Trading Spaces: Home swapping is an affordable way to travel
Southwest Florida resident Peggy Farren looked around her six-bedroom home and saw economic opportunity.
She signed up as an Airbnb host, renting out three of the rooms, and it was one of those guests who told her about something even more exciting: home swapping.
“The people who stayed with me were from all over the world and were seasoned travellers,” says Ms. Farren. “I learned about cheap travel from them.”
Many people are familiar with the concept of home swapping from the 2006 romantic comedy “The Holiday,” where characters played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz swap homes.
One of the most popular sites, Swaphouse.com, has an inventory of over 450,000 homes in approximately 187 countries. Members pay an annual fee of $150 and are entitled to unlimited trades.
Often the owners of two properties agree to swap places on the same dates. Sometimes people own a vacation or second home that they place in the redemption database to earn points that they redeem for travel at another time to a destination they wish to visit.
Ms. Farren’s first exchange was in Umbria, Italy. She got a one-bedroom apartment; his exchange mates got his six-bedroom place. “You are not always equal,” she says.
But, she adds, the trip was amazing. She enjoyed the historic buildings, nearby small towns, and a photographic tour of Tuscany.
“I was hooked after the first exchange,” she says. “I left for a whole month and paid no accommodation costs. I could never have afforded the trips I took without a home swap.
A professional photographer, Ms. Farren began arranging her work schedule to allow for several months of summer travel. She visited places like the Czech Republic, Copenhagen, Portugal, Morocco and three other destinations in Italy. She recently invited friends to join her at Fernandina Beach, Cocoa and Lake Wales.
She has had good experiences not only in the places she has stayed, but with the people who have stayed with her.
“I had very few problems, otherwise I wouldn’t have continued doing it,” she says. “Most people say they would never want strangers in their house, but others think that’s cool.”
She says the people who travel on home exchanges are all homeowners, making them a bit older and often retired, although she has exchanged homes with families.
Luca and Tania Pratico from Rassina, Italy, did a house swap with Ms. Farren.
Mr Pratico describes Ms Farren’s house as ‘the very stylish ‘American’ house’ and says it was welcoming, well furnished and with a swimming pool which their young daughter loved.
Since joining HomeExchange in 2013, the family has traveled to Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Los Angeles, where they have stayed in a luxury 27th-floor apartment with stunning views of downtown and the hills of Hollywood.
“It’s the best way to understand the secrets of a strange place,” Mr. Pratico says of home swaps. “We loved all the houses, the little ones too. Our holidays are made to discover places and understand people and their customs.
Chuck and Mary Jekabsons of Cocoa also swapped homes with Ms. Farren and have been home swappers for nearly 20 years.
Mr. Jekabsons says he always wondered what it would be like to live in specific places like downtown San Francisco or a rural area. Home swapping allows her to experience other people’s way of life in a different way than staying at a hotel.
“A resort is a sterile environment with very little contact with the community,” he says. “I would rather be outside and experience more of the local flavor.”
The Jekabsons chose Naples because they love being by the water. Mr Jekabsons brought his metal detector to comb the beach and the couple spent a day exploring Marco Island.
In addition to HomeExchange, the Jekabsons are also registered with People Like Us, which he says started a few years ago, and Affordable Travel Club, which he describes as an informal bed and breakfast with a $20 fee. by night.
Ms Farren says there are nearly 20 properties in Naples listed on the Home-Exchange website.
Chris Benson lives in Kansas City but recently purchased a home in Naples to use primarily for short-term rentals and home exchanges.
“I think HomeExchange is a great program because you can exchange your property for properties all over the world,” Benson says. “It opens up opportunities.” He enjoyed having access to places not open to the general public, such as the house in Belize he stayed at over Christmas and New Years.
“I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy Belize the same way if I hadn’t made the exchange,” he says, noting that there is no shortage of services such as daily housekeeping at a hotel.
He went to Maui on a home exchange and recently booked a trip to Costa Rica through the program.
Sharon Ohlsen and her husband, John Haylock, own homes in Naples and Vancouver, living seasonally in both.
They offer exchanges both at home and say people around the world are equally interested in both places.
Ms. Ohlsen says many people who swap her home to Naples take an airboat ride through the Everglades or head to Miami for a day or two.
Home swappers since 2014, the Ohlsens have made about fifteen exchanges. They have been to Australia, New Zealand, Mo’orea near French Polynesia, and several locations in the United States and Canada. They often invite friends over to join them, and they even become friends with the people they trade with.
“Savings are key,” Ms. Ohlsen says, “but you also meet some really good people.”
In Tauranga, New Zealand, the owners of the exchange property were staying in their motorhome at a nearby campsite.
“We invited them to a cocktail party at their house,” laughs Ms Ohlsen. This couple then visited Ms Ohlsen and her husband in Vancouver, staying at their home.
Ms. Ohlsen offers these tips for successful home exchanges:
¦ It helps to be an organized person.
¦ Read reviews people have left about a property or owners.
¦ Complete a home exchange agreement for each home exchange rather than relying solely on an email conversation.
¦ Ask for photo ID and proof that the person owns the property they are exchanging; provide the same.
¦ Securing sentimental or valuable personal items; some exchangers leave these items with a relative or friend during an exchange.
¦ By email, introduce the home exchangers to your neighbours. This allows someone to help them in an emergency, but also lets people know someone is watching them.
¦ Leave a hostess gift such as a meat and cheese platter or drinks in the refrigerator for guests arriving after a long day of travel. ¦