Updated: May 21, 2015

What is a home exchange?

A big drawback to planning a distant vacation is the cost of lodging - hotels in big cities and popular tourist destinations can easily set you back $200 or more per night. A 2 week vacation quickly adds up to thousands of dollars in hotels fees and taxes. A popular alternative to taking a vacation and staying in a sterile, boring hotel is to exchange homes with another person in another city, state, or country. This is called a home exchange or a house swap. What is house swapping? It is finding someone else in an area that you want to visit, who also wants to visit your area, and you then "swap" homes. You go there for a week or two while they come and stay in your home for a week or two. You both save on lodging expenses by trading homes.

Alternatively, you can also do host exchanges where you visit each other at different times, with one family hosting the other and allowing them to stay at their home, providing some tour guide help and showing them around. Later, the other person visits the other home and the favor is exchanged. So whether the home exchange takes place simultaneously or weeks or months apart, the goal and end result is the same - reducing the lodging cost for your vacation to zero. Some home swaps also include use of cars -- be sure to ask about this and confirm in advance, as different countries have different rules about car licensing and car insurance and liability. This guide will explore the world of home exchanges, pointing out the best websites for house swapping, and giving you some tips on a successful home exchange.

House Swap Guide - Tips

Most people doing house swaps are mature couple or families - almost by definition, you have to have some level of success and age if you have your own home and money for international vacations. Of course, not everyone has your tastes or standards when it comes to decorating, cleaning, or home repair. The key to having a successful home exchange is plenty of communication beforehand. You'll want to get to know both your home trader and their home and neighborhood. Some key questions to ask and things to find out:
  • Do they have pets? Will the home be cleaned for people who don't like pets?
  • How old is the home? What condition is it in? How is it maintained and decorated?
  • Is the car included in the exchange? Many families make their automobile available to their fellow house swapper.
  • What is the neighborhood like? Friendly neighbors who can help out or give vacation advice? Personal safety issues, etc.
  • What is within walking distance? What is within a 1-2 hour drive? What is within a days trip distance?
  • Do they have any references from past successful swaps?
  • How will phone bills be handled? Will they use cell phones?
  • Figure out how cleaning will be handled? Professional cleaning upon departing or clean it yourself and leave it as you found it?
  • Get lots of pictures - of the home exterior, all rooms, yard, and neighboring streets and town, etc.

Best Home Exchange Sites

The Internet has greatly simplified the house swap scene. In the past, groups had to publish printed catalogs and maintain mailing lists and telephone directories for members and prospective swappers. Some of the most popular home exchange sites are as follows. HomeExchange.com has been helping find home matches for 14 years (OK, not before the Internet was invented, but in offline form...) They charge $60 for a one year membership, with a guarantee of a second year for free if you don't find a successful house swap. You can list additional homes for $30 each. Their listings cover just about every country and city - Aruba, Australia home exchanges, Taiwan, Peru, Germany, Greece house swaps, France, Finland, USA, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Iceland, China, Denmark, the list goes on and on. HomeLink-USA.com is another long-standing home exchange company. They charge $80 per year for an online membership, and $50 for a copy of their printed directory. They've been around a long time and have been featured in Time, Today Show, and Fodors. For a more luxurious take on the home exchange scene, check out TradeToTravel.com. They focus on luxury homes and work out the exchange details between property owners. You earn credits for each time your home is used that you can then exchange for access to another property. This works out especially well for vacation and second homes that have flexible use schedules. They offer some pretty amazing swap properties, like private islands off Belize and vacation homes in Phuket, Thailand.

Another site you can check for information and reviews and rankings of the best home exchange sites is KnowYourTrade.com - from when the club was founded to how many listings they offer, this site offers a wealth of useful information if you looking to get into the home exchange scene.