The grass is always greener
Lucy Higginson investigates the growing trend for house-swap holidays
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 Homeexchange.com — 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.