House Swaps: Better Than Renting

By: Bruce Roberts

For your next vacation or sabbatical, have you thought about the prospect of a house swap? Wondering exactly what a house swap is? For answers to frequently asked questions about house swaps, keep reading.

1. What is a house swap?

A house swap is a straight exchange of houses between two homeowners for an agreed-upon period of time. Typically, used as a vacation alternative to hotels and resorts, house swaps are becoming an increasingly popular to save money while really providing a convenient means of enjoying alternative local culture.

2. Isn't it risky letting strangers into my home?

Though there is inevitably some risk in allowing strangers to use anything belonging to you, keep in mind that they're also letting you into their home. By checking references and getting to know your house swap partner, you're not likely to run into any problems.

Popular house swap matching-service Home Exchange () has been in business for 14 years, handled thousands of house swaps and hasn't had a single reported theft or act of vandalism. With a straight housing swap, there's an element of trust you might not have otherwise.

If you're worried, have valuables tucked away at a friend's house and ask your neighbor to keep an eye on the property.

3. How much can I save?

Think about it this way - let's say a family of four takes a vacation. They spend an average of $200 a night on modest, cramped hotel accommodations and about $300 a day on meals out and entertainment.

With a house swap you get space, all the comforts of home, and it doesn't cost you anything other than a few groceries for making meals in your own kitchen.

4. How do I find people willing to swap with me?

There are a number of online databases like Home Exchange, Stay4Free (), Global Home Exchange () and Exchange Zones that all offer extensive matching services. Typically, these sites will charge an annual membership fee.

Alternatively, many homeowners turn to sites like Craigslist Classifieds or Diggsville to access free listing and searching options.

5. How do I know a property is right for me?

If you're unsure about a particular house, ask the owner to send more information and photographs. Also, make sure you read the listing very carefully - particularly if you have a pet or have pet allergies.

Also, look for a home that's similar to your lifestyle. Usually, an affluent, older couple isn't going to be too happy switching places with a young family of three and their one-bedroom condo.

If you have specific questions for the owner that are not covered in the information provided by the home swap service data base, use the contact information and make a call or send an email requesting the clarification you need.

6. How do I get ready for an exchange?

Start by putting away private papers, valuables and any excess of personal items. Then, start cleaning and clearing out clutter. A good rule of thumb is to leave at least 12 inches of closet space for your guest along with hangers and a few drawers.

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