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The Fundamentals of Vacation House Swapping

A run through of the basics for vacation home swapping.

(Credit: MLS via Morristown Patch)
(Credit: MLS via Morristown Patch)
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Perhaps one of the only favorable byproducts of recent rough economic times is that the selection of great homes available on house-swap websites is on the rise. When money is tight, many people feel it’s better spent on material goods, yet studies show that we humans derive more happiness from great experiences than from our possessions. If you are struggling with this predicament of wanting to travel but wary of burning through your cash, a home swap may be just what you need. Here’s a breakdown on the subject to get you started:

Most popular sites: There are more than 70 home exchange websites to choose from, including sites for everything from teachers to Christians to seniors. However, the most popular, established sites are:

HomeLink International

Intervac

Home Exchange

Digsville.com

How they work: There are three main types of home exchanges. The first and most common is the ‘traditional exchange’ where both swappers schedule trips simultaneously, and they occupy each other’s home at the same time. The second is a 'non-simultaneous exchange' in which one party stays in the other's vacation or second home, and traders work out the most convenient times to enact the swap. Finally, there’s what is known as a ‘hospitality exchange,’ where participants stay as guests in each others' homes while they are there. For that one, you’d best be sure to like who you are swapping with. As technology expert Donald Strachan says, “When considering a house swap establishing trust is key, so communicate extensively with the other family.”

New breed: The site Love Home Swap, launched in 2011, has been garnering heaps of praise for its more extensive attempts to match swappers. According to the site’s founder, Debbie Wosskow, “It’s like online dating for homes.” Members of Love Home Swap can "refine search results for things like at-home gyms, pools and balconies. They can also filter properties by selecting options such as ‘ski chalet,’ ‘on the river' and ‘by the sea.’” Interested yet?

The trick: Obviously, you'll need to find someone who wants to visit your location for the house swap to work. If your town is a popular tourist destination, you are in luck. Even if it’s not, a home swap website may still be worthwhile. People travel for a variety of reasons.

Price: Most home swapping websites make their money through annual subscription costs averaging from about $50 to $100. However, a lot of them allow visitors to view the site for free (you just won’t have the information to contact a swapper unless you join).

Risks: With a sufficient amount of research and communication, the risks of house swapping are significantly diminished. According to Katie Costabel, a representative for HomeLink, their business is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. (When it launched, it was called "Vacation Exchange Club Inc.") And part of the safety for home swappers apparently results from that classic 1960s idea: mutually assured destruction. "In all of the years we've been in business, there's never been a case of reported theft or vandalism," says Costabel. "In the end, they're staying in your home and you're staying in theirs, so mutual trust is fundamental.”

Have you ever used a house swapping website? If not, would you consider it? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.

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