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Home swapping can be a win-win for travellers

November, 2010

For retirees looking to travel on a limited budget, swapping your home with a like-minded couple may be the answer.

One travel website estimates that there are more than 100,000 home exchanges taking place in 137 countries each year.

Senior Times columnist Howard Richler has been a home swapper for six years and raves about the opportunities it provides. Howard and his partner, Carole Broderick, have explored Arizona, Provence in France, Alicante in Spain, San Francisco and the Greek Island of Symi – all while staying in someone else’s home.

“Home exchange just seemed like a sound idea,” he explains. “That’s not to say we didn’t have any qualms at first, but we’ve never found anyone who has had a bad experience. It might not be for you if you have a house filled with antiques, mistrust teenagers, or if you go apoplectic about someone sleeping in your bed.”

Often, home exchanges include cars. Howard left his keys in his car at the Burlington, Vt., airport while his home-swapping partner did the same at the Phoenix airport.

The first step in the process is to become a member of a Web-based home exchange site. Most offer monthly or yearly memberships and some specialize in the “over 50” age group. Howard recommends that you give yourself at least six months to arrange your vacation.

From a Montrealer’s perspective, the best time to establish a home exchange is for the spring and summer. The many gala events afforded a Montreal visitor – like the jazz and comedy festivals – make our city an easy sell. Howard and Carole tried to exchange their home during winter, but found the attempt futile. “Skiers want to be closer to the Laurentians or Eastern Townships.”

A home in the suburbs might hinder the possibility of a home exchange.

Potential listings will be forwarded to you by email, but be sure the website you use, such as or SeniorsHomeExchange .com, guarantees your privacy. Once you’ve received the listings of available homes in the part of the world you choose, the real work begins. Howard feels strongly that you have to get “a good handle” on your exchange partner. As a first start, by means of emails or telephone calls, your communication will probably consist of the basics: a description of your home, places of interest, questions about their accommodations and yours and a description of your mutual expectations.

Initial information will probably include the specific dates of your stay, the number of people in your family and their ages, if you’re retired or what kind of work you do, the type and location of the neighbourhood and the amenities your home provides, such as a swimming pool or exercise room, and the advantages of your home and area. If you’re offering a car, it’s important to mention the type, year, whether it’s an automatic or manual transmission, and the condition of your vehicle.

Other important conditions include household appliances and electronic equipment, such as a plasma TV, computer with Wi-Fi and whether there are pets and plants to take care of. You should especially mention whether smoking is permitted in your home or if your home would be tricky for people with special physical needs.

“It’s a system of equivalents,” Howard says. “You have to find someone much like yourself. One time we found a delightful home, but the owner wanted us to take care of his dogs.” Since day trips are an attractive aspect of home swapping for them, Howard and Carole politely refused the exchange.

The next step is to narrow down your choice and then, by phone, exchange such info as references, a promise to send a video of your home, and even pictures of your family. The last step is a more formal written contract, the fixed commitment to proceed with the exchange.



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