The grass is al­ways greener

Lucy Hig­gin­son in­ves­ti­gates the grow­ing trend for house-swap hol­i­days

Country Life Every Week - - Property Comment -

PER­HAPS it’s down to the weak pound or the ev­er­last­ing cost of ed­u­ca­tion. Or it may be that an Airbnb cul­ture has taught us that one per­son’s home can be another’s hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion, but hous­eswap hol­i­days are on the rise.

Ev­ery other sup­per party seems to throw up another story of ‘how we traded Put­ney for Florida’ and Deb­bie Wosskow, CEO of web­site Love Home Swap, con­firms the trend: ‘We’ve seen rapid growth in the past 12 months, par­tic­u­larly in London, Ed­in­burgh and the Cotswolds.’ Her clients are largely fam­i­lies with chil­dren or ‘empty nesters’ and al­most 60% own mul­ti­ple homes.

Alex Bastin, a bar­ris­ter and father of four, en­joyed his first house-swap hol­i­day last sum­mer. The Bastins’ west London home has seven bed­rooms and a vast kitchen, but scant out­door space. They traded with Amer­i­can home­own­ers for a 31∕2-week multi-base hol­i­day, in­clud­ing one Ch­e­sa­peake Bay home with a pier and wa­ter­slide into the lake at the bot­tom of the gar­den, ca­noes, a golf buggy and more.

‘Ev­ery­one I speak to is in­ter­ested in the idea, but con­cerned about se­cu­rity,’ com­ments Alex. ‘It’s a trust thing and it takes a cer­tain type of per­son­al­ity to do it.’ He was able to leave a nan­ny­house keeper in situ, but sug­gests Skyp­ing your swap­pers as much as pos­si­ble to build a strong re­la­tion­ship.

The Twinn fam­ily, also in west London, agree. They swapped their sec­ond home in Cha­monix— via Home­ex­ — for a week in Florida, which gave them the op­tion of a non-si­mul­ta­ne­ous trade.

‘It’s ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial to Skype—their kids showed ours their rooms and vice versa— be­cause the big fear is that you’ll turn up and their place is hor­ri­ble,’ laughs Guy Twinn. ‘How­ever, we felt we knew the fam­ily as well as we could—you can also read other peo­ple’s re­views on­line—and they were hard­core swap­pers who’d been all over the world.’ The ex­pe­ri­ence was a happy one—‘you’d never have so much space as a pay­ing guest,’ adds Guy.

As this is ba­si­cally ‘on­line dat­ing for homes’, the first rule for a suc­cess­ful house swap is to pho­to­graph your house well. ‘Skype like mad,’ ad­vises Deb­bie, cre­ate a lock­able ‘per­sonal closet’ of things you don’t want han­dled or on dis­play, set up a neigh­bour or cleaner as a lo­cal con­tact, take out in­surance and then re­lax and en­joy it. You can al­ways try a UK house swap first to see if it’s for you. Love Home Swap of­fers in­surance pro­tec­tion for dam­age and, just as im­por­tantly, last-minute can­cel­la­tion. The site’s an­nual mem­ber­ship is £200 a year. ‘Over the course of our trip to the USA, I must have saved more than £10,000,’ adds Alex, who swapped through Homelink, one of the long­est-run­ning home-ex­change ser­vices, with 60 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, based in Winch­ester. The Bastins are off to the Loire next. ‘We’re a com­mu­nity of su­per shar­ers now,’ ex­plains Deb­bie, ‘and in mul­ti­ple as­pects—40% also swap their cars and many look af­ter each other’s pets.’ If you em­brace the ad­ven­ture, do so fully. One of the most fun as­pects, adds Deb­bie, is ‘the serendip­ity of vis­it­ing places you’ve not thought about go­ing to be­fore. Be open. Some of the most fan­tas­tic trips my fam­ily has made have been to places that just “cropped up”.’ Guy agrees: ‘The most ex­cit­ing bit was see­ing what of­fers came in from around the world, in­clud­ing French Poly­ne­sia and Brazil.’ Free ac­com­mo­da­tion en­ables peo­ple to be more dar­ing, to take longer trips and eat out more and houses in beau­ti­ful parts of Bri­tain have a strong al­lure. Per­haps this is one form of on­line match­mak­ing more of us should try.

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