House swapping is the new staycation. Here’s how to make it work for you

Written by Rebecca Goodman

Made famous in the film The Holiday, house swapping is a relaxed way to have a self-catering trip that could potentially save you thousands. We explore how you can take advantage of the home exchange movement. 

Covid has completely upturned the travel industry. All the upheaval has brought about a boom in staycations with a 500% annual rise in people searching for the word in 2020, according to Statista. 

Instead of booking a hotel or self-catered accommodation –which is now 40% more expensive than in 2019, according to consumer group Which? – many people are trying house swapping.

Of all the trips booked this year via the website Love Home Swap, 61% were in England, Scotland and Wales, compared to 26% in 2019.  Célia Pronto, managing director for Love Home Swap, told Stylist: “Home swapping gives you the comfort of staying in a home-away-from-home and allows you to explore the world through the power of sharing.

“It is a cost-effective way for people to travel, and with something for everyone, we are confident it will be more popular than ever in the years to come.” 

The benefits of a house swap 

Made famous in the film The Holiday, house swapping offers a relaxed way to have a self-catering trip and the only thing you’ll pay is a fee to sign up to a house swap company.

Chisara Nwabara, 34, from London, has house swapped five times and says she’s saved thousands in accommodation costs by switching up her Finsbury Park flat for homes in places like Cornwall and Budapest.

“I love the affordability, it’s nowhere near as expensive for what you get in terms of value and experience and it feels more like staying with a friend or neighbour where everything is already set up for you,” she says. 

Chisara Nwabara says she’s saved thousands on holidays by house swapping.

There are several different websites that will arrange the house swap for you, and all you pay is a membership fee, which is usually around £80 a year.

Laura Williams, 37, from Oxfordshire, says she’s saved around £4,000 in the past year through two house swaps – one in London and one in San Sebastian in Spain. She has six children, which means she needs self-catering accommodation with enough space for her family of eight.

“Going to San Sebastian was amazing,” she says. “We’d looked at going there before, but found it was too expensive. [The only options were] apartments and we really need outdoor space. To be offered a whole house in the centre of the city with a garden was so perfect.” 

For an easy swap, you’ll need to do your homework  

However, there are some downsides. The behind-the-scenes cleaning, sanitising and clearing away of clutter was something we didn’t see in The Holiday, as well as the process of making sure your insurer and mortgage provider are both on board. 

“The preparation for the swap can be quite time-consuming. Ideally, you need to start emailing other swappers a good few months before you want to swap,” says Williams.

“Don’t be put off by being turned down for a swap. Just keep sending lots and lots of requests. It can take a while before you find a match,” she adds. 

Laura Williams on a house swap in San Sebastian with her family.

How a house swap works 

First, you’ll need to register with a house swapping company. The most well-known include Love Home Swap, HomeExchange, and Home Link.

There’s either a monthly or annual fee to join and you will need to supply photos and a detailed description of your home as well as documents to prove your identity.

Jessica Cambou, spokesperson for HomeExchange, tells Stylist: “Your home will be occupied by people who will take good care of it while you do the same at their home. They will water your plants or feed your animals. 

“Being able to speak to a local generally offers the possibility to enjoy a better local immersion and a more authentic tourist experience, since your host will give you advice on visits or good restaurants.”

Once your listing is complete, the swapping can start. When a swap is confirmed you’ll also be given a full brief of what is required, including putting away any valuables and making sure everything is clean.  

How to get your home noticed

It’s not just Instagram-worthy houses that can be swapped, there’s a huge range of homes in all shapes and sizes.

If you’re worried someone might not want to swap, it’s worth remembering that people want to house swap for a variety of reasons. It could be someone wanting a place to stay to work, to visit friends or family, or to get away from everything.

The best way to get noticed is with lots of clear, well-lit photos, and a detailed and accurate description of your home.  Many sites will also let you book a house swap even if you don’t want someone staying in your home, or you can book the swaps at different times.

Nwabara swaps her London flat via Love Home Swap.

Protect your home and belongings 

We’ve all heard the horror stories of homes being trashed on holiday rental websites, but using an official company does give you some protection. There will usually be a basic level of insurance included, all members will have been checked and verified, and there should be a system to sort out disputes.

“One thing to keep in mind is you’re staying at someone’s home, so respect it as such and don’t treat it like a hotel,” says Nwabara. “I’ve heard some horror stories about people’s expectations, but at the end of the day, we’re all just people who want to share what we have and also have an opportunity to enjoy new experiences in a sustainable way.”

You will also need to speak to your insurer. Some will allow swaps but may have a limit on the number per year.  The insurer LV, for example, allows three each year of up to four weeks each, arranged through an official company.  However, accidental damage, money, valuables, or visitor belongings won’t be covered. 

Sarah Smith, head of underwriting for home, pet and travel for LV says: “There are great cost-effective holiday options like house swapping or house sitting, but it’s worth organising this through a specialised company to ensure your home insurance is still covered and you’re using someone trustworthy. 

“Make sure you lock valuables away and check the finer details with your insurer so you don’t end up with any unexpected costs.” 

It’s not just for homeowners, you may be able to swap as a tenant 

To do a house swap you’ll usually need to own your own home, although if you rent you can always ask your landlord if they will permit it.

Nwabara rents her London flat and says she’s able to house swap because she’s not being paid for it. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable renting or listing my flat on Airbnb and it’s not allowed in my lease. But, because there is no exchange of funds I feel a lot more comfortable and OK with doing home swaps as it’s just more personal and direct.”

David Hollingworth, spokesperson for mortgage broker London & Country, says: “Some providers have recognised the growing use of house swapping platforms and will now allow for a certain amount of Airbnb-style letting of up to 90 days per annum without needing to inform the lender.”

Is house swapping worth it? 

There is more admin involved than a usual holiday rental and it can take a little longer to arrange, but house swapping also gives you the chance to stay in an amazing property for next-to-nothing.

So, if you’re on the hunt for a weekend escape or a home to live in for a longer holiday, it’s not too late for a 2021 house swap. 

Images: Getty, Chisara Nwabara, Laura Williams

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