Many of us are looking for ways to keep holiday costs down during these difficult times, and a home swap could be the perfect way to enjoy a trip away without breaking the bank.
Swapping your home for one in another location in the UK or abroad means you can travel without having to pay for accommodation. However, you’ll need to be comfortable with strangers taking over your home for a period of time, and it’s important to consider the practicalities involved before taking the plunge. Home swapping won’t be right for everyone, but it can provide the ideal solution if you’re keen to take a holiday but are on a tight budget.
Here’s everything you need to know if you want to try home swapping, including what’s involved and how to get started.
What is home swapping?
Home swapping essentially involves you lending your home to another person, couple or family in return for you staying in their home, whether it’s a flat, detached house, or even a houseboat. Neither of you pay for accommodation, while you both get to stay in a different part of the world. You only have to pay your travel costs and ensure you have holiday money to cover your everyday spending while away.
If you’ve seen the film The Holiday, you’ll know how it works. This is the most high-profile example of a home swap as a heartbroken Kate Winslet exchanges her Sussex country cottage for a holiday in Cameron Diaz’s flash LA pad over Christmas. Of course, for most of us, a home swap won’t be quite so exciting or involve falling in love with Jude Law, but it can save you a small fortune on accommodation costs while you’re away.
You can choose to stay for a week in someone’s home, or several months in some cases, depending on the arrangement.
The benefits of home swapping
There are numerous benefits to home swapping, but some may be more obvious than others. Aside from saving money, you also get to experience what life’s really like in a particular location. Meanwhile, your home, garden and pets can be looked after while you’re away, at no extra cost by the person or people you’ve swapped homes with, provided you and they are comfortable with this. If you find a home swap that works for you and your host, you may even be able to set up a regular swap. Home swapping can even lead to you making new friends, and getting to know a particular place in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. You may interact with the locals more, for example, which can be a refreshing experience if you’re used to staying in hotels.
Some home swapping services are more flexible so your plans don’t have to exactly match your host’s. For example, some allow you to earn points by letting people stay in your home, without actually staying in their home while you’re away. These points can be used to book another home in a different location for a future holiday. Alternatively, you may find a dream home on one of the websites, but your plans don’t match those of the property’s owners, or they may not want to holiday in the UK. You may still be able to use the home in return for the hosts receiving points. For example, Home Exchange and Love Home Swap (find out more below) both offer points swapping systems, but they can take a little time to get your head around.
By home swapping, you’ll also have use of home comforts, and these could be particularly useful if you’re travelling as a family. You’ll have kitchen equipment to use, and usually a washing machine, for example, and may even find there’s a games console, sports equipment and other types of entertainment in the home. This could mean you’re able to travel more lightly than you would otherwise, which can keep luggage costs down if you’re flying, or give you more space if you’re going by car.
Some people choose to swap homes for several months to work in a different location, particularly if they want to escape the British winter. This could mean working from sunnier climates, and provide a welcome change of scene for remote workers. It’s even possible to swap cars during your home exchange, but of course, not everyone will want to do this. However, it could save a large amount on car rental costs if this is something you need.
Things to consider
Are you comfortable letting strangers use your home? One of the most obvious pitfalls of a home swap is that you may struggle to fully relax and enjoy your holiday if you’re uncomfortable with strangers staying in your home. No matter how many messages you might have exchanged before swapping homes, you are very unlikely to meet the people staying in your home before your holiday takes place. If you think this will be an issue for you, then home swapping is unlikely to be the right way for you to cut holidays costs. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to reduce the cost of a holiday. Find out more in our article 13 ways to reduce holiday costs.
Potential damage: You cannot be sure how people that you don’t know will treat your home and possessions. When it comes to precious items, it may be best to lock these away in a spare room. Otherwise, there’s a chance they could be used and damaged.
However, if there is damage to your property while you’re away, you may be able to come to an agreement to pay for damages. You may also receive some protection that’ll provide for the cost of repairing any damage, too, depending on the particular home-swapping site you’ve signed up to. Check the terms and conditions carefully so you know what you are and aren’t covered for.
You’ll need to contact your home insurance provider before signing up to a house swap too. They may request additional information about your guests and apply temporary exclusions to your cover. For example, it’s very likely that you won’t be insured for theft, deliberate or accidental damage to your property while your guests are staying there.
If they won’t cover you, you might want to consider a specialist top-up policy such as Guardhog’s or Pikl’s host insurance that’ll cover any damage, or theft by a guest. Specialist policies also generally include public liability cover, which protects you if, for example, your oven explodes and injures your guest, or they have an accident on your property. You’ll usually pay a few pounds a day for this type of policy. If you’re determined to home swap and your current insurer says it won’t allow this at all, you can also get full buildings and contents cover from these providers.
Travel insurance: Check that your travel insurance covers you for any accidental damage you cause to a property you’re staying in. The details including when you can claim should be included under the personal liability section of your policy. After all, you don’t want to be hit with a huge bill for breaking the washing machine, or flooding the bathroom, for example. However, your travel insurance isn’t really aimed at covering home swaps, and you may want to discuss the details with your insurer before you go to ensure you know where you stand. Example scenarios where you may not be covered by insurance include the person you are swapping homes with cancelling just before you’re due to go for reasons beyond their control. Any money you’ve paid out for travel or days out may not be claimable. However, you may find in this case, though, that the website you booked through can help by finding you alternative accommodation. Similarly, your guest may cancel at the last minute too, ruining your holiday plans. Again, the home swap website may cover travel costs in this case, depending on which one you’ve used.
If you’re looking for travel insurance, we have partnered with Staysure to provide you with first class travel insurance, tailored to suit your needs. There’s no upper age limit and they’ll cover most pre-existing medical conditions. You can also take advantage of their 20%‡ discount, just quote REST03 at checkout.
‡Discount applies to the base premium of the policy only and not to medical screening costs or add-ons where relevant. Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply.
Car usage: If you’ve agreed to your swappers driving your car, you’ll need to make sure they and you are both covered. They should be added as a named driver on your policy, but beware this’ll be an additional cost and could be expensive if they don’t live in the UK. You’ll need their personal details, including whether they’ve had an accident or any convictions in the last five years. Beware that UK drivers will only be covered for third party damage on their own insurance when driving your car. If the car is stolen, for example, and they were the last person to drive it, you won’t be able to make a claim.
Location: Beware that you may not find yourself in the heart of the action if, for example, you’re holidaying in a popular city hotspot. As with any major city, many people don’t tend to live bang in the centre. They’re often more likely to live in the suburbs, so you might find that you have to travel to visit tourist destinations. Similarly, you might dream of finding a home that comes with its own pool and beautiful setting, but these tend to be few and far between, and get snapped up quickly.
Cleanliness: Everyone has different ways of living, including how clean and tidy they like to keep their home, so your standards may not match those of the person’s home you stay in. You won’t be staying in a hotel with a room that’s tidied and cleaned on a daily basis, which is one of the benefits many people most enjoy on holiday. You may still find yourself doing the daily chores!
Popular home swapping websites
You don’t have to go through an official home swapping site to swap homes. There are several ways you can go about it, from liaising via Facebook groups to simply agreeing with friends or family to exchange homes for a change of scene, which means you won’t have to worry about strangers staying in your home.
However, the majority of people make use of specialist home swapping websites to list their home and search for one in a particular location they’d like to stay in. You’ll be charged a fee to use one of these sites, which is typically around £100 a year, but there’s a free trial period included in the websites listed below which typically lasts for a few weeks. This means you can search the listed homes and see if any take your fancy before signing up (and listing your home). Here we explain how the main home swapping websites work:
Love Home Swap: You can choose from several price plans ranging from £8 to £12 a month, or £96 a year, and search homes in countries across the world. The more expensive plan includes your home being promoted on the site, and access to a team to help find your next home swap. You’ll receive a two-week trial period, but before you can get in touch with any hosts, you’ll need to provide your card details.
This is one of the sites that will have wide appeal, as it also offers a points system, so you don’t have to find someone who will stay in your home over a specific period. You can earn points by letting guests stay in your home for free while you’re away. You can then book a property using points rather than having to sort a specific swap, but you’ll have to pay a service fee of at least £49 to do so.
Home Link: After a free trial period you’ll pay £115 for a year’s membership and receive a second for free if you don’t home swap within that time. The cost falls to £83.33 a year if you sign up for three years. You get a 30-day free trial, and once you sign up and list your home, you’ll get a second year free if you don’t sort a swap in your first year.
Home Exchange: One of the biggest sites, it claims to have more than 450,000 homes listed in 187 countries around the world. You won’t pay anything until you’ve found an actual exchange, and then it’s about $175 a year (£141). Similarly to Love Home Swap, this site uses a points system. You can buy these points from the site, and depending on the size of the transaction, it will cost you between 25 cents and $2.50 a point.
Guardian Home Exchange: This site is run by another home swapping website, Home base holidays. There’s a two-week trial period (during which you can send up to 10 messages), and you’ll then pay £35 for six months or £59 for a year’s membership.
People Like Us: You’ll pay about £76 ($95) for a year’s membership to use this welcoming, slick home swapping website. The site launched in April 2018, and has grown into a friendly community. There’s also an active facebook group with members based around the world.
Describing and swapping your home
Before arranging a home swap, you’ll need to upload your home’s details. This should include pictures, location, amenities and specific details such as the number of bathrooms and bedrooms. What do you love about your home? Use this to sell it, and try and view it as a holiday guest – what are the benefits? Is your home near to transport links and a wide range of restaurants, for example?
Include information about who lives there now, such as a married couple with two teenage sons, or a woman in her 50s with a dog. Does it have a garden, and what about parking? It’s also worth gently mentioning any downsides, so that they’ll know that you’re honest.
Always mention if you have pets (include pictures if they’ll come as part of the package), as some swappers may have allergies to dogs or cats. Include whether you expect them to be looked after while your guests are staying, and what this will involve.
Before agreeing to a swap make sure you draw up a formal agreement, which should be available on the site, and ask all the necessary questions.
House swappers usually provide a guide for their guests with details of local attractions and recommended pubs and restaurants. This can also include information such as how the TV and house alarm works, and the WiFi code. It may include useful numbers such as the local taxi service, vet (if your pets are being looked after), and the nearest doctor or pharmacy.
Before your guests arrive, clean and tidy your house, and change the bed sheets. You should also provide them with towels and some wardrobe space. Tidy items away in a locked room if you’re able to, including any possessions you are worried about losing, or being damaged.
Once the swap is arranged, you can leave your keys with a family member, friend or neighbour to be passed to your guest when they arrive. Alternatively, as many people do when letting properties through sites such as Airbnb, you could install a key safe and message your guests the code.
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