How do you fancy the idea of having a family you’ve never met take over your home for a couple of weeks? Put like that it probably doesn’t appeal. But as a low cost alternative to a hotel or self-catering apartment, house swapping is becoming increasingly popular. But it’s not without its potential pitfalls.
How to have a successful house swap
If you’re the kind of person who washes someone’s mug the second they put it down and has plastic covers on all the furniture, house swapping probably isn’t for you. But there are many success stories. You can swap with someone in another part of the UK or overseas. Make sure you:
- Have a look at house swapping sites to get a feel for the market. You can normally browse adverts before you sign up to join.
SAVVY TIP: There are several house swapping websites around. Homelink is the oldest and includes properties in 80 countries. It costs £115 a year to join. Homeexchange.com costs £110 a year to join and has listings in 187 countries. Guardian home exchange is only £59 a year to join and it listed some lovely properties in locations that didn’t seem covered on other sites. Homeforexchange.com is also easy to use and lists the number of properties available to swap in each country.
- Look at your home objectively. What would a visitor like about it (its location? its garden, the views?). If you’ve lived in your home for a long time you may find it hard to assess with fresh eyes.
SAVVY TIP: Is your home near to tourist attractions or a choice of restaurants? Don’t just think about what’s near but places of interest that are a few hours away.
- Use a variety of photographs. Don’t simply display the best looking shot you possess. Give the swappers a real feel of the house they’re going to live in.
SAVVY TIP: Don’t oversell your home. It’s best to be honest about your property so your swappers are pleasantly surprised when they arrive.
- Include information about who lives there now. If your house is home to several teenagers or a toddler and a baby, say so. You don’t have to swap with an identical family but you’ll give potential swappers a picture of what to expect.
SAVVY TIP: Always tell potential swappers if you have pets. You may not notice the smell of Labrador but a stranger will. There may also be more serious issues if they have asthma or an allergy to pet hair.
Once you’ve selected a few potential swaps you should ask questions – lots of them, and be prepared for your swapper to do the same. Make sure you draw up a formal agreement (the house swap site should have one you can download) and keep all your correspondence professional but friendly. Next you should:
- Book your flight/train travel so you don’t leave first thing in the morning or arrive late at night. Unless you’re super organised you may find it hard to get everything done in time for an early morning flight. Likewise, trying to find your way around a strange town at midnight may not be the most relaxing start.
- Make sure you leave a ‘how to’ guide. Include information on everything from where the nearest late night shop/garage/ is to how to set the alarm.
- Leave the house clean and tidy. Scrub the kitchen and bathroom and clear away clutter. If your house is bursting at the seams, consider using storage. If there are things you don’t want your swappers to use, make sure they can’t be found.
- Tell your insurer. Having a house swapper is what’s called a ‘material fact’. That means if you don’t tell the insurer your cover could be void. According to Steve Foulsham from the British Insurance Brokers’ Association, your insurer may restrict your cover while you’re away. “Most providers will withdraw theft cover unless there was forced or violent entry and if you have accidental damage cover on your policy, that may be restricted as well.’
SAVVY TIP: If the swappers will be using your car, you should add them as a named driver. It’s likely to be cheaper if you’re swapping with someone elsewhere in the UK or in the EU than if it’s somewhere like the United States, Canada or Australia. ‘You’ll need to find out if they’ve had an accident or any convictions in the last five years,’ says Nigel Bartram of Aviva. If you’re swapping with someone from the UK, don’t let them use the ‘driving any car’ extension of their car insurance policy. Although it means they’ll be covered for third party damage, there’s no fire and theft cover (which means if the car is stolen and they were the last person to drive it, you wouldn’t be able to make a claim).
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