House swap for a budget dream vacation
Right now you could be staying in a Tuscan villa for free. An apartment in Paris could be yours for nothing. All you need to do is allow the owners of those residences to stay in your apartment.
New Yorkers increasingly are planning their vacations using Craigslist, house exchange services and listservs to temporarily swap their abodes for others.
"People really want to come to New York, so they don't mind staying in a small space," said Keghan Hurst, director of public relations for HomeExchange.com, which facilitates about 250,000 trades a year.
Nate Shaw, a Boerum Hill homeowner who house-swaps, said Brooklyn is popular among international travelers.
Here are a few things you should know before taking the plunge:
Who should do it?
Families. Shaw, who travels with his wife and two young children, has exchanged his four-bedroom Brooklyn home for an apartment in Paris and a house in Mexico.
"I love that you can wake up in the morning and make breakfast for your kids," he said. "You don't want to be going out for three meals a day. You save a bunch of money and your sanity this way."
Someone who doesn't mind having a stranger in their home.
"It's a certain type of person who's able to do home exchange," said Shaw. "You have to be okay with people looking through photo albums and stuff."
Someone who appreciates sometimes-quirky accommodations.
"Part of the joy of a housing swap is that you're not going to a boring, lifeless hotel," said Victoria Lee, who traded her Upper West Side studio for a large two-bedroom house in Santa Fe for two weeks last fall.
Someone who's looking to save money. With home exchanges, everything but the airfare and food is covered. Englishman Joel Clark traded his three-bedroom North London home for a three-story, converted clock tower in Park Slope last summer.
"Paying for accommodation for that time would have cost a fortune," said Clark, who traveled with his wife and toddler.
Tips to make it work
Show, don't tell. If you're posting on a house-swapping site such as HomeExchange.com, put up a lot of photos that show your residence in a good light. Also make sure you see plenty of pictures of where you'll be staying. You don't want any surprises.
"It's a little bit like Internet dating," Hurst said.
Chat it up. Speak to your fellow exchanger as much as possible to get familiar with the people you're swapping with before you open your home to them. Skype can be helpful.
Just say no. If you feel uncomfortable about anything, don't do it. You'll get plenty of offers to swap.
Private eyes. Have a neighbor you trust check in and see if the guests need anything. If they see anything out of the ordinary, they can alert you.
Lock up valuables. Hurst has never heard of a bad experience in the history of HomeExchange.com, but that doesn't mean you should tempt fate.
You can list your home on HomeExchange.com for a $120 yearly membership fee. You can also do a three-month trial for $15.95 per month.
HomeExchange.com is offering a 20 percent discount for amNewYork readers. Use coupon code NYHE2011.
Other sites for home swapping: