Travel and Leisure — January 21, 2015 at 5:00 am

How to Score a Free Beach House

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beach house home exchange

©istockphoto/DigiClicks

If you’re planning a warm weather vacation on a budget, home exchange websites may be the key to an inexpensive holiday. Here’s how home exchanges work and how to determine if home swapping is right for you:

How it Works
If you’ve seen the movie The Holiday, you know how home exchanges work. First you become a member of a site like HomeExchange.com where you can list your home for exchange and fill out a personal profile. The profile doesn’t list your address, just a description of your home, photos of what makes it special, and a brief profile of you and your interests. You can choose specific dates and places you’d like to travel or leave your listing open to any dates and locations. Once your home is listed you can wait for someone to contact you for a potential exchange or you can start contacting others. Even if you live in a non-touristy town, don’t count yourself out.

Home exchangers swap houses for work, to see family or other reasons besides taking a vacation. If you’re looking for a swap in a beach town, send lots of inquiries and be patient. If you get an inquiry for your home that you’re not interested in, say no thanks politely and move on. If you get an inquiry you are interested in, you can ask questions and discuss details over email, over the phone or by Skype or Facetime. Many people find once they’ve had a real-time interaction with a potential exchanger, they feel more comfortable about having the person in their house. In fact, many long-term friendships develop over home exchanges.

Note that once you accept an exchange you may be legally obligated to follow through—after all, if your exchange partner buys plane tickets then you bail out on your end of the deal, they’re forced to make other plans, which can be very expensive. Exchangers review each other online, so you’ll be able to tell if your potential partner, and your potential partner’s home, is everything they say it is in their description. You only give your partner your exact address once you’ve both agreed to an exchange so you don’t need to worry about broadcasting that you’ll be away on vacation.

Making the Exchange
When it’s time for your exchange, you’ll want your home to be clean and ready for guests. Most exchangers leave each other a little welcome or thank you treat—a bottle of wine or a local delicacy is a great exchange gift. Most people feel better if they put away anything private, sensitive, irreplaceable or extremely valuable. Send your partner notes about how to get in the house, how to care for any pets they’ve agreed to take on, any peculiarities about your house or neighborhood, and ideas for dinners and activities. Let them know if they’re welcome to food the pantry or if there is anything off limits. If you prefer they stay in the guest room instead of the master bedroom, let them know.

Be sure you both have the others contact information, or at least contact information for someone nearby who can help if there is a house or pet emergency. Before you head home, clean up after yourself and leave the house in the condition you found it. It’s a nice gesture to strip the bed and place all laundry in one location.

When you consider that hotel expenses eat up at least half the vacation budget, eliminating that expense through a home exchange means you can use the money you save to upgrade your entertainment or dinner plans, extend your trip, or plan another vacation in the near future.

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