House Swap

If you’ve ever planned a vacation, you know costs can add up. But thanks to house exchange programs, you can subtract hundreds of dollars in hotel fees from the bottom line.

Home exchange programs let consumers switch homes for the duration of a vacation. Rather than paying for housing, you simply pay your mortgage as usual and the people you switch with do the same.

The key to a successful home exchange is finding a person or family who wants to visit your city at the same time that you want to visit theirs. Marketing your home is the most important — and difficult — part of the task. To make the job easier, a number of subscription-based Web services provide a centralized place to meet potential swappers.

“We make sure that there is always a lively marketplace,” says Ans Lammers, owner of For a $40 to $80 annual membership fee, you can create a listing — similar to an advertisement you would use to sell your home — and contact other members with whom you’re interested in trading.

But home exchange services only give you an audience; you’re responsible for sealing the deal. Study real estate listings to get a good idea of what qualities to tout. “Be descriptive in your listing and make readers feel comfortable about you and your home and your neighborhood,” says Ed Kushins, president of Next, “post a lot of photos of your home.” Highlight the most appealing features, such as the landscaping, the spacious rooms, or a luxurious kitchen or bathroom.

People who successfully find trades spend a lot of time contacting other members. “It’s best to be active and send out a lot of offers,” says Karl Costabel, the U.S. representative for HomeLink International (

Once you find a potential match, ask for references from other home-swappers if the person you’re considering has swapped before, says Kushins. Likewise, have a set of references of your own to make the other party comfortable with you too.

Since a successful trade is contingent upon two parties having corresponding times and places to travel, home exchange services work best if you’re open to traveling to one of several places. Since it’s impossible to predict how long it will take to find a perfect match, don’t subscribe to a service too close to the time you plan to travel. It may take a few months to find a good match.

There’s no recourse to protect you if a swapper doesn’t follow through, so plan for a successful trade by drawing up a contract, suggests Lammers. Specify who will pay for utilities, how the house will be kept, and any other concerns. Before making a swap, check your home insurance policy to make sure you’re covered, says Debbie Pickford, a spokeswoman for Allstate Insurance Co.’s Capital Region. Finally, use common sense, says Kushins. “Take your jewelry and put it away, but there’s no need to hide the china.”
a sampling of services Cost: $55 per year
This Website lets you see at a glance how many listings