Home-swapping has been a niche way of taking holidays since the 1950s, and converts swear by it. It works like this: agencies list properties that are given a points value. Then, people who have signed up can check what their property ‘buys’ them.
If a place catches their eye, the other owner is contacted. If all are in agreement, hey presto! You’ve got a ‘free’ holiday. Yes, there is a certain amount of trust required. You are, after all, letting strangers into your home. And, of course, Covid concerns will have to be cleared… this is not something that is going to happen for many weeks, until the lockdown is long over. But don’t let that stop you planning ahead. Which is where agencies come in handy, as all have different vetting systems to keep out unsuitable/unruly guests.
In some cases, cars and pet-sitting are thrown in. Agreements on incidentals can also be fixed, such as the need to strip down beds at the end of stays; whether to use condiments from the kitchen; reciprocal plant-watering; and the use of telephones. Tempted? Here we round-up the best home-swap companies…
LOVE HOME SWAP – best for beginners
Love Home Swap has properties in more than 100 countries overseas, including France, where there is a gorgeous St Tropez villa, pictured, on offer
As well as having homes in more than 100 overseas countries, including Thailand and France, where there is a gorgeous St Tropez villa on offer, Love Home Swap lists a clutch of UK properties. It has an easy-to-use site, friendly staff, and offers a free trial period of two weeks so you can dip your toe in to see if you like it.
As an element of fun, the company recently launched a guide to long-haul namesakes in the UK — perfect for the pretence of far-flung travel in the middle of the pandemic.
Plucky travellers can pick from properties with exotic names: ‘California’ (in Norfolk), ‘Melbourne’ (in Derbyshire), and ‘Florence’ (in Staffordshire). Ideal for holiday bragging: ‘I’m just off to Florence!’
Details: Annual membership from £96 (lovehomeswap.com).
THIRDHOME – best for luxury
ThirdHome has more than 11,000 properties from which to choose, spanning Costa Rica to Cape Town in South Africa, pictured
Despite its name, ThirdHome focuses on people’s second homes. Here, luxury is paramount, with homes, interiors and owners all having to pass strict membership criteria. Experts are allocated to help guide you, too.
There are more than 11,000 properties from which to choose, spanning Costa Rica to Cape Town in South Africa, the Caribbean and Canada. You don’t need to coordinate swaps. Simply earn ‘keys’ to use against a future stay elsewhere by renting your place.
Details: No annual membership fee; exchange fees from £360 per swap (thirdhome.com).
HOME EXCHANGE – best for worldwide options
Home Exchange has a pool of more than 400,000 properties across 187 countries, including some real gems. Pictured is a floating house in Canada
A Home Exchange property in Bali. Annual membership with the home swap company starts from £110
WE SWAPPED ABINGDON FOR SAN SEBASTIAN!
Laura Williams and her family, who have tried out home swapping through Love Home Swap
Laura Williams had often thought about home-swapping her four-bedroom, 1930s semi in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, but her husband Lance wasn’t so keen.
As their family got bigger — they have six children between the ages of one and ten — travelling became more complicated. So the idea of home-swapping became attractive.
They signed up to Love Home Swap and their first trip was a weekend at a house in East Dulwich, London.
‘It was really easy. The house was amazing and it just made us realise what we’d been missing out on.’
The second swap was with a house in the centre of San Sebastian in Spain: ‘We’d tried for ages to find a swap and hadn’t found anyone who had wanted to come to us.
‘Then the family got in touch saying they wanted to come and see their family nearby. We’d have easily paid a few thousand for their house and we got it for free.’
Another positive, Laura says, is that you get a house full of everything you need, including kitchen-cupboard staples, use of the family car and children’s toys.
There are some negatives, though. ‘You have to clean and make your house look like a hotel,’ says Laura.
There’s also lots of messaging involved in finding a perfect home-swap match, she says, and you do need to get used to being knocked back.
Home Exchange has a huge pool of properties — more than 400,000 across 187 countries — so it will easily whet your appetite for a getaway. It’s fun sifting through, but watch out for poor photography and keep going until you find a real gem. Some really stand out, such as the sparkling white Ariana Villa on the Greek island of Spetses.
You can list your property, search and contact owners without signing up. But you have to pay for membership to make a booking.
Details: Annual membership from £110 (homeexchange.com).
HOMELINK – best for inspiration
Having operated since the 1950s, HomeLink is your traditional ‘you stay in my home, I’ll stay in yours’ home-swapping outfit. All contact is direct with other members, but you must be a member yourself to do so.
You could bag a two-bedroom apartment in Venice or a picturesque villa on the outskirts of Reykjavik.
About 60 countries are covered and there’s a section where you can seek inspiration according to your interests or wants, such as golf, skiing, being near a beach, having a private pool or having wheel- chair access.
An ‘unusual destinations’ section includes a mountain hut in Brazil and a beach house in the Cook Islands.
Details: Annual membership from £115 (homelink.org).
INTERVAC HOME EXCHANGE – best for trusted reviews
Another long-standing player, Intervac Home Exchange has nearly 70 years of experience, and its good reviews instill trust among members.
It’s possible to apply filters so you only view house swaps in cities, suburbs, small towns, the countryside, the mountains or by the sea.
There’s also a handy way of simply checking last-minute exchange possibilities. Free trials are offered.
Some of the images are not the best quality, so you need to put trust in the description/review or ask the owners for more pictures before committing.
Details: Annual membership from £65 (intervac-homeexchange.com).
HOME BASE HOLIDAYS – best for staycations
UK company Home Base Holidays shares the same listings as Green Theme International, an American organisation. If you sign up to one, there’s no need to sign up to the other.
There are a wide range of options, with a strong selection of UK properties in areas from Bath, Cornwall and London to Kent, Wales and Scotland (there’s a lovely seaview house on the outskirts of Edinburgh). You can get a free trial, too.
Home Base Holidays has been going since 1985, arranging swaps for as short as a weekend away to escapes of six months and longer.
Details: Annual membership £49 (homebase-hols.com).
EXCHANGE HOLIDAY HOMES – best for second-home owners
Another second home-only site, Exchange Holiday Homes is based in Cornwall and has 57 of its properties in the county, meaning you might still get a look in for a great British break this year. Other properties are available further afield, including in South Africa, Cuba, America and Australia.
Most exchanges are done on a credit system. But if you’re short of credits, you can buy more.
The downside? You don’t have direct contact with your swapper until after purchase.
Details: Free membership. Exchange fee of £106 per week per swap (exchangeholidayhomes.com).
HOLIDAY SWAP – best for slick website/app
Holiday Swap has more than 400,000 options available in 184 countries including a strong selection in New York, pictured, and Miami
Founded by James Asquith, holder of the ‘youngest person to have visited every country in the world’ record, Holiday Swap has a good variety of properties and locations, as you might expect.
More than 400,000 options are available in 184 countries, including a strong selection in America (especially New York and Miami). Cities are well covered, with Amsterdam, Mexico City, Barcelona and London highlighted.
Members can book via the website or, more handily, the app. The chat translator function is a godsend, as is the map feature through which users can share local recommendations.
Details: Either 75p per person per night or annual membership from £44 (holidayswap.com).