House Swapping

By Michele Koh Morollo

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If you don't want to live like a tourist when visiting your next travel destination, then why not live in the home of a native? House swapping refers to the practice of home exchange between holidaymakers. So Mr. Brown in Perth, Australia can live rent-free in Mr. Teo's apartment on Orchard Road, Singapore, while Mr. Teo stays rent-free at Mr. Brown's cottage on Cottesloe beach. Not only does house swapping help you save on accommodation costs, it also allows you to be part of the local neighbourhood and experience what life is like for a resident.

It is believed that house swapping developed in North America and Europe in the 1950s and was something done between friends or family members, especially during summer time. Some house exchange deals also involve swapping cars and pet sitting and these can still be negotiated. It is estimated that by swapping homes instead of booking hotels, families can reduce their travel costs by as much as US$5,000. The house swap trend grew in the 1970s, and by the 1980s, Internet sites and middlemen got involve to make the process much easier and more accessible on a global scale. Today, the number of travelers participating in house swaps is steadily increasing by about 15 to 20 percent every year.

How to Swap
If you're thinking of a house swap holiday, you'll need to be flexible about your travel dates as homes need to be exchanged on dates that are convenient for both you and your hosting party. There are many websites that provide home exchange listings across the globe and many require a membership registration fee. Well established sites with a wide selection of up-to-date listings include Home Exchange (http://www.homeexchange.com/), which has more than 42,000 listings in 148 countries, Intervac (www.intervac-homeexchange.com), which was founded in 1953, and Geenee (www.geenee.com) that offers 15,400 properties worldwide.

Select your destination, then view what's available. On most websites, you will get to view photos of the properties. These websites are programmed to match you up with people who are looking for properties in your city. To view the most up-to-date listings, review the proposed exchange date. If your  travel dates match up with the desired property, and both parties are agreeable, viola, you have a new home in New York, or Greece, or Shanghai! For a week or two that is! While the websites link people, you will need to make the exchange arrangements yourself with the contacted party.

Finding your ideal holiday home will take some time. The most efficient way to search is to do a "reverse search" that will allow you to see which home owners are looking for a home in your city and vicinity. To increase your chances of success, post your home on more than one exchange site. It's best to post your offer a few months before your date of travel as most people make travel plans in advance. Create an attractive profile for your home, the destination, the events that take place within your vicinity during the exchange dates and a little about yourself.

Once you've identified and contacted your potential home exchange partner and they've expressed interest in your home too, get to know each other better through email exchanges and by speaking on the phone. It's important to establish mutual trust and respect before the swap.

Good House Swapping Etiquette

When leaving your house for guests:
•    Make sure that you arrange for a neighbour or friend to be around to hand your visitors the keys. Ensure that your home is clean with fresh towels and bed linen.

•    Inform your neighbours that you are house swapping so they don't call the police when they see a stranger in your home.

•    Write out instructions for alarms, cars, garbage collection times etc. and place on the fridge door or somewhere where your visitors will see them.

•    If you like, you can leave the visitors a welcome pack that might include a local map, tourist leaflets, emergency numbers and perhaps a baked treat or a bottle of wine.

When staying at your exchange accommodation:
•    Leave the house in a tidy condition. That means making the bed, washing dirty dishes and taking out the garbage.

•    If you accidentally break anything, leave a note for the owner and replace it.

•    Leave a "Thank You" note and some groceries if the owners are returning a day or two after you depart.

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