Holidaymakers searching for a summer break have a tough challenge this year. Foreign travel restrictions due to Covid have thrown plans into disarray and UK accommodation is filling up quickly.
But for those looking for a cheap getaway as Covid restrictions are lifted from tomorrow, a house swap might be just the answer. Such an arrangement allows you to stay at someone else’s home at no cost while over the same time period they stay at yours.
The concept is built on trust: you look after their home as if it were your own, knowing they are doing the same for yours.
Saving: Simon and Jane Perkin (pictured) – swapping their home in the Midlands for stays in Bath, Edinburgh and the Brecon Beacons
You do not need to live in a fancy mansion or penthouse to do a house swap. In fact, so many are looking for a change of scenery after months of restrictions, that we are simply happy to be somewhere – anywhere – different.
A key appeal of swapping homes is that it need not be like-for-like. A humble rural retreat might be just the ticket for someone living in a property close to lots of amenities – and vice versa.
To find a house swap, start by asking family and friends if they would consider a week or two in your home in exchange for the same length of time at theirs.
If nothing suits, you could consider using a specialist website such as HomeLink UK, Love Home Swap or HomeExchange.
These charge an annual subscription to share details among thousands of like-minded people looking for a swap.
No money changes hands. You both agree to use each other’s household energy and internet, as well as a few extras, perhaps such as access to bikes and games.
It’s more fun than a hotel
Simon and Jane Perkin have planned four free holidays this year
Simon and Jane Perkin have planned four free holidays this year – thanks to house swaps.
They are swapping stays at their four-bedroom house in Warwickshire for holidays in the Brecon Beacons, Peak District, Bath and Edinburgh.
Simon, Jane and their son Ed have enjoyed house swaps through HomeLink UK for more than a decade.
Simon, a business and wellbeing consultant, says: ‘It has opened up a wonderful world of luxury holidays and fabulous short city breaks – saving us thousands of pounds. We find it is often more relaxing and fun than staying in an impersonal hotel.’
He adds that house swaps have a few hidden benefits. ‘Having someone in your home can help deter burglars, and guests can sometimes help out with watering the garden and even feeding pets,’ he says.
Household buildings and contents insurance should cover for any accidental breakages or damage.
However, to be extra safe it might be worth considering additional cover using a specialist insurer such as Guardhog, where you typically pay from £1.50 a day to protect against guest damage and public liability.
Caroline Connolly, a director at HomeLink UK, says house swaps are built on friendship and trust, and as such can be a much happier arrangement than paying for accommodation. ‘There is no dreaded Tripadvisor critical customer mentality because both sides want nothing more than to be a good guest,’ she says.
HomeLink UK has seen twice the number of homeowners signing up this year. The most sought-after destinations include Cornwall, and coastal areas around North Yorkshire, Norfolk and the South of England.
However, there is also strong demand for a modest change of scenery, which means you do not have to live in a palace to enjoy trading places with a likeminded family.
Subscription fees for an outfit such as HomeLink, with 8,000 properties on its books, are usually £115 a year.
This year, HomeLink UK has offered a special discount of a £50 subscription for new members who only want a break in Britain and are happy limiting themselves to a choice from 700 homes. HomeExchange charges $150 a year (£110) and Love Home Swap starts at £96 a year.
While you do not have to live in a show home to do a swap, it is important to keep it clean, comfortable and welcoming.
Because of the pandemic, it is essential to clean all work surfaces and make sanitisers available throughout.
It also helps to be flexible in these challenging times. ‘It has been wonderful to see how understanding people have been over the past few months,’ says Connolly. ‘But because of the pandemic it might be necessary to cancel or rearrange at short notice.’
A few simple ground rules should also be set to avoid any confusion or problems occurring.
When agreeing a house swap, you should sign a contract laying out rules and a clear understanding of what to do in the event of a problem, such as a last-minute change of dates or if something valuable is accidentally broken. You might also like to exchange references through a house swap agency.