As the economy slows, more people are putting their travels on hold, while others, who are unwilling to forfeit their adventures, are finding creative ways to travel on a dime. Home exchange is one vacation option that’s growing in popularity. “Home exchange is when you and someone else from anywhere in the world decide to switch houses,” says Carolyn Henson, owner and operator of Utah! Home Exchange, (www.utahhomeexchange.com
) a Website dedicated to helping people arrange their own home exchange. “People don’t want to have to give up their vacations, so this is a great way to travel and save some money,” she says.
While exchanging homes poses some obvious risks, it can have unexpected benefits. That’s what Sugar House resident Andrea Durrant discovered when she swapped homes with a family in Santa Monica, Calif. “I was really nervous at first. I mean, who wants anyone living in their house, going through their things?” she says. “It ended up being really great. We switched houses and cars for five days and it worked out really well. After doing it, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to travel and save some money.”
How It Works
Most home exchanges begin on the Internet, and there are a plethora of Websites devoted solely to swapping. Most Websites require that you begin by registering your own home, providing basic information, such as listing the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and amenities. Once registered, you can begin searching for the ideal dwelling you’d like to vacation in. And the location, whether only a few hours away or across the globe, is completely up to you.
Once you’ve found a destination and home that suites your fancy, the next step is to contact the owner. “I begin by sending the family an introductory email, telling them about your family, city and home,” says Henson. “You’d be surprised how many people are interested in coming to Utah.”
With any vacation, there can be unexpected troubles and home exchange vacations aren’t immune. The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent, or at least prepare for, the potential pitfalls.
“The worst thing that happened to me was that I locked myself out of their house,” says Durrant. “Luckily, they told me in advance that there was a hidden key. If you spell out everything beforehand, you’ll be in good shape. But you can also call them.”
Beyond meager troubles, house exchanging can pose serious problems, such as valuables getting broken, or worse…stolen. “I’ve never heard of things getting stolen, but I always put up my valuables just in case,” Henson says. “I have heard of things getting broken, but you’ve got to remember that things could get broken by your grandkids visiting.”
Home exchangers can be reassured to know that their homeowner’s insurance will continue covering property and belongings. “As long as you’re not charging the people who are staying there, then your insurance will cover it like normal,” Henson says. If you’re really worried, some insurance agencies offer extended protection, she adds, and advises a call to your insurance company to learn more.
Though the idea of allowing a complete stranger to live in your house may still make your nerves twirl, Henson says you must remember that you’re a complete stranger signing up to occupy their home and they might be nervous, too. But that often changes by the time the actual house swap rolls around. “When you’re exchanging homes, there’s already been so much correspondence, like phone calls and emails, so you’re really not strangers anymore.”
Home Sweet Home
Swapping addresses can come with numerous benefits, Henson says. “Staying in someone else’s home can make your vacation so much more relaxed. Hotel rooms can sometimes seem cold, but a house always has that friendly warmth. People I talk to say that they love that ‘I’m-at-home’ feeling.”
Home exchange is also great for families with children, Henson says. “A lot of time the kids like playing with new toys or in someone else’s sandbox.”
Durrant agrees. “I went with my three-year-old daughter and she loved it. And their kids played with my daughter’s toys. It was a great fit,” she says.
And in today’s economy, don’t forget about the dollars you’re saving. “Hotels can be so expensive, but this way you get a house that you can stretch out in for pretty much nothing,” Henson says. “[Home exchanging] might open up a whole new world of inexpensive places to stay. And you might find that it’s perfect for you.”
Wherever You Zonder…
Still timid about lending your home, but like the idea of staying in a warm, home-like setting? You’re in luck. Utah-based Zonder.com is dedicated to helping people arrange vacations where they can stay in a private home, condo, villa or cabin. Working similarly to a hotel-booking Website, Zonder provides an enormous collection of home-like places to stay in worldwide destinations.
According to CEO Bob Barnes, Zonder works by partnering with real estate offices and property management groups to locate private properties available for vacation rentals. “Because you’re renting a home, you’ll have much more space and common areas, like a dining room,” he says. “You’ll also be able to cook in the kitchen instead of having to go out for food. And the cost of a vacation home is cheaper when you think about the price per person, per night in a hotel.”
Barnes also says Zonder is unique because the rental properties the company locates are professionally managed, which means that you’ll have all of the benefits of staying in a hotel and the home-like atmosphere. “You’ll have a much more intimate experience,” he says.
Switch homes with an out-of-towner for a week, or even a month. How fast can you say ocean front villa?