Holiday house swapping

Carlton Boyce / 02 September 2016 ( 18 July 2017 )

Would you swap your home for the holidays with a stranger?



As a newly minted adult, shopping at M&S or Waitrose was a badge of honour.

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone else who fledged during the eighties, a decade famed for its conspicuous consumption and almost complete lack of social responsibility.

Greed was good, and my word, were we greedy.

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Times have changed for the cheaper

Things have changed since then, thank goodness.

Shopping at a discount supermarket is no longer something to be ashamed of.

Boasting of the savings you’ve made at Lidl or Aldi is the new badge of honour, and swapping houses with a stranger and pocketing the saving is the latest money-saving wheeze of the chattering classes.

No money changes hands, but despite that the pitfalls and potential problems are too great for some people, no matter what the potential saving.

Others are more open-minded and willing to plunge into the unknown, bargaining that the money they save will more than compensate for any risks they might have to take.  

Being a skeptic by nature I am one of the former, while my optimistic and trusting wife is one of the latter.

I placed my trust in her (not for the first time; we met on an Internet dating site so arranging a temporary house swap was small beer in comparison to choosing a life partner…) and we arranged to exchange with a family in Madrid for a fortnight’s summer holiday. 

This is what we learned.

Don’t be too picky

We just wanted a relaxing fortnight in the sun, and so our only non-negotiable was a house with a swimming pool in a hot country.

We posted details of our home along with some dates and a brief outline of what we were after and a delightful Madrilian family quickly contacted us. 

We swapped house details and photos, emailed each other a few times to talk about the minutiae and agreed that we liked the look of each other’s homes and could make the dates work. 

Beth and I took a deep breath, and agreed to swap.

The result was a fortnight in a beautiful house in... a mountainous and untamed area of Spain

The result was a fortnight in a beautiful house in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park, a mountainous and untamed area of Spain that is still home to bears, wild boar, eagles and wolves. 

If we’d been too specific in our requests and too narrow in our focus, we might have missed it.

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It’s not just a house swap

The family we swapped with had done it before, so we were happy to follow their lead. In the end we swapped cars too, which saved even more money.

Of course, we needed to pay a small extra premium to add them on to our car insurance policy, but even so, I estimate we saved well over £500 on car hire alone.

We also agreed to look after their cats and hens, and they asked us if they could borrow our canoe. 

We essentially stepped into each other’s lives, which gave us a much better insight into Spanish life than any amount of time in a high-rise, all-inclusive hotel.

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There is somewhere for everyone

You don’t need a big, fancy house either. 

Smaller properties are in demand too because there are plenty of single people and couples out there who are looking for a small pied a terre to bed down in after spending the day roaming the city or countryside.

My advice is to be completely honest in what you’re offering so that people have a very clear understanding of what to expect when they arrive.

Preparing for the swap

Of course, you’ll need to offset some of your own time against the money you’ll be saving as you’ll need to get your house ready for your guests.

It goes without saying that all the beds need fresh linen and towels, and you’ll need to clear some wardrobe and drawer space too but other than that we took a fairly relaxed approach.

We stocked the fridge with some Welsh delicacies and told them to help themselves to anything they fancied from the drinks cabinet and pantry. 

In return they left us some delicious Spanish meats and cheeses plus a bottle of local wine and a couple of meals in the fridge to save having to shop or cook for the first few of days.

You’ll also need to compile, a ‘home manual’ that details what to do in an emergency, the location of the utilities, how to operate key domestic appliances like the TV and washing machine, as well as a list of recommended places to eat and visit. 

That took about a day to write in total but that is a one-off piece of work that will only need gentle refreshing for future swaps.

Tell your insurance company

Don’t forget to tell your insurance company that you’re swapping houses.

Most insurers will cover at no extra cost, as long as it is not over four weeks. However, they might add endorsements to restrict cover for things like theft, Accidental Damage and to exclude guests' possessions.

Find out about Saga Home Insurance

Afterwards

We came back to a spotless house and a lovely note telling us how much they’d enjoyed their fortnight in Llangollen. 

There were no breakages, no mess, and everything was in the same condition as we’d left it. 

Others tell us that this isn’t unusual; if you’re swapping like-for-like then they’re going to be relying on the fact that you will look after their house too.

Regrets?

We had no regrets at all. 

The house was wonderful, the swap was seamless, and we even got to wave at them as they disembarked from the plane at Madrid airport, which was the only time we actually saw them in person!

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Unexpected bonuses

There are, of course, a few unexpected bonuses to having someone live in your home while you’re on holiday.

For a start, you are less likely to be burgled if the house is occupied. 

It also means that there is someone there to water your plants, collect your post, and even keep an eye on the place in case something goes wrong. 

After coming home to a small flood last year thanks to a leaking water pipe, the benefits of the latter cannot be overstated.

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The final tally

A similar house would cost around £2,500 to rent, so we saved around £3,000 in total after factoring in the car swap too.

We used Homelink, which has a £115 annual fee no matter how many swaps you agree to each year. 

The website has lots of advice on making your swap as painless as possible and you can agree a contract that covers extraordinary events such as who pays for any damage that might be caused or who covers any insurance excess payments.

Similar websites include Love Home Swap and The Guardian Home Exchange.

Would you take part in a holiday home swap – or are you already a convert? Let us know over on our Facebook page

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.