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Home exchanges and timeshares: How do they work?

May 24, 2024
5 mins
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Imagine unlocking the door of your own cozy pied-à-terre in the heart of Paris or waking up to the serene views of the Ligurian coastline – all without the hefty mortgage, rent or even hotel costs of traditional accommodations.

Home exchange, also known as house-swapping, is a unique way to spend a holiday, offering travellers an opportunity to live like a local while enjoying the comforts of home.

The popularity of home exchange has surged in recent years. HomeExchange, the world's largest home exchange community, boasts 160,000 members in over 145 countries and growing.

Canadians are also increasingly embracing this travel option, according to Leanne Graber, owner of HomeLink Canada, the local chapter of a global home exchange community.

“The appeal of home exchanges in Canada is driven by the opportunity to save on accommodation costs, enjoy the comforts of a home, and experience local living,” she says, adding that touristy cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal see higher participation of home-exchangers.

Internationally, popular destinations for home exchanges range from bustling New York City, French countryside, the sunny coasts of Spain, and sprawling Australia.

How does a home exchange work?

While the specifics involved vary between each home exchange platform, they operate similarly.

Generally, interested participants sign up on a platform and upload detailed descriptions and photos of their home. They then search for a destination within their preferred destination, message prospective hosts within the portal, and, if all goes well, agree to vacation dates, housekeeping rules, and other terms.

During the exchange, travellers are free to live like a local in their temporary home. Part of that means respecting the house rules and treating the property as if it were their own. This reciprocal respect ensures a positive experience for both parties.

After the exchange, guests and hosts get the chance to leave a review on the platform. Reviews help build trust within the community and inform other vacation seekers.

Why choose a home exchange over traditional rental accommodations?

Graber lists many benefits to home exchanging over opting for a short-term rental like Airbnb or VRBO. These include:

  • Cost effectiveness: With no money exchanged between exchange partners, the only expense is a modest annual membership fee, which is often less than a single night in a hotel. This fee allows for unlimited exchanges within the membership term.
  • Home comforts: Home exchanges typically offer more space, amenities, and comfort than hotels, with access to a full kitchen, laundry facilities, and separate bedrooms, making it an ideal arrangement for families.
  • Cultural immersion: Staying in someone’s home provides a deeper insight into local life and a more authentic experience than staying in touristy areas.
  • Car exchange: Often, your hosts may throw in use of their personal car, which both saves you car rental fees and provides additional flexibility, especially in areas with limited public transportation.
  • Pet and home care: Under a home exchange agreement, guests can also double as pet sitters and house sitters, providing care for pets, plants, and gardens.
  • Meet new people: Home exchange partners often become lasting friends, maintaining relationships and revisiting each other over the years.

However, home exchanges aren’t for everyone, admits Graber.

“Rentals and Airbnbs are more conventional transactions and can benefit those who need to find accommodation without coordinating with anyone else’s travel plans; want short term stays, specific dates, or have last minute plans or specific travel needs,” says Graber.

Insuring your home when you’re not there

Giving open-door access to a stranger also comes with some risks – no matter how much the platforms try to keep things safe.

Here are some practical measures to ensure your home remains safe and secure:

  • Choose a reputable platform
  • Screen and communicate with potential exchange partners
  • Secure any valuables
  • Inform a trusted neighbour about your exchange plans
  • Confirm insurance coverage

On that last point, Graber says that most insurance companies generally prefer to hear that your home will be occupied rather than left empty during a long absence. The important part is informing them of the change in the first place.

“Different home insurance providers can have differing policies on home exchange guests, so it is important to contact your home insurer to confirm that your policy remains valid,” says Graber. “Some of our members across Canada have discovered that many agencies and underwriters have adopted stricter requirements regarding notification about guests who will be occupying your home for an extended period in your absence.”

Graber says that most home insurance policies will provide the usual building and contents coverage whether your home is occupied by friends, family, or exchange partners. (The only exception is if you’re renting out your home, which requires a commercial policy).

However, she says, theft from the home typically isn’t covered unless there is evidence of forced entry.

Read more: What is the difference between a vacant and unoccupied property?

Keep your auto insurance provider in the loop, too

As part of the exchange, you may also want to lend your vehicle to your guest to make the stay smoother for them. In that case, you should always check with your insurance provider for clarity. Some policies will allow you to add a guest driver, but there may be stipulations that the driver requires a Canadian or international driver’s licence.

What is a timeshare and how does it work?

A home exchange is great for people who want a local experience while travelling widely, but what about those who are looking for something a bit more consistent?

A timeshare, also known as vacation ownership, is a type of property ownership where multiple people share the use of a resort condominium or vacation home. Each owner has the right to use the property for a specific period of time, usually one week each year.

Like home exchange, there are many online resources to help you find a timeshare for sale or rent, like RedWeek, TUG (Timeshare Users Group), and Timeshare Resale Market.

Types of timeshares include:

  • Fixed week: Owners purchase the right to use the property for the same week every year. This offers predictability, but less flexibility.
  • Floating week: Owners can book their stay during a range of weeks within the year, providing more flexibility, but subject to availability.
  • Points-based system: Owners purchase points that can be used to book accommodations at various times and locations within a network of properties. This system offers the most flexibility.

Pros and cons of timeshares

Timeshares can be an attractive option for those who enjoy regular vacations at quality resorts, however, it's important to consider both the benefits and potential drawbacks before purchasing.


  • Guaranteed accommodations during your chosen time.
  • Access to well-maintained, amenity-rich properties.
  • Ability to trade for stays at different locations.


  • Significant upfront investment.
  • Annual maintenance fees that can increase over time.
  • Difficulty in changing vacation dates or destinations without an exchange program.
  • Often challenging to sell, and typically at a loss.

Do you need a mortgage for a timeshare?

When you buy a timeshare, you are essentially purchasing the right to use the property for a certain period each year directly from the timeshare developer or owner, rather than owning real estate outright. Therefore, timeshare ownership is not typically associated with a mortgage in the same way that owning a primary residence or investment property might be.

Related: What to know about buying property in the U.S.

How does insurance work for a timeshare?

Timeshare insurance can get complicated. Timeshare owners may have individual insurance policies for their specific unit or a shared policy covering the entire property.

Most resorts have insurance that covers the building and common areas. Your primary home insurance may also extend some coverage to your timeshare. Check with both your personal insurer and the timeshare management or resort to understand the insurance arrangement.

Aside from that, you should also consider personal property, liability, and loss of use coverage to protect your belongings and yourself in the event that someone gets injured while staying in your timeshare.

If your timeshare is in another country, check whether your insurance extends to international properties and if there are any local insurance requirements where you’re staying. Be sure to read the policy carefully to understand what is not covered. Common exclusions might include wear and tear, certain natural disasters, or intentional damage.

What to consider when choosing to do home exchange or time share?

When deciding between a home exchange and a timeshare, there are several factors to consider. Here are a few of them:

  • Travel preferences: Do you have any preferred destinations, annual recurring travel dates, or accommodation preferences?
  • Financial considerations: Evaluate the costs associated with both options, including membership fees for home swap platforms, maintenance fees for timeshares, and any additional expenses such as travel and dining.
  • Usage frequency: How often do you plan to vacation? And do you prefer frequent trips to different destinations or annual vacations at the same resort?
  • Long-term commitment: Assess your long-term commitment to either option, considering factors such as ownership responsibilities, financial obligations, and potential changes in travel preferences over time.

By evaluating your preferences and priorities, you can determine whether house-swapping or timeshares better align with your vacation goals.

Read next: Does travel insurance cover accommodations and excursions?

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Caitlin McCormack

Caitlin McCormack is a writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in MSN, Food Network, HuffPost, What to Expect, Today's Parent, and Mashable, among others. When she isn't writing, she's busy chasing after her two sons, testing out new recipes, and working on her century-old fixer-upper.

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