Vacation rentals can make a getaway more affordable. But a house exchange can really slash your travel costs. By making your accommodations virtually free, home swapping can eliminate one of the biggest vacation expenses.

Since many house swaps include the use of a family car, transportation expenses are reduced. And you’ll likely be eating more meals in than you would otherwise, so you’ll save on dining too. Plus, you’ll get to experience your destination like a local.

No matter where you want to go, whether it’s Florida or Florence, chances are, there are house exchange properties available there.

How house exchange programs works

There are several house exchange programs online. The best have been around since the 1950s. The usual first step is to register with one and then decide where you want to go.

Most charge around $100, give or take, for a one-year membership. There are some free services available, but the quality of homes – and renters – is usually better with one of the paid services.

Once you’ve signed up, and sometimes even before, you’ll be able to search the agency’s database for homes to swap. Some agencies also have printed directories of the homes that participate.

The most common type of house exchange is simultaneous. That is to say that you and the people you are trading houses with coordinate schedules and you stay in their house while they stay in yours. So obviously, you’ll need to plan as far in advance as possible.

Most house exchanges last from one to four weeks so it’s best to choose a destination with plenty to see and do. Find a spot that makes it easy to do a number of interesting day trips, and then start searching in that area.

The more desirable the location of your home, the more likely you are to find home owners willing to swap houses with you. Try to be realistic about the desirability of your property.

How to exchange your home for another

Once you’ve found some properties that you’re interested in – having just one is likely to lead to disappointment – contact the owners to let them know your interest.

Try to present your home in its most appealing light, but be scrupulously honest and don’t exaggerate.

If you can provide lots of pictures, do. They truly are worth a thousand words.

Let your potential exchange mate know what there is to do in your area. You may think it’s obvious to everyone that Disneyworld is convenient to your Orlando home. But someone in Rome may not know that. Tell them what’s within walking distance, what’s five minutes away, where they can buy groceries, etc.

Before you finalize any house exchanges, make sure all the details are spelled out.

  • Is the use of a car included?
  • Will the guests care for your pets?
  • Will they water your plants?
  • May they use your computer?

Then, put it all in writing. Chances are that your house exchange agency will have sample forms you can use.

Check with your insurance carriers – both home and auto – to make sure everything is covered. Insurers often prefer having guests in a home to having it vacant.

If you’re worried about leaving your home to strangers – and who isn’t – offer to introduce your guests to some friends who can welcome them to the area and check up on your place at the same time. The more you get to know the others before you exchange houses, the more comfortable you’ll feel trading places with them.

Before you exchange houses

Most house swappers will leave their guests detailed information about the area and its attractions as well as contact information, restaurant tips, and emergency numbers, including the number of your insurance agent.

Leave detailed instructions for how to use the TV remote, turn on the pool heater, or arm the burglar alarm system – anything that they won’t automatically know how to use. If you need to insert the key a certain way to open the door, say so. And if your car has any peccadillos, mention those too.

Take your valuables to the safety deposit box, or put them in a safe, if you have one. Give your house a thorough cleaning, or pay to have it cleaned.

Empty your refrigerator – except for a welcome bottle of wine and some staples as a convenience. And make some storage space available in closets and drawers.

Then, relax and enjoy living like a native somewhere far from home.

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