House exchange programmes are an increasingly popular holiday option in the current economic climate that the world finds itself. Cost is the major advantage as the charge for a family for a week’s accommodation will be just the price of a year’s subscription to a website or the cost of a booking fee – typically between US$100-US$200. Other benefits are having the comforts and facilities of a home rather than a hotel room, and having a local’s experience of a place rather than just a tourist’s perspective.

How do they work?

The idea is that you offer your property (it can be your main home or second home, but usually has to be owned by you) for a period of time each year for others to stay in, and in return you can use other properties in the database. Types of properties on offer and their locations can vary hugely and so should suit a range of swapping requirements.

There are hundreds of house exchange programmes online and they all vary slightly but how they operate falls into just a few general types:

1) A direct swap with somebody who wants your location and the same dates as you. This is normally a cheap option but it can be more difficult to find and coordinate a house swap. Most online house exchange businesses run with this system and you can sometimes check listings before you join up. A large number of properties listed will obviously increase your chances of a successful swap, but there are lots of home swap businesses who have a smaller number of more active house swappers which could lead to easier to arrange holidays.

2) A ‘non-simultaneous’ exchange where you choose from a database of properties and book to stay in one when it is available. This is easier to coordinate and organize as there is no direct swap involved, but it normally means that you have to own a second property that is guaranteed to be empty at certain times. The cost of membership or making a booking is often higher with this system but you are paying for the convenience and higher success rate of arranging a holiday.

3) You can create your own extended network of friends to use each other’s properties for holidays. Offer your home for a couple of weeks to your friends, their friends and theirs too, and in return you can book to stay in any of their properties when they are available. This system takes away many of the risks that accompany exchanging with strangers, but will restrict your holiday choices until your network grows.

There are difficulties and risks with each type but most website services will tell you that problems are few and far between. They will normally have systems and guides in place to cover the risks concerning damage, insurance, no-shows etc which, although not foolproof, should help to smooth the experience.

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