The best holiday homeswap sites

Anna Powell
by Lovemoney Staff Anna Powell on 15 August 2008  |  Comments 11 comments

House swaps are a fun, free and friendly way to holiday. But will anyone really exchange my two-bed in Whitechapel for a glamorous European apartment!

Last month, while on holiday in Berlin, I met a South African called Ed. Nothing remarkable in that, you might say, except that Ed gave me one of the best Foolish tips I’ve heard this year.

Ed was in his late sixties, and enviably well-travelled – this was his third trip of the year. He and his wife had spent a month living on the Boston waterfront in the spring, and now they were exploring Europe. Ed also looked remarkably at home in Berlin and, despite the strong euro, was enjoying cocktails in the velvet and gilt surroundings of the Adlon, one of the city’s swankiest hotel bars.

What was his secret? House swaps, he said. They’d just exchanged their flat in Cape Town for three months in a pre-war apartment in Berlin. It was totally free, and a great way to see the world. Now that they were both retired, though neither of them were rich, they could just offer up their flat and swap from city to city – making their money go much further, and making me very jealous indeed.

French connection

So this got me thinking. After Berlin and a long-haul trip to California earlier this year, I didn’t have much spare cash left in my holiday budget. Plus, although I am a journalist, I am also a nice person. I deserve a free holiday.

Sadly, I am still of an age where I have to work for a living, so lengthy stays like Ed’s were out of the question…. but could I arrange a long weekend to some exotic destination?

I live in a typical London house. That is to say, it’s tiny. It’s a boxy modern two-bed in the East End. Most Europeans would probably mistake it for a broom cupboard, or a particularly poky wine cellar. Would anyone really exchange it for the vision in my mind, a high-ceilinged apartment in some glamorous Continental city?

Ed had raised his glass to Homelink, the biggest home-exchange site in the world. I surfed on over, but found that it was a most un-Foolish £115 to join. Maybe this isn’t for me, I thought. Another big player is Homebase Holidays, but again, there’s a sign-up fee of £29.

You could buy a Eurostar single for that, I thought, and was just about to call it a day when I found Geenee. Not only was this a much slicker-looking site, it was Foolishly free to join. And, with more than 8,000 members, concentrated in France and Canada, it couldn’t hurt to sign up.

So I began. Geenee demand some basic personal details, then you get down to the serious business of describing your house. Would I allow smoking? Pets? Children? Yes, yes, and yes. Hell, I’d let them run a money-laundering operation from the kitchen if they would agree to swap with me.

Now I had to describe my house in 30 words, and add some photos. This is surprisingly like on-line dating – I dig out the most flattering pictures I can find, and attempt to emphasise my house’s good points (garden, inside zone 1) and downplay the bad points (1970s architecture, so small I frequently can’t find it without a magnifying glass).

On to the next page. Does my house have a sauna? An indoor pool? How about a sailing boat or its own dock? Regretfully, I click no, but I decide this must be a good sign of the wonderful swaps due to come my way….

And then, after specifying when I want to go away and where I want to swap, that’s it. Done.

Twelve hours later my application has been approved, and I start to look through the listings. I fire off messages to Rome, Marseilles, Ibiza, Salamanca, Dublin and Paris. And Manhattan. They’re all much nicer than my house.

The next day, I have an inbox full of messages. Sadly, Manhattan is all travelled out for this year, but Dublin – a three-bed townhouse with a garden – is keen to swap in January. And best of all, Paris can do a long weekend at the end of October. Magnifique!

Top tips for swappers

With a swap at least nominally in the bag, I suddenly wonder what else I need to arrange. Should I get something in writing? Will they steal my television? What about insurance? I’m reassured by Which? magazine’s typically sensible guide to house swapping.

Most home swapping agencies say that negative experiences are rare. When they do occur, they are typically to do with different cleaning standards. So before going away, it’s a good idea to clarify what you expect. Geenee have an exchange agreement that you can adapt to suit yourself. It also covers issues like who pays the utility bills.

As for house insurance, experienced swappers say that your insurance should cover friends staying in your house, and that swappers are usually happy to regard each other as friends by the time they arrive. I’m certainly expecting to get to know my swaps better before going away. Do check that you are covered, though, and lock up any valuables. (Of course, make sure that you have your own travel insurance, too. The Fool’s insurance tool should help you find the best deal.)

Although you won’t be paying hotel costs, Foolish regulars will already know how to cut the cost of flights (Expedia and Opodo are my favourite comparison sites for long-haul, and Skyscanner is brilliant for budget airlines). Eurostar's website, once dreadful, has got a lot better for finding cheap tickets. And my fellow Fool Donna Werbner has other brilliant holiday saving tips.

Finally, I read that it’s good etiquette to leave a ‘house book’, with instructions on how to find the fuse box and the best local pubs. In fact, Ed, my Foolish muse, says that’s the best part of the whole experience – getting insider tips and an insight into other people’s lives, rather than staying in a faceless hotel.

Incidentally, although Geenee is free for the moment, the site’s owners say it won’t be forever, so I’d recommend signing up sooner rather than later. For now, I’m looking forward to my surprise free holidays. I’ll let you know how it goes…

More: Cut The Costs Of Your Summer Holiday

> Compare travel insurance at Fool.co.uk

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Comments (11)

  • paintersinn
    Love rating 0
    paintersinn said

    Great article, some very useful tips. I would really like to try this out, I will let you know how I get on.

    Report on 18 August 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • macse
    Love rating 0
    macse said

    The Guardian on-line has also a rather nice house-swapping feature. Haven't tried it yet but I have browsed a bit, looks interesting. Will check geenee out. Thanks!

    Report on 18 August 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Blossom36
    Love rating 0
    Blossom36 said

    This article could not have come at a better time for me! I have not been able to afford to take my 2 teenagers away this summer and the weather has meant that we have had a miserable time. I would love to take them to Paris one day and having looked at Geenee, there are dozens of small places we could go. I live by the sea in the UK so hopefully someone would like to come to my humble abode... Flybe is available to me locally so I see a plan coming on! Thank you!

    Report on 18 August 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • uluckylass
    Love rating 0
    uluckylass said

    How do you deal with electicity costs when renting ? We have a huge B & B in France would love to swap but it can run up some really large bills if not careful ?

    Report on 18 August 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Laroundtheworld
    Love rating 0
    Laroundtheworld said

    Thanks for including home swapping in your article as a great way to travel free (or almost!)

    There are many Internet-based services that pair prospective travelers with one another for a home-exchange vacation but I would highly recommend
    http://www.homeforswap.com

    Report on 18 August 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • norgler
    Love rating 0
    norgler said

    I'm based in Germany and have used Intervac.com which has a huge base (20,000 according to their site )in USA/UK Germany & stuff virtually everywhere else . €110 per year & they used to send out 4 brochures a year . But doing it all over net is so much easier - pictures , descriptions etc . Recommend it - and the whole idea . Wife was nervous, but no problems over several swaps .

    Report on 18 August 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • gill64c
    Love rating 0
    gill64c said

    The other advantage about house-swapping is that your home is occupied whilst you are on holiday which is a positive thing in my book. It's sad to have to think this way!!

    Report on 19 August 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • fromdownunder
    Love rating 0
    fromdownunder said

    I've swapped my home in Sydney twice to England - my last one was two years ago in London and it was great! I used Home Base Holidays, one of the agencies you mentioned, both times. I chose to pay a small fee for the reassurance that everyone else had paid too (and it is small compared to what you get for free when you swap homes!) because I had wasted time listing my home on two 'free' sites (not the one you mentioned - hadn't come across that one) with so many people not even bothering to reply. There seemed to be a lot of people who may have listed homes on a whim months ago and forgot all about it. Just my experience!

    For bills like electricity - both times the people I exchanged with and I just continued to pay our own home bills and it worked out fair for both sides.

    Report on 26 August 2008  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • ecotraveller
    Love rating 0
    ecotraveller said

    Interesting article.. its clear you can make huge savings by holidaying without having to pay for accommodation and eating out. Your house is also far less likely to be burgled if it remains occupied and, if you take your time finding your swap partner..there should be no real problems. My experience of house swappers is that they generally are nice folk who treat each other's properties with respect.

    Moving on... as my handle suggests... I kind of like to look after the environment. I wonder if any of your readers are interested in holidaying in the UK. If they are they may wish to take a look at a recently launched website called http://www.ukholidayswapshop.co.uk. This is a solely uk house swapping site. It is free to list your home and become an active member. Interactive membership is currently only £14.95 - for this you can arrange as many holidays in the UK as you wish.

    Report on 21 January 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • elainesteed
    Love rating 0
    elainesteed said

    fromdownunder

    How did you work the dates out? as we want to swap our 4 bed detached Leigh on Sea Essex for a place in OZ for 2-3 month but your summer is our winter and I dont think you would like our winter Is your winter silmilar to our summer ? if so where can I find a swap

    Elaine Steed

    Report on 09 February 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • travelexchanger
    Love rating 0
    travelexchanger said

    As a serious home exchanger we checked out all the best home exchange sites and decided on 2 homeexchange and www.holidayexchangehomes.com with holidayexchangehomes.com there was no member fee just an exchange fee when we want to exchange but with the other home exchange site we paid a membership fee. Home swapping over the years has been a godsend to us and saved us probably in the region of the tens of thousands. check out these sites if you want to home exchange they are the best ones for us.

    Report on 20 January 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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