After Kelley and I finished redecorating her apartment a few months back, we began working on Phase II of our summer plans: Finding an appropriate home swap in London. Believe me when I say this: Finding a home swap isn't as easy as plopping in front of a computer and chatting away to Kate Winslet about the male population in Cotswold. No, finding a home swap feels like what online dating must feel like: The tentative introductory email with photos...the waiting on tenterhooks for a response...and then the feelings of inadequacy when your home has been rejected...or elicited no response at all. We tried out not one, not two, but three total home exchange sites: HomeExchange.com, HomeLink.org, and Home Base Holidays. If you've ever been interested in home swapping, check out our reviews of these three sites after the jump...
Perhaps the most famous one of all, HomeExchange.com is indeed the site featured in The Holiday. (And in case you don't pick up on that immediately, there's a rather prominent photo of Jack Black and Kate Winslet on the home page). This site is probably the most user friendly of the lot: Clean layout, easy searches, and each home's summary has all the necessary facts (people in the party, home accommodations, destination, dates, what kind of exchange, etc). Oh, and there's no online chat service offered on the site, despite what was depicted in the movie. However, despite all the nice features that HomeExchange does offer, we got the least luck on this site. Most people we contacted didn't respond at all, but the ones that did were friendly and helpful. HomeExchange has different tiers of membership, but the standard one is $99.95/yr.
HomeLink may not have all the bells and whistles that HomeExchange does, but they do have a lot of little features that proved to be extremely useful. Firstly: You can map out exactly where the home is located versus relying on a description. So many places we looked at would say, "Close to Central London," before we found out that it was more like a 45 minute tube ride to get to Regent St. Secondly, you can actually see the response rate of each member. And thirdly, their messaging system kept track of all the people we contacted, even while we were searching through listings. We received responses from 90% of the people we contacted, and even though we didn't find an exchange on this site, we'd rank this site higher than HomeExchange. There are different membership packages available on HomeLink (you can opt to get a printed directory every year); and they do offer a free membership the second year if you don't find an exchange within the first year.
• Home Base Holidays
A few weeks had gone by, and both Kelley and I were getting depressed about home swapping. In fact, if you are wanting to do a swap, start planning as early as possible. Most homes are settled on swaps a good year in advance, especially those with families. Thankfully, one of our coworkers in London, Denzyl, sent us a link Home Base Holidays, a site that he and his wife had listings on. This site organizes information like HomeExchange, but it does include a few of the same useful features that HomeLink has, especially the email threads. While HomeLink has more family-friendly users, Home Base Holidays seems like it caters to a younger crowd: There were more 1 and 2 person listings than the other two sites--and lo and behold: We found a swap with Kelley's flat within the first 10 minutes of signing up and posting photos! Home Base Holidays is about $80/yr, depending on the currency rate (£49).
Have you done a home exchange before? Share your experiences with us in the comments--what site did you use? Did you have any pre-negotiations before the swap? Was it better or worse than you expected?
(Image: Columbia Pictures)