Skip to content

The ultimate guide to house swapping

May 17 2020
10 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: At TPG, we paused traveling to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Local and federal governments around the globe are now debating the appropriate levels of isolation and distancing. Before booking that next trip, we recommend you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions. TPG is continuing to publish deals, reviews and general travel news to inform and prepare you for that trip, whether it is next month or next year.

Have you ever fantasized about trading lives with someone from a far-flung land, handing over your house keys and spending your days drinking rosé from the balcony of an apartment in Le Marais?

Well, you’re not alone. House swap companies have hundreds of thousands of members all around the world, each looking to trade lives — if only for a week or two. Play your cards right and you could have a great vacation for a fraction of the price, without leaving your house empty while you’re away.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

And though we cannot travel at the moment for the most part due to the coronavirus pandemic, house swapping could be a fun, safe yet unique way to holiday in the future, as you can social distance more effectively by avoiding crowded hotels and restaurants.

So if you’ve ever thought about a house swap holiday, here’s everything you need to know.

This lovely little place in Switzerland could be yours. (Photo courtesy of HomeExchange)

Choose the right company

There are plenty of different house swap companies to choose from, where you can browse potential homes, get in touch with other members and make all your arrangements. You’re far better off organizing a swap through a reputable company -- while most properties aren’t vetted, it’s far more secure to go through a proper system.

All of these organizations charge a membership fee, and most have a free-trial period so you can suss out the kind of places that are available before you commit.

HomeExchange charges $150 a year and has over 400,000 listings in 187 countries around the world. (Fun fact: This is the actual site used in the famous house-swap movie "The Holiday" and yes, they do see a spike in site traffic and memberships every Christmas.)

Another option with over 400,000 members in over 186 countries is Holiday Swap. Swaps can be done for just $1.

A home from home in Mexico? (Photo courtesy of HomeExchange)

Some only allow for traditional swaps. For example, you stay in each other’s homes at the same time. Others facilitate a nonreciprocal exchange -- HomeExchange has a GuestPoints system for those who wish to travel at different times. In this case, the host gets points that they can use in the future at another property — they’ll just stay somewhere else while their guests are visiting.

Be realistic, be honest

If you own a wisteria-covered town house in London's upmarket Notting Hill, you’ll likely have your pick of house swaps all around the world. But if you live in a dodgy studio in the suburbs, the owners of that beach house in Malibu probably won’t return your emails.

That said, there’s a plug for every socket. A lot of people are on the lookout for houses in quaint country villages, with just a pub and a church for entertainment. You might take your hometown for granted, but one man’s sleepy suburb is another’s dream getaway.

Read more: 9 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel

This stunning property could be yours to stay in Avignon, France. (Photo courtesy of HomeExchange)

It’s important to be brutally honest when describing your property, a fact that’s emphasized by Caroline Connolly, the owner of UK-based Home-Link.

“You should present your home in an informative and appealing way," Connolly said. “Add plenty of information about your home, your neighborhood and include attractions that can be reached within a day trip. Sunny photos are really important to show off what you have to offer."

Be flexible

Be flexible with your plans and you might discover a gorgeous little house in a place you’d never have dreamed of visiting otherwise, such as a converted chapel in England, or a treetop paradise in Colombia.

“One of the amazing things about home swapping is the serendipity of the travel experiences you find,” said Célia Pronto, managing director of Love Home Swap.

A gorgeous property in London up for a swap. (Photo courtesy of Love Home Swap)

“Often our Love Home Swap members join the platform with a specific destination in mind, but end up booking swaps in amazing destinations they had never considered before," Pronto said.

Send out lots of messages and see who takes a nibble.

Agree on all the facts beforehand

Once you’ve found your dream swap and got your dates sorted, it’s time to get in touch with the owners. There’s rarely a template for this, so the two owners can hash out all the details of their respective stays privately.

Will you ask someone to water the plants or feed the cat? Do you have to put the trash out on a certain day? Are you happy for someone to borrow your bikes? Do you need to wash the bedding before you leave or will you both get cleaners? Discuss all of these details long before you hop on a plane and everyone will be much happier in the long run.

Check your insurance

Most of the time, as no money is changing hands, your home insurance won’t be affected. But always check in advance just in case. If you’re going to be swapping cars, as some people choose to do, you’ll need to add their details to your policy.

You can swap homes in places as far away as South Africa. (Photo courtesy of HomeExchange)

Most house swap companies don’t offer any kind of protection (and it’s worth bearing in mind that properties are rarely vetted) but some, like HomeExchange, have a peace of mind guarantee, which includes coverage of up to $1 million in case of unexpected events, such as damage or nonconformity. Most sites allow for some form of feedback too, so you can see reviews from previous guests.

Be cool, guys

Your mom probably told you to always treat others as you wish to be treated. And that’s even more applicable when it comes to house swaps. Leave your guests a nice bottle of wine, stock the place with toilet paper and make a bit of space for them. You don’t need to empty your closets, but make a little room so people can hang up their clothes or unpack a little. You don’t want them to live out of a suitcase for a week.

Related: 7 far-flung and obscure spots to add to your bucket list

A place to yourself in Durham, U.K. (Photo courtesy of HomeExchange)

Think about what you don’t want them to touch, too. Do you have a nice bottle of 16-year-old single malt that you’re saving for a special occasion? Lock that away, lest your guests mix it with coke during happy hour. And if you have anything lying around you wouldn’t want your granny to see, make sure it’s safely tucked behind a locked door.

Think clean

Obviously, you’ll want to give your house a good scrub before anyone arrives. That means the things you usually put off, too -- tackle the dust bunnies under the bed, give the sofa a good vacuum and bleach the bathroom to within an inch of its life.

Some properties choose to reciprocally hire a professional cleaner for their respective homes before the other arrives, which is a nice guarantee that you’ll both be arriving at the same level of cleanliness. It might be something you want to do at the end of a stay, too.

Don’t forget to put out fresh cleaning supplies for your guests, like new sponges and cloths, clean tea towels and full bottles of washing up liquid and antibacterial spray. Make up the beds with clean, fresh bedding and leave plenty of towels.

Think about your home’s quirks

Do you have to give any houseguest a 10-minute list of instructions when they’re about to take a shower? Then get ready to write it all down. Think about any weird little quirks your house has and put them all in one handy document, preferably sending it on to your guests beforehand (a front door that sticks will be no fun after a long flight).

Fancy this sprawling property in Utah, U.S.? (Photo courtesy of HomeExchange)

Create a welcome document with everything they could possibly need. How to work the hot water, where to get the best pastries, how to turn the heating on -- everything.

Bottom line

Embrace it. The joy of house swapping is that it’s nothing like the traditional hotel experience. You get to effectively step into another person’s shoes and live their life for a few days. You might be a bit nervous about handing over the keys to your place to strangers — and vice versa staying in a strange house -- but follow this guide and you can unlock a whole new travel experience.

TPG featured card

Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 6X points
6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points75,000 points
Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

Annual Fee

$125

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees