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A Worldwide Web of Home Swaps


By now the benefits of home exchanging are familiar to many: Two parties--singles, couples or families--swap homes for an agreed-upon period, gaining the comforts and economies of living at home while staying in another town or on another continent. Intervac, based in the Bay Area, founded the first home-exchange agency in 1952, and dozens have sprung up since.

Home exchanging is based on trust, but it isn't blind trust. If you are concerned about having strangers in your home, remember that you're staying in their home at the same time. Usually the exchanging parties get to know each other by phone, mail or e-mail well before the swap; some exchangers arrange to meet at the start of their vacation, even if only for an hour at the airport. You may be further reassured to have a friend or neighbor act as your "agent," stopping by to greet the exchange partners once or twice during their stay.

Home exchange agencies say theft is not a problem; if there is friction, it's usually caused by a difference in housekeeping standards. But accidental damage can happen, of course, which is why it's wise for a family with young children not to exchange with a childless antique collector. (On the other hand, when two families with children of similar ages exchange homes, they are often delighted to find new and different toys.) Homeowners' liability insurance covers exchange partners as it would any other house guests.

Until recently, exchange services published their listings in printed directories, usually issued three times per year. Prospective exchangers paid to have their homes listed; when they received the directory, they perused the listings and contacted each other by mail or telephone.

Now the industry has largely shifted operations to the Internet. Those interested in exchanging scan listings online, contact prospects by e-mail and have an answer in a day or two without incurring postage or phone expenses. Though most agencies will also do business by mail or phone, the benefits of using the Web are clear.

The agency acts as a clearinghouse; your membership fee covers your home's listing and gives you access to other members. (Many agencies will let nonmembers browse their listings to see what they offer, but in most cases, member contact information, such as an e-mail address, is available only to other members.)

Exchanges are arranged by the members themselves, not by the agency. As a rule, no money changes hands between exchangers.

The services below have listings for properties worldwide. Many offer vacation rentals, free or paid hospitality exchanges ("You be my guest, then I'll be yours"), youth hospitality exchanges and/or house-sitting besides standard home swaps. Exchange properties vary from houseboats and RVs to modest apartments to estates.

This list is not exhaustive. Agencies that did not respond to telephone or e-mail queries were removed, and with a few exceptions, very small agencies, foreign-based agencies and niche services that specialize in exchanges between, say, gay and lesbian, Christian, academic, senior or disabled clients are not included here. Find these by typing the appropriate phrase ("seniors home exchange") into an Internet search engine., P.O. Box 106, Hoboken, NJ 07030; (800) 974-6860, fax (201) 792-5031, Founded 1999; about 1,800 listings. Site lets members rate their exchange partners, post messages online and download sample exchange or rental agreements and vehicle use authorizations. Contact available to members only; listings $49.95 for two years., 16654 Soledad Canyon Road, Suite 214, Santa Clarita, CA 91387; (800) 848-7927 or (661) 298-0376, fax (661) 298-0576, Founded 1986; about 3,500 listings. Contact available to members only; listings $30 per year. .

Global Home Exchange, 6140 Kirsten Drive, Nanaimo, BC, Canada V9V 1J7; telephone/fax (250) 756-6177, Founded 1997; 500 to 1,000 listings. Offers short-term listings (two, three, six or nine months) as well as one, two or three years; fees range from $8 to $57. Contact available to nonmembers.

Green Theme International, 9 Rue des Insurges, 87130 Linards, France; 011-33-555-084-704, Founded 1990; about 2,000 listings. Contact available to members only. $30 per year for online listing; $79 per year to be listed online and in printed catalog (published three times yearly)., 11024 N. 28th Drive, Suite 200, Phoenix, AZ 85029; (602) 604-1537, fax (602) 938-0163, Founded 1997 in England, 2001 in U.S. About 500 listings, most in Britain, Australia, Canada, U.S. Contact available to nonmembers; listings $37.50 per year.

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