The worldwide swap shop

Need a holiday? Then exchange your house for somewhere more exotic
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The Independent Online

Your property may be your home, your comfort zone and even your pension - but what about making it your passport? Thousands of UK owners are entering into home exchanges where they swap homes in different parts of the world to facilitate low-cost holidays in real neighbourhoods, meeting real people.

Your property may be your home, your comfort zone and even your pension - but what about making it your passport? Thousands of UK owners are entering into home exchanges where they swap homes in different parts of the world to facilitate low-cost holidays in real neighbourhoods, meeting real people.

In the UK there are several agencies with global networks of clients wanting to swap homes for anything from a week to six months.

"We've got 1,800 members in the UK and 14,000 worldwide, with properties in 56 countries," says Caroline Connolly, head of HomeLink International, one of the country's largest exchange services. "The UK homes are more up-market than average but range from two-bed apartments in city centres to a nine-bed castle in Scotland. Our clients are either early-retired couples with quite a few pounds in their pockets who visit long-haul locations such as the US, South Africa or New Zealand for several months; or they're young families or teachers for whom it's too expensive to take conventional breaks during school holiday time. They tend to go to Europe."

HomeLink says the UK has always been a popular destination for international exchangers because of its traditional tourist appeal. But now that hotels are particularly expensive, families and friends wanting to visit the large numbers of foreign students and workers based in major UK cities are keen to house-swap.

So even a modest UK house may attract exchanges with more exotic properties, such as Mexican ranches or Italian villas. There is even a burgeoning trade in internal UK swaps. "Owners near budget airline airports are exchanging homes. We've people living in Edinburgh who want to get out of the place for two weeks during the festival in August, while others want to get up there," says Connolly.

Retired teacher Jean Simmonds and her husband, Bob, swapped their four-bed house and car at Thame,Oxfordshire, with a couple's apartment and vehicle in central Sydney. "It was a perfect arrangement for us," she says. Unusually, the Simmonds met their swap couple in the UK for lunch before leaving to spend five weeks in their apartment Down Under. "We're likely to do another long-haul holiday this way later this year, plus a couple of short trips to Europe," says Jean.

The two couples treated the swap as an exercise in common sense. They gave small sums of money to cover breakages and left behind items bought at the time - the Simmonds have just found a garlic-crusher bought by their exchange partners.

If problems do happen, they are usually because of under-detailed or over-optimistic descriptions of properties.

Before the advent of e-mailed photographs, one Oxford family swapped homes with Italian counterparts. But when the Britons arrived at a mansion just outside of Rome they realised their error. "We'd described our house accurately, saying it had four bedrooms and a garden. The Italians' home sounded similar but turned out to have vast rooms, and the garden included a vineyard. Our house was a terraced property near the park-and-ride and the visitors weren't happy," reminisces one of the family.

The Association of British Insurers says most of its member companies are relaxed over swaps, providing they know in advance: "They'll know the arrangements are based on mutual trust and may charge little or nothing extra over the swap period. They'll also be pleased that your place is occupied. But car insurance is more strict, so it's wise to get licence details from visitors and include them on your insurance."

So how do you go about arranging a swap?

* Decide when and where you want your holiday.

* Register your property with an exchange agency, costing £30 to £150, depending on how much publicity you want.

* Describe your property on the agency website. Remember US swappers love historical details; also say whether you are including a car, second home or boat. Provide digital pictures.

* When you find a property in the location you prefer, make e-mail contact and exchange more details and photographs;

* If you decide to swap, complete a formal agreement.

* Contact your insurers to get cover for your property when you are away and for your visitors to use it (and car, second home or boat).

www.homelink.org.uk, 01962 886882

www.homebase-hols.com, 020-8886 8752

www.intervac.co.uk, 01249 461101

www.homes-seekers.co.uk

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