By David Wilkening
If you have read enviously of rich movie stars having a villa in Rome, a chalet in Switzerland or a resort home in Palm Springs, you can do something similar — essentially have several homes. And you don’t necessarily have to live in a mansion in one of the world’s garden spots, either.
You can trade homes as much or as little as you would like.
Appropriately perhaps, the idea of trading homes received a huge publicity blitz with the release of a recent movie titled “The Holiday” starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, where an owner of a California home swapped for a cozy cottage in Britain.
A home-swapping company, HomeExchange.com, one of the largest in the field, was specifically named in the film.
“Thousands of persons all over the world rushed to add their homes or apartments to the vacation inventory of Home Exchange,” wrote Arthur Frommer.
Informal home exchanges usually by word-of-mouth have been around for a long time. Companies promoting it are more recent, however, though Intervac.com says it was a pioneer in the field more than 55 years ago.
Both Intervac and the newer Home Exchange say users can choose between 20,000 homes worldwide. Home Exchange’s one-year service fee is $99.95 for unlimited use. The company is confident enough it can find exchanges that a second year is free if no exchange is found.
People in the past used the services for a one-time vacation break but that’s changing. “People who used to do one exchange every year or two are now doing four, five, six or more exchanges within a year,” says founder Ed Kushins. He added that weekend exchanges are among the fastest-growing.
There are no real statistics on usage because customers connect with each other online. But one apparent trend is for users to particularly be active when they can exchange homes within driving distance.
Swapping homes has its advantages. It saves money. It offers participants a chance to immerse themselves in other cultures. For those who worry about safety, web sites of home exchange companies all point out that there have been no problems. Home Exchange says it conducts100,000 swaps a year without any issues.
Of course, home is defined loosely here. Some exchanges include yachts or swapping a home for an RV for a couple who always wanted to tour the US nomad style.
Home swappers fill out lengthy forms that describe the type of house they have to offer. The forms also ask basic questions such as sleeping capacity, and amenities such as air conditioning. Questions also come up about whether or not the swapper can use some amenities such as the family’s boat.
Home exchange companies point out that you do not have to live in the world’s garden spots and you don’t have to own a mansion to participate.
“A potential home exchange partner may wish to be near a loved one or family member, or perhaps need to come to your area for business reasons. So your ‘average’ home may be just the ticket for someone wanting to exchange with you,” says Home Exchange.
Home Exchange says it has more repeated successful exchanges in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Modesto, California and Lancaster, Pennsylvania than any where else.