Exchange homes for a low-cost holiday abroad
House swapping has been around for decades - a low-cost way of living like a local in some sunny spot - but it has become a runaway success in the past few years as cash-strapped families try to find ways to afford that all-important summer holiday.
In the UK, Devon, Cornwall, the Lake District and Scotland are some of the most popular exchange destinations. Overseas, homes in Spain, Italy, France and the United States are particularly sought after. Read on for Cheapflights.co.uk's top tips for successful house swaps:
Find the right agency
There are several online agencies dedicated to home swapping. There are some free ones, but most will charge an annual fee. Before you commit your cash, have a look at the number of houses in the places you'd like to visit. And make sure the images are large and luscious and there is plenty of space to describe your house and yourself, "child-friendly, pet-loving" family will strike a chord with similarly-minded folk.
Italy. August 22-29. Four-bedroom house, south-facing garden with a resident llama. Perhaps a little specific. Leave your destination open and see what comes up.
You're swapping your home and, in essence, your life for a couple of weeks. Accept that there will be little quirks, your swapees may have a giant dog that will expect to sleep in the bedroom every night and you might be expecting your "guests" to feed your son's pet rat each evening.
Sign a contract
Several agencies will have a contract that both parties should sign. A contract should cover areas such as long-distance telephone calls (included up to a certain limit or verboten?), internet access, use of the family car or even Pay Per Movies on Sky. Obviously, too many regulations may put people off but by the time you get to the contract stage, you'll have had several exchanges with your prospective swapees and a bit of form filling won't be a problem.
Answer every enquiry you receive. You may not be keen on the proposed destination this year, but think of it as goodwill for future years. And once you’ve committed to an exchange, stick to it. Savvy travellers will know that the cheapest fares are available to those booking furthest in advance.
Clean, clean, clean
Give your house the spring clean of its life and arrange to store valuable items elsewhere. You'll also need to inform your insurance company that your house will be occupied while you're away and, if it's necessary, to arrange cover for your car.
You'll need to put out spare bed linen and towels. Some agencies recommend filling your fridge with the makings of a meal for the first night and a bottle of wine (or Champagne) is a welcoming touch.
It's in the handbook
Think about everything a stranger might need to know about your house and write it down. Start this as soon as you confirm a house swap. They'll need to know such prosaic details as the best local pub, the name of the local Tube station, and, crucially, when to put the bins out.
It's also a good idea to leave a short list of contact numbers for your guests, friends who might hold on to a spare set of keys or will be able to help out in a pinch.
Updated April 2013