How a house swap could save your summer and a fortune in holiday costs
Anyone who has seen the film The Holiday will have been tempted by the idea of home swapping.
The Christmas romcom sees Iris, played by Kate Winslet, trade an idyllic cottage in Surrey for an LA mansion owned by Amanda (Cameron Diaz) for a two-week holiday of a lifetime.
Now, 15 years after the movie premiered, home swapping is more popular than ever.
City life: Joanna and Kris Fleming had a week-long break with children, Archie, 16, Amelia, 15, and Poppy, 12, staying in a luxury four-bedroom mews house in London’s Notting Hill
The concept is simple. You stay at someone else’s house while they stay at yours — and neither of you pay a penny in accommodation costs.
Ordinarily, British holidaymakers are looking to trade their homes for properties in sunnier destinations at this time of year. But this summer, soaring numbers are seeking exchanges closer to home.
Ever-changing travel advice, costly Covid tests and the risk of having to pay to quarantine in a hotel means many families have been forced to ditch their usual trips abroad.
But with more people opting for a staycation, the cost of holiday accommodation has rocketed.
And with one Suffolk rental costing an eye-watering £107,000 for a week, it’s no wonder families are feeling priced out.
So could house swapping save your summer holiday? Joanna and Kris Fleming certainly think so.
The couple have just returned from a week-long break with their children, Archie, 16, Amelia, 15, and Poppy, 12, where they stayed in a luxury four-bedroom mews house in London’s Notting Hill that would ordinarily cost around £1,000 a night to rent.
But by agreeing to swap their four-bedroom, three-storey house just 50 metres from the beach in St Austell, Cornwall, for the duration, they were able to stay for free.
Kris, 47, who runs a retail business, says: ‘House swapping is an absolute no-brainer when you are tied to taking holidays out of term time when prices rocket. This is particularly true this year with the demand for staycations so high. Swapping homes means we can travel in style.’
By the sea: The Flemings’ four-bedroom, three-storey house just 50 metres from the beach in St Austell, Cornwall
The Flemings enjoyed a fun-packed itinerary during their seven-night stay — lunch at Ronnie Scott’s Soho jazz club, a theatre trip to see The Lion King, a picnic in St James’s Park, shopping at Portobello Market and a day at the Natural History Museum.
Kris adds: ‘We don’t mind spending money on things like theatre tickets and some meals out in smart restaurants when we’re not having to fork out huge amounts for accommodation.’
Families like the Flemings use websites such as HomeLink, Love Home Swap or HomeExchange to arrange swaps.
You pay an annual subscription, typically around £100, for your home to be on the site.
Love Home Swap says it has seen a surge in new members every month this year, recording a 26 pc rise between February and March — around the time the Government announced its roadmap out of lockdown.
And Caroline Connolly at HomeLink adds that travel restrictions mean more people are swapping with other British families this year, rather than owners based abroad.
The key to boosting your chances of being noticed is to compile a clear, friendly description of your home with great photos.
If you find a swap you’re interested in, you just need to ensure your property is left squeaky-clean, clear some space in the wardrobes and lock away any valuables.
But because you are not renting the home, you don’t need to put away all your belongings.
In fact, home swapping is popular among families because it means they don’t need to pack their own toys, bikes and beach equipment.
Alison and Spencer Jago, from Plymouth, estimate they have saved around £2,000 on two holidays via HomeLink so far this year by not having to pay for accommodation.
Alison and Spencer Jago, from Plymouth, (pictured with daughter Emily) estimate they have saved around £2,000 on two holidays via HomeLink so far this year
Alison, 49, says: ‘Our friends often ask how we can afford to go away so often. House swapping means we can travel as much as we have time for without worrying about depleting savings.’
Alison and Spencer, 48, who both work as civil servants, enjoyed a week with their daughter Emily, 12, in a pretty house in a small village just outside Bath during the Easter holidays.
‘We had gorgeous walks on our doorstep and Bath nearby, where we did some shopping.’
During May half-term they stayed in a cottage in a village near Oxford where they could explore the Cotswolds and enjoy a day trip to Henley-on-Thames.
Over the past eight years the Jagos have swapped homes 22 times. Alison estimates they have saved £40,000 on accommodation costs.
‘In all that time there’s only been one occasion where we arrived at a house which wasn’t as clean as I would have liked.
There’s lots of trust involved but you meet some really nice people by swapping. There’s a lot of contact on email and phone with the other family, so you build up trust beforehand.’
The Jagos have previously house swapped with families in France, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Australia and Canada.
‘Going abroad is exciting but this year we’ve really enjoyed exploring parts of the UK that we’ve never visited. The beauty is that people contact you from places you might never have thought to visit. You never know where the next swap will take you.’
Jo and Davey Watkins, from Mumbles in Swansea, have been swapping their home for years. They recently had a family staying in their seaside home, where they live with their four children Polly, 14, Jinks, 12, Tom, eight and Meg, six. Instead of swapping, the Watkins family went to stay with friends in west Wales.
Experienced swappers: Jo and Davey Watkins, from Mumbles in Swansea, with children Polly, 14, Jinks, 12, Tom, eight and Meg, six
Their home is listed with Love Home Swap, which operates a reward system. You earn points by having people in your home that you can exchange for a swap another time. How many points you earn depends on your property and the length of stay.
Jo, 47, who co-founded website TheHowPeople.com and Davey, 50, an anaesthetist, are saving points for a holiday abroad next year. Jo says: ‘We have our hearts set on a big holiday to Italy with other family members.
‘Since we are not sure we could tally up a straight swap, we are allowing lots of families to stay at our home this summer to build up points so we can stay for free.
‘We are lucky we have friends to stay with, as it means we can vacate our house and allow other families to have a well-earned break. And for us it means we’re another step closer to our own trip.
‘It’s been such a difficult time for everyone lately, and there’s a real feelgood factor to knowing another family are having a holiday which doesn’t mean raiding their savings.
‘The family we have staying now are from a sleepy village in Hampshire and are so excited just to be somewhere where they can have a pizza delivered to their door.’
While there are enormous savings to be made, there are also some practicalities to consider. You must inform your home insurer and ensure your contents insurance covers accidental damage.
Insurer Direct Line says there may also be other exclusions, such as vandalism. If you do not have a family member or neighbour who can hand over the keys to your visitors, you may need an outdoor lock box where guests can access the keys using a code.
If you experience any problems, report the owners to the website you used — and be sure to check reviews before you book.
And, until you have agreed to a swap, stick to exchanging messages through the website rather than via email or phone.
Most sites will also offer an identity check service to ensure your guests are who they say they are.
THIS IS MONEY’S FIVE OF THE BEST HOLIDAY MONEY DEALS
Starling Bank’s current account allows free purchases and cash withdrawals abroad. The bank also offers up to 0.05% interest on balances up to £85,000. The account is managed by smartphone app only.
The American Express Premium Plus Credit Card offers a 25,000 free Avios boost when you spend £3,000 in the first six months after opening. It pays 1.5 Avios per £1 spent and carries a £195 annual fee. 74.7% APR.
Metro Bank will not charge you for using your card or withdrawing money from an ATM in Europe, but it will charge 2.99 per cent on both card purchases and ATM withdrawals (plus a £1.50 fee for the latter) for the rest of the world.
FairFX is offering This is Money readers a free prepaid Mastercard currency card. It offers highly competitive exchange rates, no foreign transaction fees and low cash withdrawal charges abroad. Comes with a £10 bonus when you top up.
Santander’s Zero Mastercard credit card offers fee-free spending and cash withdrawals worldwide, with 0% interest on all purchases for 12 months from account opening. Representative APR of 18.9 per cent.
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