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With so many people in the UK staying put for the summer, it’s hardly surprising that trying to find a holiday rental can feel a little like searching for a unicorn - you’re just not sure if one exists.
However, I’m not one to be thwarted at the first hurdle, so we went on the hunt for alternatives.
And it turns out that we weren’t the only ones as according to statistics from Love Home Swap, they’ve seen a 48% increase in swap discussions comparing June to April this year, and a 34% increase in bookings during the same period.
Plus, their home-swapping members save an average of £3,400 when booking holidays - which is an enticing sum for anyone who has had to tighten to the purse strings in recent months.
Many people also report feeling “safer” when they travel to a home and knowing that they have someone looking after their own pad while they’re away.
Totally sold on the idea, I signed up to the website to see if I could save my summer staycation.
How does it work?
When you sign up to Love Home Swap, or alternative home swap websites, you’ll build a profile, detailing who you are (in three short sentences), what type of holidays you’re looking for and the details of your own house.
Some people include their cars or lifestyle accessories like ski equipment or private club membership in the swap, but it’s all down to what you personally feel comfortable sharing.
Once you’ve created your profile, you’re ready to start swapping.
You can swap in three different ways: using points, renting or as a direct swap, at the same time, with another member.
A points swap means that the other member doesn’t need to visit your house, or want to travel on the same dates, in order for you to visit their home - giving you extra flexibility.
You gain points when you sign up for a membership but can also earn points by having people come to stay at your house or topping them up yourself.
When you find a house you like the look of, you can message the owner - just like you would on Airbnb - to find out whether their property is available over the dates you are looking for.
If they’re happy for you to stay, you agree on the number of points, or the dates of the mutual house swap and all that’s left to do is pack your bags.
How much does it cost?
As mentioned above, home swappers can save thousands of pounds on sorting accommodation for their travels, however, there is a fee to sign up.
Every site differs but Love Home Swap offer three types of membership:
Silver membership with unlimited trips from £12 per month, Gold membership benefitting from a featured listing booster from £14 per month, and Platinum membership, where you can enjoy exclusive travel services from £20 per month.
What sorts of homes are available?
Many home swap sites feature a variety of properties all over the world, and when it comes to the UK they often have a mix of city pads and country piles to choose from.
Browsing for my own summer holiday, I looked at a home in Devon with an outdoor pool, a beach hut in Cornwall and a large garden flat on the outskirts of Bath before settling on the one I really wanted to visit.
Simply add your filters - would you like to bring a dog? does the house need to be wheelchair friendly? - and scroll through the list of homes available.
The best bit is, when it comes to home swapping, there isn’t the same mad summer rush as there is with traditional property rental website, so you’re still likely to find something close to the date of travel.
5 top tips for swapping your home
If you’re totally new to home swapping but are keen to get started, here are five tips:
You’ll need to make some space for your guests’ own belongings so decluttering is a must. You might have already undertaken a hefty spring clean during lockdown but, if not, now is the time. You don’t need to get rid of everything that makes your house a home, but leaving some drawers free and making sure there aren’t piles of papers or clothes around is paramount.
Sometimes finding the perfect home exchange requires some flexibility. You are not booking a hotel where you can pick your exact location, amenities, and dates in the click of a button on your web browser.
If you have a specific destination in mind you might need to contact properties outside of the city centre or with a smaller space than you are used to. In some ways this is the advantage of home exchange, it gives you opportunities to explore areas and have experiences you might not usually have as a tourist.
Doing a home exchange does require a bit more planning than a regular holiday. You not only need to organise your selves for your holiday but you need to leave the house in a state ready for your guests as well. Plan ahead and have a strategy, arrange someone to help you with the cleaning, pack your own bags a few days ahead of time. Write yourself a good list to tick off as you head out the door.
Keys are key
If your guest is going to be arriving before you leave then exchanging keys is simple. But if you have an early flight and they arrive later then you need to organise the handing off of the keys another way.
Ask a friend or neighbour to help or invest in a key lockbox and give your home exchange guests the code and ask them to leave the key in the same box when they leave.
Think about your photos
In general, properties that have great photos are much more likely to have more exchange opportunities, which makes sense as you want to really get a picture of what someone’s home is like before you swap.
You don’t need professional photos but go through room by room, tidy each room, remove any distracting items and clutter, get as much light into the room as possible (avoid using the flash if you can) and take photos from different angles, stand on a ladder if you need to to get a better angle.