Try a House Swap
Kim Orlando, of Greenwich, CT, mother of three and the founder of travelingmom.com, is all about her annual two-week summer house swap with a family in Hermosa Beach, CA. She and her husband, Romano, and their kids head back to the Los Angeles area, where Kim and Romano used to live, to spend time at the beach and see old friends — and their swappers get to be a train ride away from New York City and its attractions.
This past summer, the Orlandos booked a second swap with a new family through homeexchange.com, which charges about $120 for yearly membership. Beyond that, the stay is (delight-) fully free, and about half the swappers on the site also offer use of a car. “My husband was a reluctant house-swapper. He’s a real Felix Unger type — he has a collection of pocketknives, which he hid before we left. But by the last house swap, he was saying, ‘Here’s the key, here’s the car,'” says Orlando. “I always say the best thing about house swaps is that the ketchup, mustard, and beach toys are already there. And nobody wants to pay 40 or 50 bucks for breakfast. With a swap, you have a kitchen, and the kids have their own bedrooms, so there’s less bickering.”
Orlando recommends having several get-to-know-you phone chats with the swappers before you leave, and paying for your house to be cleaned at the beginning of your visitors’ stay (so you don’t have to mop while you pack) as well as at the end so everything will be shipshape for your return. Also, check with your own insurance company, but many policies cover exchange partners as invited guests and perhaps even as permitted drivers, and offer coverage as such. Another way to go: List your home on Vacation Rentals by Owner (vrbo.com), and when someone bites at your offer, scan the site for what’s available out of town for a similar price and rent it for the same time period.
Tip to try: Want to list your home but don’t live, say, by the beach or in a glamorous city? Play up your area’s selling points: Being surrounded by woods, or being just a stroll from a historical society, may be precisely what thrills another homeowner.