House swap

Beach homes in Malibu

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LISA NAPOLI: Imagine letting a total stranger into your house. We're not talking about Santa Claus. We're talking about home-swapping. Marketplace's Tess Vigeland says it's an increasingly popular way to vacation on the cheap.


TESS VIGELAND: Gordon Schaye and his wife Carmen have lived on their seven-acre ranch south of Los Angeles for ten years.
GORDON SCHAYE: Show you our animals over here in the corrals. We have six geese, two goats and two sheep.

The house on a hill boasts a spectacular view of Pacific coastline. The Schaye's primary residence might as well be a vacation retreat. And for numerous U.S. and European visitors, it is.

The Schayes are part of a growing vacation phenomenon called home-swapping. You go online, offer your home, decide where you want to go, figure out the dates then swap.

SCHAYE: We've gotten offers in the last month from Paris, from London, from Rome.

Often home swappers will care for one-another's pets. They'll use each others' cars. Gordon and Carmen say there are all kinds of benefits to vacationing in someone else's house.

CARMEN SCHAYE: You really get a sense of the culture and the lifestyle of a community as opposed to being a tourist.

GORDON SCHAYE: I think one of the big upsides is financial, you save $200 to $300 a day on a hotel. You save on restaurants, you can cook at home.

The Schays use an online service called HomeExchange.com. Later this year the site will get the kind of publicity most companies only dream about: It was featured in a movie starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet.

Ed Kushins founded the company in 1992. He says the business has changed since then.

ED KUSHINS: 10 years ago it was primarily teachers and retired people, and now it's young singles, young families.

And, still, retired couples, especially Boomers with second homes.

It costs $60 a year to join HomeExchange.com and after that there's basically no cost except transportation to your swapped home.

There is one requirement that home-swappers say is a must for any participants: flexibility. Both in when you want to vacation and in how you want to vacation, especially when going abroad.

But the biggest hurdle — and the first thing people tend ask about — is how to get over concerns about letting strangers stay in your home.

Doris Sundly and her husband Jerry have been handing over the keys to their Craftsman house in Long Beach since 2001.

It's three and a half blocks from the sand.

DORIS SUNDLY: We just last week had a couple stay here in our home from Toronto. You just have to have this kind of trust thing. And the quality of people that do this, they're just great people.

Exchange websites do provide contracts to sign saying each party is responsible for paying, say, if somebody breaks a dish.

There's no money exchanged so most home insurance companies consider home swappers just guests. Still you should check with your insurer.

And then start swapping.

In Los Angeles, I'm Tess Vigeland for Marketplace.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

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