HOMES AWAY FROM HOME – home exchange for beginners

DSC01823 WHAT WE OFFERED: Amsterdam apartment (level 5)

How’s this for a cheap holiday with the kids – a week in a smart London apartment on the Thames, then a cottage in the Lake District for a few days? Next meet up with a group of friends for a week in an 18th century French chateau, and finally stay in a renovated country house in Umbria, Italy. Perhaps on the way home you could stop off in Thailand and recuperate in a villa with gardener and cook/housekeeper.

I said ‘a cheap holiday’, so your accommodation budget for the family is $65. That’s not per person per night; we’re talking $65 for the whole trip. It can be done, thanks to home exchange websites. The five star options above are real homes, and their owners are looking for Australians to swap houses with.

Maybe we could do that, we thought a few years ago. We have a comfortable, albeit unglamorous place in suburban Sydney, a share in a simple holiday cottage on the Mornington Peninsula and a small apartment in Amsterdam. There might be some interest in one of them.

We found a home exchange website boasting over 11,000 properties world-wide. $65 buys 18 months membership, which allows you to list your home and contact other members. Browsing for non-members is free.

So we joined up, wiped down the benchtops, took flattering real estate photos and wrote glowing notes about ‘vibrant multicultural Sydney’, ‘Victoria’s best golf and wineries’ and ‘stroll or bike to cosy Amsterdam cafes’.

Soon we were getting more email about home exchange than about viagra. We were offered swaps in Mauritius, the Dominican Republic, California, Spain and the French Alps. If we weren’t interested we simply pressed “Delete”, but we replied politely to the possibles, spent hours trawling the website to drool over apartments in Manhattan and Rome, and made up a shortlist. .

We eventually agreed on exchanging with a family in Paris and people with a holiday apartment in Northern Ireland. Paris was a no-brainer, but we would never have considered visiting County Down until Janet and Ken pointed out the cheap flights to their hometown Belfast.

Dundrum 055WHAT WE GOT: Dundrum, County Down, Northern IrelandCamping Redondo Poco Redondo, Portugal

Increasingly chatty emails settled mutually agreeable dates, and everyone promised to ‘look after your home as if it were our own’. Some months later we arrived in Paris to swap keys with Pierre and Evelyn and learn the workings of les lumieres et la cuisine moderne. Their car was packed ready to drive to Amsterdam so after a quick café au lait we bid them adieu.

We loved their charming apartment near Montmartre avec le creaking parquet and le balcony francais. We could shop at local markets and cook for ourselves, and since the cost of living was much the same as at home, we didn’t feel driven to rush to every museum to get our money’s worth. We took books to the park some afternoons, and there was money over in our budget for the occasional chic restaurant.
At the end of the week we left a merci beaucoup note, and backed out the door in our socks so as not to scuff the floor polish. We arrived home to find that the Parisians must have done the same. Our apartment had never been so clean.

The famed Irish hospitality kicked in when we arrived in Belfast. Janet met us at the airport and drove us out through Erin’s green fields to their immaculate waterfront apartment with a spectacular view of the Mountains of Mourne. We somewhat shamefacedly handed over tram tickets to ease their passage to our place and were pleased we’d left them a welcoming bottle of wine on the kitchen table.

Once again, all went swimmingly. They enjoyed riding our bikes round Amsterdam and we had a great time in a beautiful quiet backwater we may never have discovered otherwise.

These were simultaneous exchanges, but we’ve since organised non-simultaneous ones. Guests from Italy and Portugal have stayed in our Sydney house while we happened to be away, and we were able to accommodate golfing enthusiasts from Nova Scotia on the Mornington Peninsula. We plan to visit their places at some future date to cash in our brownie points.

So far we’ve come across no thieves or pigs. On the contrary, people we’ve exchanged with have gone out of their way to be perfect hosts and guests and we’ve tried to do likewise. Any accidental breakage has been followed by a note offering to pay damages, and we’ve always said, ‘Forget it’. We’ve met people we hope to visit again.

Yes, we’re lucky with what we can offer. Most visitors want a place that’s convenient and centrally located and that we have. As long as it’s clean and has beds and running water, people aren’t too concerned with a house’s glamour.

Naturally flash apartments near the Sydney CBD with spectacular harbour views are in demand with overseas visitors. But you may well find exchangers who want to be close to relatives in Penrith or Gosford, in a relaxed family home where they don’t have to worry too much about the odd peanut butter handprint on the sofa.

Some listings suggest car exchange as well, though we’ve hesitated to take these up, fearing complications in case of accidents. People may ask you to water plants, or feed a cat or walk a dog, but most also have a neighbour who can look after the animals if you’d prefer not to.

We leave all the services connected and trust people not to run up substantially greater bills than we would. In return, they do the same for us, though we generally try to use our mobiles rather than their phones and so do they.

You can specify non-smokers, no children or seniors only if you think oldies are going to be better behaved.

NOTES:

The website we have used successfully is www.homeforexchange.com. They’re offering a free 40day no obligation trial membership at the moment, if you’re referred by a member. If you’d like to try it out, leave me your email address in the comments box below, and I’ll refer you and email you a voucher for the free trial.

There are numerous other house swap sites (untried by your correspondent),  including:

www.1sthomeexchange.com

www.homeexchange.com

www.homelink.com.au
As well as the world-wide sites, there are also sites specialising in Australian and New Zealand exchanges, such as www.aussiehouseswap.com.au

First published – Sun-Herald, Sydney

40 Comments

Filed under Budget travel, Home exchange, Travel, Travel- Europe, Travel-Australia

40 responses to “HOMES AWAY FROM HOME – home exchange for beginners

  1. Excellent blog Richard, from what you write you do the home exchange community proud. Home exchange is definitely the way to go; not only do you save a ton of money, but by not staying in hotels, you also “go green”.

    You didn’t mention my own home exchange company, ExchangeHomes.com. We’ve been continually in business since 1986, which makes us one of the elder statesmen. The press and media have consistently recommended us over the years and nowadays a great many of our memberships are repeats and personal recommendations.

    For anyone new to the home exchange concept, I would also like to recommend an ebook: Home Exchange Academy (www.homeexchangeacademy.com). It’s written by a 25 year veteran of 40+ home exchanges and she makes a point of not promoting one club over another, but takes people by the hand and walks them through the entire process of selecting a club, setting up their listing (lots of great tips here), corresponding with other members, writing a final agreement, preparing for the exchange, etc.

    Anyway, thanks for the great home exchange recommendation …

    Anne
    http://www.exchangehomes.com

    • Thanks for the response, Anne. I’ve looked at your website and Exchangehomes.com also looks very well run.

      Yes, we’re regulars on the home exchange circuit now – a great way to get around, meeting nice people, saving money and also as you say, the planet.

  2. Hi Richard,

    I think your readers (especially those new to home exchanging) may find our article:

    66 Practical Home Exchange Tips
    http://www.1sthomeexchange.com/holiday-home-exchange-tips.php

    useful in finding, arranging, and enjoying a perfect home exchange holiday.

    Best of luck with your future exchanges.

    Cheers!

    Tony

    • Thanks Tony. I’ve read your article and it’s clear, practical and useful. Happy to link to it, and (without being able to recommend it directly, not having used it) list your site. Feel free to refer others to my article and blog too of course. It’s non-commercial, but always happy to have lots of visitors!

  3. imma

    If have been exchanging homes for a long time, having done more than 20 home exchanges, and can’t understand why you say things like: “If we weren’t interested we simply pressed “Delete”,” when talking about an offer you received. If you weren’t interested, it would not have been very difficult for you to spend 30 seconds replying with a “no thanks email” and let that people have an answer to their offer. In the last few years, as the home exchange community grows up, the number of people that never reply to an offer is increasing and I personally think is a pity and a lack of respect.

  4. That’s a fair point, Imma, and people who take the trouble to send us a genuine, individual offer will nearly always receive a polite reply from me (though I can’t promise someone hasn’t slipped through the net on occasions.)

    But we regularly get messages from people who have clearly sent a bulk email to all 400+ swappers in Amsterdam. That’s fine, of course, but they may even prefer not to have their in-box clogged with refusals, polite or otherwise.

  5. Eva Larsson

    Hi Richard,

    Me and my family would like to try home exhange for the first time. It would be great to have a 40 day trial period for free.

    Thanks in advance
    Eva Larsson

  6. Joakim Serck-Hanssen

    Hi there Richard!

    As Eva Larson above we would also be interrested in trying out home exchange.

    Would you mail me an email voucher for a free trail please?

    Best regards

    Joakim Serck-Hanssen

  7. Jill

    Hi Richard,
    I just stumbled upon your website and the beaut article. We are members of a few sites and have done three successful house swaps and love the concept.

    Your readers might be interested to hear about a free site: http://www.geenee.com through which I have found two swaps.

    Also, your readers might be interested to hear about
    http://www.seniorshomeexchange.com which is a fee-paying site I joined 18 months ago on a 3-year membership. Their site went down over a week ago and it looks as though it has now been cancelled. I feel very sorry for anyone who joined and paid their fees recently.

    House swapping is a risk in many different ways, but most rewarding when everything comes off.

    Kind regards
    Jill

    • Thanks for the info and encouraging comments, Jill. Bad luck about that site going down. I suppose it’s a business without much regulation, which makes it risky in some ways, though so far we’ve had no problems at all.

  8. zena croydon

    Could you also send me a voucher? We are seniors who have done home exchanges in the past, but not for many years. A site we used then was ihen.com International home exchange.com

    Thanks

    Zena, in Pennsylvania USA

  9. Monica Moran

    Hi Richard,

    Great article. Thanks. Would you email me a voucher for a free trial? Can’t wait.

    Monica Moran

  10. Sharon Yandle

    Thanks in advance, Richard, for emailing a voucher for me. I’m very new to home exchanging but am keen to get started.

    Sharon

  11. Nice article found your site searching in yahoo I think you could have taken a more neutral view.

  12. Sergio Baptista

    Hi Richard!

    Good posting!

    Please, if possible, send me a voucher to the home exchange site.

    I’d like to add that, by home exchanging, you get he chance to show your guests how to better get the real experience of knowing another place, another people, another culture.
    I mean, whenever you travel, you try to do your home work on things you shouldn’t miss, sometimes failing to know the best restaurants (where locals go), the best spots in the city to see local people and watch local culture, the best tips and tricks, etc.
    Leaving a note to our guests so they can get to have the best holidays ever is also one’s duty.

    Best regards,

    Sergio

    • Thanks Sergio, Yes, we leave a directory in the house of good places to visit in the area, as well as information about transport systems, shops, cafes, doctor, friendly neighbours etc. Most other exchangers have done this for us too, and it is most appreciated and useful. Richard.

  13. MJ

    Hi, thanks for the helpful article. Can you e-mail me the trial membership voucher as well? Thank you.

  14. Hi Richard,
    Great article and links. We are hoping to be first time home exchangers when we go to Australia in May. Can you email me the trial membership?

    Thanks

    PS How is the weather in Australia in May. We are from Southern California. I’ve heard it is similiar.

  15. Helene Kendall

    Hi Richard

    Read your article and was wondering if 40 day free offer still applies with homexchange.com. We have just bought a house in Huskisson NSW and are keen to explore house swaps.

    Is it worth being on multiple sites or does it become too confusing?

    Hoping you can help

    Helene

    • Yes. Helene, I’m happy to sign you up for a 40 day trial with homeforexchange.com. There’s no problem signing up for multiple sites (though eventually each one charges a membership fee). I’d suggest you look at one international site and if you are interested in swapping within Australia, take a local one too. Hope it works for you – Huskisson on Jervis Bay, NSW is a lovely place to be, and there should be a lot of interest in it for holiday swaps.

  16. Kaelene

    Hi
    Would also like the 40 day trial if it is still available please.
    Just starting to investigate the idea of home exchange. Thanks.

  17. Tricia Barton

    Richard – please could you refer me for the 40 day trial for http://www.homeforexchange.com as I have properties in Turkey and Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK and as we are retiring this summer are looking for holiday ideas. Many thanks

  18. Daniel

    Hi Richard!

    I love your site and am really excited about trying it!

    Please would you help a poor schoolteacher and email me a voucher for a forty-day trial?!

    We have a lovely bungalow in Greater London with a 100 feet garden and hot-tub!

    Many thanks and kind regards.

    Daniel

  19. Ana

    Hi Richard,

    Your article was very encouraging and I have myriad of travel plans already. I would like to try homeexchange.com and possibly subscribe for a year after that. We have a great apartment in New York City and we would like to travel to Europe and be in a “home away from home” setting to meet our families.

    Thank you in advance.

    Ana

  20. Hendrik

    Hey Richard, could you send a trial voucher for Homeforexchange.com? Been looking into home-swapping and it seems to be a good deal!

  21. Great article Richard and love the photos! There are plenty of good niche home exchange websites around also if you are interested in speciality travel. For example we run http://HouseSwapHolidays.com.au which specialises in Australian & New Zealand travel and http://www.ChristianHomeSwap.com which is the worlds largest home swap website for Christians. There are also some great specialist home swap websites based in the UK although I can’t recall the names of them off hand

  22. Hi Richard

    I am happy to say I am one of the home exchangers who wrote to you when we were thinking of spending some time in Amsterdam earlier this year, and your DID write back, politely declining… and through that I found out about yout blog, since subscribed to it and I enjoy reading it.

    We have recently launched a new home exchange website (we are based in Australia, but of course it is targeted for an international market).

    It’s called The Travelling Prince Home Exchange

    Our link is http://www.thetravellingprince.com

    As on opening offer we have discounted our annual membership to $4.95 and this price is guarenteed for life and there is also a great competition open to our first 2000 members offering a prize fo $5000 towards travel expenses – for anyone interested in joining please use the invitation code 4AB*JOIN

    See you on the site!
    Any questions email me at
    Cheryl@thetravellingprince.com

  23. Rosie

    Hello

    I hope I am not too late. I have been researching home exchanging for a few months now and really like the idea. I would love to try the free 40 day trial and I think the homeforecxchange search facility is the best I’ve tried. Could you please send me a voucher code.

    Thank you

  24. Like Imma, we too have been exchanging homes for a long time, having done more than a dozen very successful home exchanges, and can’t understand why you say things like: “If we weren’t interested we simply pressed “Delete”,” when talking about an offer you received. Even if you aren’t interested in an offer, you can surely take the time to reply. It’s just common courtesy to let people have an answer to their offer. Again, like Imma, we’ve noticed that in the last few years, as the popularity of home exchange grows, the number of people that don’t reply to an offer is increasing and I personally think this is a pity and shows a lack of respect to other exchangers.
    We live in a popular region of France, and get frequent offers, some of which we find interesting, others not, but they all receive a polite and friendly reply. “Cherry picking” is certainly not the true exchange ethos.

    • Sheila, you are quite right, and when people send me a personal request for an exchange it is always my intention to give them a polite reply. I try to do this and hope there are not too many exceptions.

      But when people have obviously managed to send a bulk email to everybody in our town, I don’t feel quite the same obligation.

      My apologies if you thin

  25. Linda McCay

    Hi, We would be very interested in the 40 day trial. Thank you so much!!! Linda

  26. Do you still have a trial link available
    I’m at henrik@gemal.dk

    Thanx in advance

  27. Great writeup and very helpful! Are they still offering a free trial on homeforexchange.com? Can you please give me the info? Thanks!

    • Thanks Zach. I just checked the website and although the free trial offer seems to have lapsed, we can promise that we still find it good value.

      The current offer is that if you join and don’t find an exchange partner in your first year, your second year of membership is free. We’ve never failed to find exchangers, but of course it helps that we are in central Amsterdam which is very popular.

      So, good luck and, I hope, happy exchanging!

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