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Home Exchanges

Home Away from Home

Have a “Second” Home For Price of Planefare

Anne and Bill Walter vacationed in an 800-year-old, thatched-roof English home for free. They enjoyed a dream vacation by exchanging their Florida home for a house in Bath. “It worked out great,” said Anne. “Our exchangers loved our home near the beach and we enjoyed the charm of the English countryside.”

The Walters are part of a home exchange network which helps 200,000 couples trade places each year. House swapping can be traced at least as far back to the 16th century when ambassadors to the French court experienced a housing problem and swapped homes with their counterparts. Today exchange clubs have more than 6,000 listings. If you’re flexible and patient, home exchanging can be an enjoyable yet frugal alternative to hotels. Fort Myers, Florida residents Mary and Bill Barbour liked the experience so much they wrote two books to share information about it: Trading Places and Home Exchange Vacationing.

According to the Barbours, a two-week vacation at a London hotel plus meals and car rental would total more than $3,000. Since most exchanges include a car, a similar vacation with a home swap would cost only about $600. Mary and Bill, veterans of 80 exchanges, figure they’ve saved over $150,000 through home swapping.

However, exchange vacations are not for everyone. “A person who worries about who’s sleeping in his bed wouldn’t make a good exchanger,” advises Bill. If blind trust isn’t in your nature, he suggests drawing up a contract delineating details of the exchange.

Bill describes the concept as “living out your vacation dreams.” A family from Big Sky, Montana, arrived at their Caribbean exchange home to find a 42-foot sloop complete with a captain and first mate. New Jersey exchangers got much more than they bargained for when they spent six weeks overlooking Hong Kong harbor, their meals served by a live-in maid.

But there are some nightmares. Mary Barbour’s worst experience was learning that 10 people were living in her two-bedroom condo. Anne Walter’s disaster was finding a “cozy cottage” in Martha’s Vineyard so filthy she and her husband spent the night in a hotel. Overall though, both couples talk about positive experiences and highly recommend vacation exchanging. Usually, they say, home exchangers become great friends.

My husband and I liked the idea so much we decided to give it a try. Last year we exchanged our home in Colorado for a month in Verwood, England, a small cozy village full of pubs and 16th century churches located close to the eastern coast. Cornwall, the Cotswolds, and Stratford upon Avon were all within a day’s drive. When we returned from day trips to our very comfortable little cottage, it felt just like home.

The Typical Home Exchanger

My husband and I fit the profile of typical home exchangers. According to a survey by Investor’s Business Daily of 643 home exchangers, nearly three-quarters are between the age of 36 and 65. More than 50 percent began exchanging in the early 1980s and nearly two-thirds have completed three or more exchanges.

To become an exchanger is easy: just join one of the many clubs, receive an exchange directory listing different areas, select an area, and send a letter describing your home and stating the time of year of the visit and the number of people. Once a suitable exchange has been found, make arrangements to trade keys and cars and stay rent-free with all the comforts of home.

Although many people are hesitant about including their cars in the exchange, the Barbours do it whenever possible. If you do, make sure your insurance policy covers others who drive the car. Other basic precautions: Make all information pertaining to appliances and security systems available to your visitors, put away valuables, and provide ample closet and cabinet space for your guests.

This year we have an exchange in Brisbane, Australia and next summer one in Copenhagen. My advice is don’t be too rigid with your plans; keep your options open. It’s a great way to travel economically, meet new people, live in a different culture, and learn about the world. Remember, there’s a castle in Ireland or a hacienda in Madrid waiting for you.

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