Camping out or staying with relatives don’t have to be the only affordable ways to escape the city this summer. If you live in New York, especially in Manhattan or Brooklyn, your own home just might be your ticket out of town, even if it’s a studio apartment.
The idea of home-swapping is simple: You make your home available to other would-be-vacationers around the world. They stay in your place, you stay in theirs, and you save a bundle on the now-eliminated cost of a hotel or B&B. “You get to know a city in a different way,” says Beth Haskel, a Sunset Park resident who has successfully traded homes with families in Copenhagen and Florence through Home Link International. “You learn to commute like they do,” she adds.
Lou Howort and his wife, Ann, have swapped their Ditmas Park house at least 15 times in the past 23 years for places in Amsterdam, California (El Toro, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz), the French Alps, Paris (several times), Spain, Hawaii, and others. “The advantages are obvious and not so obvious,” says Howort. “Not so obvious is all the advice you get from a native—on things like which are the best restaurants, places to shop, things of interest in the community, things to be avoided, etc. You also get directions, short cuts around town, things of local interest that you would never find in a week or two as a tourist, etc.”
Jonathan Kalb, who lists his Park Slope townhouse on the same web site, says his home is constantly in demand. Kalb has successfully swapped for homes in Scotland, London and Berlin. He even has swapped cars, which saves another fortune on rentals. “When you have zero cost for hotels, it opens up a world of possibilities,” he says.
Though you might worry about having a stranger in your house, most house-swappers say that after a number of email interchanges, you get a good sense of who you’re dealing with. “I was nervous at first,” said Kalb, “but we have found people to be very honorable. Each time we came home, we found the place spotless.”
The internet has made house trading easy. Homeexchange.com, one of the larger home swapping sites, lists thousands of properties from around the globe, complete with a step-by-step guide for how to go about the process, from listing your property, to finding the right partners to creating a contract for the home exchange. Members can communicate personally with others posting homes pretty much anywhere in the world. The site has a “Notify Me” feature which informs you when new listings come in from places you might want to go. Another of the biggies, Home Link International, has been in existence since 1953 and is run by Karl and Katie Costabel. “This business is recession-proof,” Katie Costabel says. Both sites offer membership for around $100 per year, guaranteeing a free second year’s membership if you don’t get a successful exchange in your first year.
You can zero in on your dream location and time frame—Homelink lists Canadian hosts for the winter Olympic games in Vancouver—or open up your search to anywhere in the world. Each member posts photos, a description of the property, areas that the owner is interested in visiting and a variety of other details, like whether the home has WiFi, a swimming pool, security. Intervac claims to have pioneered home swapping some 56 years ago, and like the other services, it allows you to take a look at member offerings even before posting your own.
Even some of the smaller sites, like Digsville.com, boast thousands of listings in dozens of countries, and with lower membership fees (Digsville’s is $44.95 per year). As the practice becomes more popular, there are a wide variety of sites cropping up that offer home exchanges: Iexchangemyhome.com allows you to post your property without any membership fee, while Homearoundtheworld.com is geared specifically to the international gay traveler.
Craigslist and Facebook are also fabulous forums for house swapping. You will find postings for any length of time from a weekend to a year, and for accommodations ranging from studio flats in Paris to luxurious beach homes in California. Researching this article, I stumbled upon a Vermont family with a beautiful home looking for a Brooklyn swap this weekend. Though the timing will not work for me, I wrote to the owner and we decided to try for a different long weekend this summer.
As New York continues to be an extremely desirable and costly vacation location, tourists are thrilled to swap homes, and they’re often perfectly happy to trade down just to be in or near the city. “People are so excited to be able to come to New York,” Haskel says. “They are not terribly picky about where they stay.”
Once you’ve lined up a house swap, make sure to read Ellen Bari’s piece on how to fly there cheaply.