Founded in 1992, the Home Exchange concept has been around for a while. But it was the release of the 2006 film The Holiday, starring Jude Law, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, that put the service on the map.
The idea is simple: list your home online so the Home Exchange community can view your property. Then you can start browsing all the profiles from users around the world to find the ideal place for you to do a potential house swap.
Home Exchange currently has more than 55,000 members in over 150 countries. To date, over one million exchanges have taken place using the website.
Users pay an annual fee (€95.40) to become a member. In return they can then use the service and stay in the home of their choice absolutely free. How many swaps they decide to do is entirely up to each user.
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Berlin-based Krisztina Pinter has been a member of Home Exchange since 2008. She's already done 14 swaps, from Canada to Israel, with her husband and two children since signing up six years ago.
“I saw the film The Holiday and then googled Home Exchange and found that it was a real website. My husband and I decided to give it a go to see what it was all about,” Pinter tells The Local.
Fancy a free stay in a New York City penthouse? Click here to join Home Exchange
Naturally, Pinter had concerns about throwing open the doors to her house to complete strangers. Key to the service's success is the commitment to communication. Users can inspect each other's profile testimonials, swap messages, and set up Skype calls before agreeing to any move.
You can also contact Home Exchange directly if you have any particular concerns.
“Our first swap was to France and it went really well. When we came back our house was cleaner than when we left!” laughs Pinter.
The mother of two says that one of the main attractions of the service - apart from saving a lot of money in accommodation fees - is how family-friendly it is, a vital consideration when travelling with young children who might get bored in a hotel room.
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“When you are staying in somebody else's house, it feels like you are really on holiday. You have a proper kitchen, toys for the kids, car seats, bikes and the rest. You can also do a car exchange which is another big saving,” she says.
Added to that is the peace of mind in knowing that your home is safe and occupied when you are away. There is also the appeal of plugging into a new community and living like a local.
And if you want to travel three months rather than just three weeks, it's good to know that Home Exchange isn't considered subletting, so there's no need to worry about confusing subletting rules.
In the hit film The Holiday the characters swap an English country cottage for a mansion in Los Angeles. With over 55,000 members, Home Exchange has something for everybody, from penthouses in New York (pictured above) to an authentic coffee farm listed in Sao Paulo (pictured below).
How much would you pay to have Brazilian breakfast here? With Home Exchange, it's free.
Users can tweak their searches to determine what kind of vacation they are after, among the choices are: family fun, weekend getaway, romantic, gourmet paradise and plenty more.
A large percentage of the users are expats and couples with an international background who are generally multi-lingual. The Home Exchange website is available in 16 different languages.
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“My advice would be for people to give it a try. Obviously you are going to save money and the membership fee is completely worth it, even if you just use the service once,” says Pinter.
“For my family doing a home exchange is a regular part of our lives every year. I associate hotel rooms with work and for a holiday you want to be a bit more comfortable.
“This is a great option if you enjoy travelling and want to meet new people.”
* This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Home Exchange