Vol 6 No. 43 - July 19, 2006

Expand your horizon with house swapping

By Louise Bolger
SUN STAFF WRITER

Homes have come a long way from the days of simply sheltering us from the elements to modern homes which provide a lifestyle and make a statement. Well, there’s something else your home can do for you, it can grant you the means to travel to countries and locations you may have only dreamed of.

House swapping, home trading, trading places — call it what you like, it has been around for a long time. In fact, the concept started in the 1950s with teachers and professors who wanted to travel during their long summer vacations. However, during the past five years the numbers of people willing to swap their homes has increased tremendously. Americans faced with a devalued dollar, are searching for more affordable ways to travel abroad, and fellow travelers from all parts of the world have taken notice.

Primarily swapping homes started as a financial arrangement advantageous for both parties. But it has turned into more of a cultural event getting the visitor immersed in the local culture, food and lifestyle. What started as a word of mouth network among homeowners interested in participating, has turned into a business with annual fees and Web sites.

Four of the more popular Web sites where you can list your home for a trade are intervac.com, homelink.org, homeexchange.com and exchangehomes.com. In order to advertise your home you first need to join the listing service you feel best meets your needs. It is not uncommon for people to list their homes with more than one service. Annual fees range from $40 to $125, approximately.

The Web sites for these four services are all pretty interesting. You can search by country of choice and by cities within the country. There are profiles of the homeowners, descriptions and pictures of the home, and sometimes, what time of year and where the owners would like to travel.

It does take a little bit of coordination and research; you need to find the right home, in the right location at the right time of the year to make it work. But the benefit of not having to shell out hundreds of dollars a night for lodging and have the added savings of cooking your own meals is more than worth it.

Verify that your homeowner’s insurance does not present a problem and have an alternative plan and agreement in the event either your or the other party can’t fulfill their obligation. The use of a car is frequently provided, but this can get into a ticklish insurance issue if there is an accident, so consider it carefully.

Condos and apartments are also swapped, and second homes are probably the ideal property to swap. Families tend to swap with other families, couples with couples, etc. Guests could also water your plants, bring in your mail and even take care of your pets. Some people feel more comfortable locking up personal and valuable items, but most homeowners’ experience is very positive.

Naturally your home has to have something to offer. Major cities and tourist areas are always in demand. Finding people interested in Anna Maria Island would probably not be a problem, since it is equally attractive in both summer and winter. In fact, I did see some Anna Maria properties listed when I was reviewing the various Web sites.

Give your house a break. Don’t just consider it a great tax writeoff; think of it as a great travel asset, too. If you can get past other people’s shampoo in your shower and their slippers under your bed, it can be a great adventure and another way to get the most out of living in a wonderful area in a desirable home.

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