A vacation is great. There’s no doubt about it. But if you’re going away for a long time, a trip can be costly when you stay in a hotel and dine out every day. However, there’s a cheaper alternative called house swapping.

Also known as a home exchange, a house swap usually involves two families who agree to offer each other a place to stay for a period of time. Not only is it more affordable than Airbnb, it can be more comfortable and much less cramped than staying in a hotel room. Also, your home won’t be empty while you’re away.

Where to Look Online to Find a House Swapping Partner

You can search online classifieds to find a potential partner, but there are a number of sites out there that specialize in this type of arrangement, such as HomeExchange, HomeLink, and Intervac.

Although these sites don’t scrutinize the properties that are listed, it’s better to go through one of these companies just to be on the safe side than using an online classifieds site. Many of these sites offer a free trial to see what’s available and list your property, but you do need to pay to make an exchange with another member. The costs for a one-year membership vary between $129 and $150.

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Tips for Safe House Swapping

Now that you’ve decided to take the plunge, here’s some advice for house swapping:

  • Start early. Search for a swap at least three months before you travel. When the pandemic ends and there are major events in the area you want to visit, you should plan much further in advance.
  • Be realistic. Keep in mind that the swap should be somewhat fair. If you live in a small one-bedroom apartment in downtown Toronto or Calgary, it’s highly unlikely a family of four that have a large five-bedroom chateau in the south of France will want to swap with you.
  • Hide your valuables. If you have valuable items or family heirlooms you’re afraid might be accidentally broken, consider hiding them, locking them in a safety deposit box, or giving them to friends or family to hold onto while you’re away.
  • Research your partner. While home swapping sites do some vetting, you should check their references to find out what they were like as a guest and as a host. You can also look them up social media to gather some additional information.
  • Clean up. When you have family over, you might clean a few things and hide things under the bed. But since this is a home exchange, you’ll really want to give your home a thorough cleaning and leave a good impression if you plan on doing more swaps in the future.
  • Draw up an agreement. When you’ve found the person you want to swap with, you should write down on paper all the things each party should be responsible for as a guest. Maybe you want them to take out the trash or wash the linens before they go or let them drive your vehicle on the condition that they fill up the tank.

Does Your Home Insurance Policy Allow House Swapping?

Your home insurance policy does not usually provide coverage if your property is occupied by someone other than yourself or your family. For instance, renting your space through online sharing platforms means you’re taking on all the risk if you don’t have coverage for such an endeavour. Err on the side of caution and talk to your broker or insurer before agreeing to a house swap.

Also, if you decide to swap vehicles or let someone drive yours, you should verify that your car insurance allows you to add a guest driver, otherwise, lending your car to another driver means you are also lending your insurance. And check if there’s a clause that prevents your vehicle from being driven by someone without a Canadian driver’s licence.

The idea of a house swap may sound foreign to you. But if you play your cards right and ensure you have the right home insurance coverage, your next vacation can end up being a lot less expensive, and make you feel right at home in someone else’s place.

Craig Sebastiano

Craig Sebastiano is an award-winning writer and editor with more than a decade of experience in journalism, marketing, and communications. He’s written about a number of financial topics, including investing, real estate, robo-advisors, mortgages, credit cards, pensions, taxes, insurance, RRSPs, and TFSAs. Craig’s work has appeared in MoneySense, Morningstar, Benefits Canada, Advisor’s Edge, Job Postings, and Ryerson University Magazine. He has completed the Canadian Securities Course and is an avid do-it-yourself investor.

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