Is scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, visiting lovers’ paradise Santorini Island or spending a month in a Tuscan villa on your bucket list , but recessionary times are preventing you from affording both airfare and accommodation? Love Home Swap may be the answer for you. The online home exchange company, established in 2009, connects home owners around the world to facilitate home exchanges or ‘home swaps’ as they’re known in Europe for vacation purposes. For an annual fee of $159, Love Home Swap members can create an online profile of their home, including availability, and connect with members online. Both parties communicate via email to determine if the two homes are a good fit, then arrange the swap. Love Home Swap provides a legal agreement online, which parties are encouraged to use. Members seeking additional support in their home exchange arrangements such as a travel team to help secure home exchanges and concierge services can sign up for Luxe Home Swap for $299 annually.
Love Home Swap’s U.K. owner Debbie Wosskow, who was recently in Toronto, said the company was born out of her desire to spend vacations at upscale accommodations without paying exhorbitant hotel rates. “Members save $2,000 on average for each home swap and they can exchange homes as often as they like,” says Wosskow. “The average length of home exchanges is two-and-a-half weeks, which is longer than a traditional vacation because people don’t have to worry about paying for hotel rooms.”
Home exchange agreements allow each party to vacation in each other’s home at no expense. While many exchanges are done simultaneously, Wosskow says that approximately 50% of the home exchanges through Love Home Swap are non-simultaneous. For example, say your home is available the third week of July, yet the Côte d’Azur villa you have your eyes on is available only during the first week of September. By involving a third member in the arrangement, you can stay in the Côte d’Azur villa in September while the villa owner stays at the third party’s home. Non-simultaneous exchanges also work well if you have a second property, such as a Muskoka cottage, that remains vacant from time to time and offers more flexibility for vacation dates for exchange members. Further, home exchanges are not based on a value-for-value proposition, rather they are based on need. “You may have only a one-bedroom condo in downtown Toronto, but if someone who owns a house in Paris wants to vacation in downtown Toronto, then she may be very eager to exchange homes with you,” says Wosskow.
Extras such as sporting equipment, Internet and children’s toys are common in home exchange agreements. In fact, it’s even fairly common to include the use of one’s vehicle, which may raise eyebrows for some. Wosskow, however, says, “It’s all based on what you feel comfortable with. If you don’t feel comfortable including your car as part of the home swap, then by all means, don’t do it.” Potential home exchange partners are advised to check with their insurance company to determine if their policy would cover an exchange partner.
While home exchanges have been common in Europe for some time, the idea has been dormant in North America up until now; however, with the economy still in a recession, the thought of foregoing hotel rates by leveraging your real estate assets is bound to appeal to many. Avery Swartz, a Toronto wife and mother in her thirties, has participated in three home exchanges in the past three years, including visits to Victoria, British Columbia, Central Mexico and Palm Springs, California. Swartz has experienced no negative ramifications beyond that of a guest accidentally breaking a wine glass [it’s a good idea to lock up valuables] and says that there is a lot of goodwill among participants. “I love the idea of having the amenities of home including a kitchen while we’re on vacation, particularly now that we have a child,” says Swartz. “Home exchanges allow you to live like a local by living in neighbourhoods, experiencing what it would be like to live there.”
If you’re wondering about liability issues, the home owner is ultimately liable for any personal or property damage. Home exchange participants should notify their insurance company of temporary residents living in their home in order to continue their insurance protection and prevent any unnecessary lapse or gap in insurance. Swartz, however, says, “There is a lot of goodwill among home exchange members.” Through many email exchanges, Swartz gets to know her exchange partners and develops a level of trust. Part of Love Home Swap’s screening process does include an identity verification.
Canadians Prefer Luxury
Canadians, it appears, love their luxuries. In a 2010 Angus Reid travel survey sponsored by American Express, 49% of Canadians identified their ideal vacation as a retreat to a breathtaking hotel in an exotic location while 37% of Quebec residents said they would forego travelling if they had to stay at a budget hotel. These statistics bode well for Love Home Swap’s popularity in Canada. Swartz in the meantime is planning her fourth exchange. For people considering home exchanges, she recommends that they make sure to leave their house clean, discuss logistics such as who is responsible for additional costs such as Internet usage, set up a binder with local information and designate someone to be a point of contact for your exchange partner in case of emergencies.