your holiday, hospitality exchange is an ideal way to explore a local area – and, in turn, to show off your own area attractions.
Bed and Breakfast Offered – Perhaps you have space in your home and the time to accommodate the occasional guests? The exact arrangements, whether bed & breakfast or full board is offered, rates and how much the host will be involved in entertaining the guest, must be arranged between the participants in advance of the holiday.
Home Sitting Offered or Wanted – With this option a member can have their home occupied and cared for while they are away in return for a holiday base for the home sitter. The actual arrangements (whether the sitter cares for plants or pets, etc) are as agreed between the participants in advance.
Stage Four: Preparing for Your Exchange Guests
Start a folder a few weeks before your holiday and include in it any information your guests might find useful. This can be kept for reference by future guests. Include:
• tourist brochures, maps, recommended local restaurants, shops, bus and train time tables
• a list of phone numbers – your agent, doctor, dentist, garage, taxi, baby-sitter, servicemen, emergency numbers
• instructions for operating appliances and heating system. It is a very good idea to use ‘post it’ notes to stick simple instructions, especially any little ‘quirks’, on appliances
• Indicate the location of your fuse box and water cut-off
• location of extra bedding and linen
• instructions for caring for pets/plants
• security measures that must be taken in your home
• arrangements for rubbish disposal, milk delivery
• arrangements for laundry of bedding before you return and handing back keys
• Make certain you have provided a map and clear instructions on how to reach your home in good time before the holiday if you have not arranged to have your guests collected from the airport.
• Before you go, leave your home clean and tidy with enough space for your partners to store their belongings. Clear out your refrigerator but leave just a few basic foods for your guests on arrival. After a long, tiring trip they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness.
• If exchanging cars, clean your car inside and out. Leave enough petrol in the tank so that your partners won’t be stranded on their first day in an unfamiliar area. If you are leaving your car in the airport car park for collection give clear instructions on where it is parked and also on how to reach your home from the airport.
• If you have a friend or neighbour acting as your agent, provide them with two sets of keys for your home (and car) and ensure that they will be available to welcome your guests on arrival.
• If your exchange partners have agreed to look after pets, leave an adequate supply of food.
Also see: sample of a member’s information folder for reference.
Stage Five: At Last You Are Enjoying Your Exchange Holiday!
• The vast majority of exchangers are delighted with their exchange base (even the smallest, most modest home is preferable to a cramped hotel room). However, very occasionally a member is unhappy with the housekeeping standards in the exchange home. Although all members of agencies belonging to the First Home Exchange Alliance are given instructions to leave their homes clean and tidy, it is inevitable that not everyone has the same standards. You are staying in a lived in home and must be prepared to be tolerant and flexible.
• Enjoy your exchange holiday, take good care of the home entrusted to you and leave it as you found it when you leave. Follow agreed instructions for returning keys, dealing with laundry, etc. It is a nice gesture to leave a small present and note for your exchange partners to show how much you enjoyed your holiday in their home.
• We are always delighted to receive postcards from members on an exchange holiday and also like to hear of your experiences after your return. Do let us know of any suggestions you think would be useful to pass on to other members so we can circulate them in our Newsletter.
• Journalists writing articles on home exchange often want to interview members who have had recent exchanges. We will not pass your details to anyone without your consent but really do appreciate your help when it is convenient for you. The more we publicise home exchange holidays, the more choice of exchange listings there will be for all members. We are always happy to send brochures to anyone you think would be interested in home exchange holidays (remember you will receive a discount voucher to reduce your membership renewal fee for every joining member you recommend).