Tuscan villas to beach houses in Florida, the concept of swapping houses with
to save money
has been around for decades.
But the concept got the Hollywood
2006 with the light-hearted film
The Holiday, in which Cameron
Diaz traded her California mansion for Kate Winslet’s
quaint cottage in Surrey, England over
In November 2012, home swapping
hit the headlines again with the news that the new British
website Love Home Swap had
raised £1.3 million in funding,
joining several other home exchange clubs
already in the market.
Today, an estimated 100,000 people worldwide
belong to one of the more than 20
house-trading clubs online, including HomeLink, Home Exchange and Intervac,
which publish listings that users can browse for an annual fee that ranges from
$65 to $127. About half
of home traders are families with children, a third are retirees and the rest are
younger couples and singles like the characters in The Holiday.
Switching properties for a week
can be significantly cheaper than
staying in a hotel, but home swaps bring
other cost savings, too. Access
to a kitchen means fewer meals at restaurants, and some
members even include
their car in the trade.
There are also intangible
usually have more space than hotel rooms, and it
may be easier to get immersed in the
local scene, given that most exchanges
are located in residential neighbourhoods.
Not everything is perfect, of
course. The first rule of “swap club” is you have to trust the other members of
swap club. In other words, there
is a risk that the person you’re trading
with might have misrepresented the quality of their property or may not
maintain high housecleaning standards when staying at your home. Exchangers
rarely involve lawyers in contracts, but the clubs do provide forms for each
party to sign to make clear what the rights and responsibilities should be on
The second rule of swap club is
that patience is required, as it can sometimes take weeks to line up an exchange.
You will have the best chance of nabbing your ideal swap if you initiate
contact with potential traders about six
months in advance of your trip, though
last-minute arrangements do happen.
Complaints are rare. Home
exchange clubs say that they only receive a handful of serious complaints out
of the tens of thousands of swaps
facilitated each year. The sites
typically allow users to post character references and ratings of each other’s
properties, though the sites
don’t formally vet users.
This is also probably why
only a handful of members-only clubs stand out for their reputation, breadth of
users and online features that simplify and instill trust in
Here are a few of the hottest house bartering
for geographical breadth
With 41,000 members in more than 140
countries, the 20-year-old
US site Home Exchange leads in inventory size and geographical spread. The site
charges a fee of $120
a year, which grants
users access to the largest directory of online exchanges.
for luxury properties
Love Home Swap has 8,000 members in 105
charges about $127 a year for membership. In a unique function, the site integrates with
you to see if you
have any friends in common
with a potential trading partner. While the site features all types of
properties worldwide, the year-old site skews toward upscale lodging in Britain.
for veteran exchangers
The longest running exchange club, which
this month turns 60 years old, Intervac has the most variety in property types
globally. Its 30,000 members include the most experienced exchangers, some of
whom have swapped as many as 90 properties. While available globally, its
listings are concentrated in 45 countries, mostly in the US, Germany, France,
the UK, Canada and Australia. Additionally,
its fees are just $99 a year.
for European properties
charges an annual fee of $119 and has about
13,000 members. It covers 27 countries, with the majority of them in Europe. Swaps here range
from beach houses in the Mediterranean to mountain cottages in the Alps.
for properties down under
has 2,900 properties in Australia and New Zealand, providing more listings for
this corner of the world than any other club. It charges $80 a year for
Sean O’Neill is the
travel tech columnist for BBC Travel
This article originally said Aussie House
Swap was the largest house-swapping site for Australia and New
Zealand. This has now been fixed.