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What about the home-exchange idea?

What about the home-exchange idea?

Next vacation, would you trade your home for a townhouse in Paris, a chalet in Zurich, or an oceanfront condominium on Kaanapali Beach? If you'd like to stay in someone else's house while its owners stay in yours, you can choose from thousands of such residences all over the world.

Home-exchange services compile names of people willing to swap houses--usually for at least two weeks, sometimes for much longer. The arrangement, says one exchanger, lets you "feel like a local instead of a tourist.' There's no hotel bill, of course, and you save on food--especially if you have children. Trades often include use of a family car, as well.

Your house doesn't have to be a castle for you to make a good trade. In fact, Western homes, particularly those in or near Los Angeles and San Francisco, tend to get snapped up first, especially by sunstarved Britons. Houses with pools, decks, ocean views, or access to major attractions such as Disneyland, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and the Grand Canyon are in big demand--from Americans as well as foreigners. This time of year, homes near ski resorts are popular choices, too.

How exchanges work. Exchanges are based on trust: interested parties establish contact, then work out the details--departure and return dates, arrangements for transferring keys--usually be letter and telephone. No money exchanges hands; there's no formal contract.

Obviously, such an arrangement isn't for everyone. People who have participated agree that it takes patience and flexibility to make a good trade.

Why? First, it takes time to find a house that suits your needs. One family with a toddler told us they searched long and hard before finding a Swiss residence with safety gates and childproof locks. Other people might find that pets or smokers present stumbling blocks.

When you do find the right place, you must coordinate travel times, which could entail adjusting your dates to match someone else's. "Don't buy plane tickets until you've ironed out all the details,' warned a seasoned swapper.

For some, those details might seem off-putting, as might the thought of another family being in your house when you're not there. If so, lock your door and head instead for a hotel.

If you do exchange, be flexible when you arrive in your temporary home; tastes vary. We heard of one Midwestern couple who'd made a trade with a San Francisco family, then left when they saw that they'd be staying in a beautifully restored Victorian: they thought it was an "old, creaky house.' You can help avoid this by describing your home as carefully as possible --and asking your potential host for a correspondingly accurate picture.

The house itself may differ dramatically from yours: first-time exchangers to Europe often remark that the rooms seem cramped and dark compared with what they are used to at home.

Unfortunately, standards for cleanliness don't always jibe--we heard this complaint more than any other.

It doesn't happen often, but damage can occur. Make sure your homeowner's insurance policy covers property in your absence; since there's no contractual agreement, you'll have to rely on the policy for replacement or repairs. If you're hesitant about certain valuable or irreplaceable items, lock them away.

Try to avoid disappointment by asking plenty of questions about the house you'll be staying at. And before leaving home, make a complete list of where things are and how they work. Don't hesitate to supply some "house rules.'

Sometimes it's hard to anticipate what could happen. (A California family we know returned home to find their counterparts had dug a pit in the lawn to roast a pig.) If your home has been mistreated, alert your service; names can be dropped from future listings.

What to expect from a service. Most exchange services will supply you with international listings and will list your house, with a picture, usually for less than $50. All give guidelines on making a good trade. But none takes responsibility if something goes wrong.

If a listing notes that a homeowner has exchanged before, ask for references.

Start looking for exchanges early--at least six months in advance for popular destinations and seasons (Europe in summer, Hawaii in winter). Most people pursue more than a dozen listings to increase their chances of finding the right one.

For other sources, try government tourist offices for the countries you'd like to visit. Most countries have Los Angeles or San Francisco offices. Check professional and alumni newsletters. Travel agents don't usually handle exchanges.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on directories of exchange services
Date:Feb 1, 1988
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