GINETTA VEDRICKAS offers a way of saving 50 per cent on holidays, thanks to the growing popularity of home exchange

House swapping has existed for decades but research shows that, thanks to the economic downturn, it is now firmly on the rise. www.lovehomeswap.com  recently found that the number of property exchanges taking place more than doubled between 2011 and 2012 – rising from 1.6 million to 3.3 million Brits who home swapped for their holidays in 2012.

The concept suits young families but it’s empty nesters who have more time, flexibility  and  often a main home and a second home, that makes home swapping the ideal way to travel.

How I got started

House Swap home exchange

Ginetta and her family at the house they exchanged with in Carmel, California

I first exchanged my six-bedroomed London semi 15 years ago with a family from Cornwall. My then small children loved having access to other children’s games, toys and even pets. Over the years we’ve holidayed in fabulous properties in California, New York, Boston, Tobago and Dubai as well as numerous European destinations such as France, Italy and the occasional exchange in the UK when funds are tight.

home exchangeNow the children have flown the nest, I am no longer tied to travelling during school holidays so we can be more flexible with time and, finally having a home that doesn’t heave with children, pets and general ‘stuff’  is the perfect way to enjoy home exchange with endless possibilities for travel.

brazil home exchangeMake new friends and try another lifestyle

My greatest success has come from listing my property on www.homeforexchange.com, a site established by Ans Lammers which now has over 15,000 listings in 148 countries. Lammers says that, whilst her site is growing, home exchange remains a niche market: “Maybe only one in 10,000 people will be willing to share their house with relatively strangers.” However, Lammers sees real growth in the number of retirees listing their homes: “Retirees tend to be more flexible time-wise and they like being able to finally travel to destinations they have always desired going to.”

Reduce your holiday budget

Cutting your holiday expenditure is an obvious advantage, Lammers estimates that it’s common to save 50 per cent on your holiday costs, but there are plenty of other benefits.

“Home exchange is not just about exchanging a house; it’s also about making friends. People feel more comfortable if they exchange with members who share the same interests.” Lammers has made many friends in her years of exchanging, as have I, and www.homeforexchange.com contains many members’ testimonials reporting delight at making friends, enjoying locals’ tips and advice and often being able to experience a different kind of lifestyle. Lammers swapped her own home for three months with homeowners in Australia and notices a growing trend for long-term exchanges.

Can you exchange in a retirement development?

A trawl across sites reveals that you don’t need to own a mansion in order to exchange, people are often seeking a particular location rather than size of property, but is it possible to exchange when you live in a retirement community? www.homeforexchange.com has several examples listed although Lammers notes that not all developments have exchange-friendly policies: “In the US there are many ‘gated retiree communities’ which have stupid house rules which personally I don’t think would stand up in court! The mistake they make is relating home exchange to commercial home renting, which is not the case. Home exchange is a phenomenon between ‘friends’ and no money changes hands.”

In the UK one retirement specialist trialled an exchange between its UK residents and residents of a US scheme. Nick Sanderson, CEO, Audley Retirement Villages explains how they partnered with Senior Resource Group (SRG) in the US to facilitate an exchange between residents Carol and Tony Gregory who swapped with Lou and Muriel Schloss who live at Maravilla in Santa Barbara, California.

“We undertook this exchange to compare the UK and US retirement communities from facilities through to accommodation. There were certainly differences in approach and how the retirement villages are marketed with those in the US offering the rental model, while we in the UK offer homes for sale which are owned on a leasehold basis. What was similar was the community spirit of the villages and the desire of individuals to live their retirement to the full and remain independent and active.”

The exchange was highly successful according to resident Carol Gregory who with her husband Tony lives at St Elphin’s Park retirement village, set within 14-acres of landscaped grounds on a 44 acre site in Darley Dale, not far from Matlock and Bakewell.. “Apart from the obvious difference in weather, which allows the community to do a lot more outdoors, one of the main contrasts is the scale. Maravilla has more than 350 residences, so there is always something going on, which certainly kept us busy! We were interested to find out how the rental model worked but the British seem to favour ownership as opposed to renting.”

L-R Tony and Carol Gregory Muriel and Lou Schloss (close up) home exchange

Tony and Carol Gregory with Muriel and Lou Schloss

Carol’s American swap partner Lou Schloss also enjoyed the swap: “Retirement communities are commonplace in the US, but as a nation we share the same UK concerns about moving to one. People are afraid to do it and it’s the brave ones who make the decision to downsize whilst they still have time to enjoy their retirement. With that in mind, the social makeup of the villages is very similar.”

Despite having no immediate plans for future exchanges, Nick Sanderson is open –minded to the idea of future swaps: “It was a very valuable experience for all involved, and we are always open to the possibility of further exchanges taking place. They help to further the understanding of the retirement village concept which we firmly believe is the most appropriate alternative to the UK’s dependence on institutional care or sheltered housing, which absolutely no one wants.”

Second home swaps

And growing numbers of second home owners are finding that it makes perfect sense to exchange them for holidays elsewhere. Suzie Magnus set up International Vacation Home Exchange, IVHE, to cater to the growing demand and says that her site works well for retirees: “We have a big proportion of empty nesters. Once their children are grown up and do not want to spend all their vacations with the parents, they are free to travel around a lot more and even more so when retired. Our most active members are retirees; they go to nice B&B’s for days, on their own/as couples or go to big other properties and invite children and grandchildren to join them.”

Unlike most exchange sites, with IVHE exchangers earn ‘credits’ when others use their homes which they then ‘spend’ to stay in different properties around the world. “Retirees, often prefer off season to peak seasons, not liking the crowds or the heat, and are more flexible in where and when they travel, so in many ways IVHE is perfect for that group,” adds Magnus.

Home swap top tips
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  • If you are in a retirement development check your lease to see if exchange is allowed; often the only restriction is that the people who are staying in your home are over a certain age (usually 55).
  • Research your market – Have a good look at properties listed and destinations to ensure that the places you’d like to visit are well represented.
  • Show your property in its best light -Treat your listing as though you were trying to sell it through an estate agent. Take good photographs and be as detailed as possible about your property, destination and yourself.
  • Communicate – This is key to any successful home swap, and it’s much easier today thanks to email and Skype. Before going ahead, discuss aspects such as phone use and cleaning. Some sites have contracts to minimise misunderstandings.
  • Trust your instincts – If at any point you feel uncomfortable with an exchange partner then don’t go ahead.
  • Think about your valuables – It’s easier if you’re swapping a second home where you don’t keep personal items- but make sure you lock away any valuable or items you don’t want used in a cellar, attic or separate room.
  • Arrange insurance – Tell your house insurers. Most prefer properties to be occupied rather than empty and any car exchange also requires insurance.
  • Leave a guide to your home and area – Detailed information on your property and local area is vital.
  • Be flexible and above all proactive – Flexibility is key and most successful exchangers are proactive, contacting other members proposing an exchange rather than waiting to be contacted.

Best sites

www.homeforeaxchange.com  1 year for £43

www.homelink.org.uk 1 year for £115

www.intervac.com 1 year for £49.99

www.ivhe.com 1 year for $159

www.lovehomeswap.com From £8.25 per month