A Guide To House Swapping

Posted on: 25 March 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Find out why more people are using house swaps as a way of holidaying. We show you where to start and how to maximise your home’s appeal.


Your home could hold the key to a destination abroad - or even in the UK.

Fancy a week in a villa in St Tropez, or a houseboat in the Netherlands, but can't afford peak season prices charged by holiday companies? Then home exchange may be for you.

The idea of this scheme is that two households who have never met stay in each other's homes at the same time - for free.

The major costs involved will be getting to your destination and the home exchange agency fee, the latter being around £30 to £115 per year for as many exchanges as you want, or have the energy to organise.

You can do it without using the internet (dealing with the agency by post), but really it's better to have access to a computer to get your home up on the exchange website. You'll also need to get in touch or respond speedily to potential exchangers.

Tips For A Successful Swap

  • Don't hype up your property or location. Be as realistic as possible and get to know your exchange partners as well as you can before you reach an agreement.
  • Write a holiday agreement. Make it as specific as possible, deciding who pays for accidental damage and utility bills.
  • De-clutter your home. Provide clean linen, empty drawers and wardrobe space and put any precious possessions away.
  • Appoint a neighbour or friend as a contact. As well as answering questions from your exchange guests, they can keep an eye on things and be an emergency contact.
  • Provide manuals for household appliances. Also remember alarm or heating settings.

About The Homes

You'll find exchange homes in Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the UK and the USA - these are the most popular places - but there are also other countries with a fair number of exchange properties.

In the UK, people are keen to swap homes in London, Edinburgh, the West Country and the Cotswolds, however many exchangers are non-specific about where they want to go, so don't be put off if you happen to live somewhere else.

How Do I Choose An Agency?

The first step is to register with a home exchange agency. There are several long-standing agencies in the UK with memberships from around 3,000 to 13,000 worldwide as well as other online agencies, some aimed at particular interest groups, or those based in the USA and Canada.

Don't assume the more members the greater the choice of properties, though - some agencies combine home exchange with other services such as house rental or house-sitting, so before signing up, have a good look at their websites.

Browse through the destinations and properties on offer - you'll find that some have detailed descriptions on the lifestyle or circumstances of the home owner, while others simply emphasise facilities. Some websites have useful features. Look out for those that:

  • Flag up the latest properties. This will save you time looking at homes you've already rejected.
  • Offer last-minute holidays. Good for people who want to travel in the next six to eight weeks.
  • Indicate when exchangers have met their holiday requirements. Don't waste time contacting them.
  • State whether the property is a second home. They may not be as atmospheric or well-equipped as you might expect.
  • Use an agency with a phone contact. You can easily get in touch and ask for help or advice.

When Should I Sign-Up To An Agency?

The busiest time for arranging a home exchange for the summer months tends to be in early January, but exchange holidays - from weekends to long-stay holidays - are arranged all year round.

Some agencies have published directories which are sent out to their members two or three times a year. In which case, it's prudent to find out when directories are printed and distributed, and sign up with the agency beforehand to ensure that you'll get the widest exposure.

How Do I Register?

You will need to provide details about your property and its occupants - the location, the size of your home, the number of bedrooms, as well as whether you have children and a garden, and if there are pets to look after. Provide detailed information on your home to entice potential exchangers

Photos are also very important. You are usually able to load and edit your details yourself, and update them too. When you've done this you can start to get in touch with other potential exchangers, usually by email, and other people are now able to contact you too. You are expected to reply to all requests for further information.

Rhona Nayar of one home exchange agency, Intervac, says the most successful exchanges are when people are 'well-informed and know what to expect'. We recommend that you:

Research a prospective destination abroad or in the UK. Find out exact locations by using websites like www.maporama.co.uk or www.multimap.com.

Find out about local information. For descriptions of particular areas, check www.upmystreet.com (UK only).

See tourist information. Look at The National Tourist Board's website www.antor.co.uk, or local community websites.

Is It Easy To Make A Deal?

Once you have found a property you like and a family you feel comfortable exchanging with, you need to reach an agreement on all the practicalities, from specific dates of the swap to who is going to feed the resident cat.

Most agency websites include a sample 'Holiday Agreement' form. Adapt it to your own needs and send a copy to your exchangee.

Make sure you get everything down in writing, and remember to include things such as the number of people who will be staying in your house, and who will pay utility bills or phone bills, etc.

It's also worth agreeing the consequences of accidental damage that is too small to make an insurance claim possible or worthwhile. Until the agreements have been signed it is inadvisable to make any travel arrangements.

Book your travel at the same time as your exchange partners and let each other know the details. It is considered a cardinal sin by agencies to pull out of an exchange once the agreement has been made. You should only do this in the case of a real emergency.

What If Things Go Wrong?

All the UK agencies say that serious complaints are few and far between. Those they do receive are generally down to incompatible cleaning standards.

If things do go seriously wrong, the agency will act as a go-between. However, the exchange system is based on mutual trust, and the agency bears no legal responsibility.

Members may be struck off if it is believed they have broken an agreement, or even abused the system, but that is of little comfort if you have a bad experience.

Will I Need To Arrange Insurance?

Ensure your home insurance company is aware of your house swap and establish any exclusions or conditions.

If you are exchanging cars, see if you can add exchangers to your policy, and find out what documentation will be required - and the extra costs involved - before making a firm agreement with your house swap partners.

Web Links

Home Base Holidays
Tel: 020 8886 8752
Link: www.homebase-hols.com
Price: £29 (online only, and up to five photos allowed)

HomeLink International

Tel: 01962 886882
Link: www.homelink.org.uk
Price: £115 (on and offline directory)

0845 260 5776
Link: www.intervac.co.uk
Price: £75 (on and offline directory)

Have you tried house swapping?

If so, let us know by leaving a comment in the box below or share your thoughts with other readers in the 50conenct forums.

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