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Save on accommodations and live like a local with home exchanges

SmarterTravel

To cut vacation costs and have the chance to experience a destination like a local, many travelers are turning to home exchanges. With home exchanges, two homeowners living in different destinations agree to swap properties for a specific time period at no charge. For example, a condo owner in Florida could switch residences with a villa owner in Tuscany. Or, a couple with a beach cottage on Cape Cod could exchange for an RV in Portland, OR.

While exchanging your home with another person can come with risks, the benefits can be great if you are careful when making arrangements. Besides getting free accommodations, staying in a home rather than shacking up at a hotel can provide you with a more authentic travel experience. You may also have use of a kitchen, laundry faculties, a back yard, and sometimes even your exchange partner’s car.

Home exchange services

The easiest way to facilitate an exchange is through an online home exchange service, which allows you to list your home and view listings of other homes available for exchange for a yearly membership fee (usually around $50 to $75). After signing up, you can post listings with photos and detailed information about your property along with information about the type of rental you’re looking for and the time of year you’d like to travel. You can then browse through other member listings to find a suitable partner.

Three popular home exchange websites include:

  • HomeLink:

    In existence for over 50 years, HomeLink has about 14,000 members in over 50 countries. A 12-month online membership costs $75. A printed directory of member listings is available for $45 extra. Only paid members can contact other members. Visit the HomeLink website to learn more.

  • Intervac:

    Very similar to HomeLink, Intervac has 50 years of experience, and features over 11,000 listings for home exchanges in 52 countries. A 12-month online membership costs $65. Membership that includes a full-color printed catalogue of homes costs $120. Only paid members can contact other members. Find out more on the Intervac website.

  • HomeExchange.com:

    This Web-based company founded in 1992 has 6,000 members with home exchanges in 91 destinations. Paid membership costs $50 per year. No print listings are available. HomeExchange.com features a unique “Open System” exchange, meaning that you do not have to be a member to access home listings or to contact members. Nonmembers can contact members about setting up a home exchange through a secure online system that hides the member’s contact information. The member can then decide whether to respond or not. Besides homes, the site’s directory also features listings for yachts, RVs, and rentals designated for seniors. For more information, visit HomeExchange.com.

Tips for home exchange

Home exchange services do not arrange exchanges for you, they simply provide home listings. It is up to you to set up your own home exchange with a trustworthy partner. Letting strangers into your home and heading to their property site unseen may seem risky, but there are steps you can take to make sure your exchange goes smoothly. Here are some recommendations:

  • Before listing your home, check with your insurance broker to make sure your home insurance covers exchange visitors. Ditto if you plan to include your car as part of the exchange. If you have an apartment or are renting your home, check with your landlord to make sure home exchanges are acceptable under your lease.
  • Begin searching for a home exchange partner at least six months in advance to make sure you have ample time to find the right homeowner.
  • Once you find an interested partner, exchange detailed information about yourselves (and family members or friends if they are coming on the exchange), your homes, your neighborhoods, and your expectations. Also provide a list of household items and amenities available for use. Ask for personal references if possible.
  • Inform one another about any ground rules in advance and provide local contacts such as neighbors or friends in case of an emergency.
  • Before confirming your exchange, create a printed agreement listing the terms of the exchange and have both parties read and sign the document.

Sample agreements can be found on the websites of the companies listed above. All three companies also list general home exchange guidelines and tips. Be sure to read through all the information before setting up an exchange.

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