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Home exchange, also known as house swapping, is an alternative means of travel accommodation, through which two parties agree to swap their homes for a set period of time, with no monetary exchange taking place. Its origins stem from low-cost vacation accommodation and are believed to date back to 1953, making it a pioneer in the Collaborative consumption movement.
Using the catchphrase, “You stay in my house while I stay in yours,” home exchange has been around since the 50’s. The proliferation of the internet since the 90’s has greatly increased its popularity, providing users with easier communication and a much larger pool of homes from which to choose. Many websites now offer services to a growing home exchange community, where people sign up, pay a fee, upload a profile and search for a match, using each site’s search tools.
Some estimates indicate that traveller participation in house swapping is consistently increasing by 15-20% per year. Summer is traditionally the peak season for house swapping, due to families traveling during summer vacations and house swapping allows families to try out a location for a short period of time while saving money over the traditional vacation costs and allowing them to take vacations that they may otherwise be unable to afford. It's estimated that families can save approximately $5,000 by swapping their homes instead of booking hotels and rental cars, though some may be uncomfortable with the idea of others using their home. Not all travelers are interested in house swapping solely to save money, but they also see it as a means of meeting locals, seeing relatively un-touristed regions and experiencing local culture. The internet has made the process of finding a swap significantly easier with a number of websites devoted to house swapping.
Conceived by the Swiss and Dutch Teacher Unions in the early 50’s, home exchange initially was meant as an economical way of travelling and improving understanding between people from different cultures and backgrounds. With no money changing hands between travelers, the initial home exchange networks can be viewed as pioneers of the principles that are now part of the collaborative consumption movement.
The expansion of the internet in the 90’s boosted the development of this innovative vacation lifestyle. The possibility of an increasing number of people to access large amounts of information and contact individuals around the world laid the ground for growth among the home exchange networks.
Originally an activity that relied on ads in printed catalogues, now any home exchanger can collect a variety of information about possible destinations, get to know a potential exchange partner in advance, read feedback from previous exchangers and get an idea about how they will fit into a particular home and locality.
Home Exchange Types
The definition of a home can include houses, condominiums and apartments, as well as boats and recreational vehicles. Out of the several types of home exchange, the most popular is simultaneous home exchange, where two members of a home exchange website trade their homes at a time convenient to both parties. Owners of second homes or summer houses have the option to do non-simultaneous exchange, opening their vacant homes to their exchange partner, then taking their turn later at their own convenience. Those who want to host guests in their home without leaving themselves can choose a hospitality exchange, where exchangers take turns welcoming each other into their homes at designated times. Some use home exchange for weekend getaways, while a growing number of freelancers who are able to work away from home and seniors might engage in long-term swaps or sabbatical exchanges.
Home Exchange Participant Profiles
Home exchangers tend to be educated and well-traveled. A 2008 survey conducted by homeexchangeguru.com shows that 92% have attended university, and more than 60% have done post graduate work. Though historically popular among the digital generation, a 2013 study by the University of Bergamo shows a wide cross-section of the public is now represented, with 28.3% aged 45–54, 18.7% 65+ and only 5.9% under 34. 52% travel with children or consist of groups of three or more, while 48% travel without children or in groups of two or less.
Home exchangers tend to be active, conscientious and culturally curious travelers. 84.3% of Bergamo respondents seek out museums and the great outdoors, over two thirds see the importance of environmentally friendly tourism, and 98% express interest in cultural heritage. Fair trade food (63%) and organic food (73%) are also important.
The study finds the strong degree of trust necessary in collaborative consumption, with 75% agreeing that most people are trustworthy. 93% are satisfied with their experience, with 81% having swapped homes more than once.
Home Exchange Benefits
While the most obvious benefit is saving money normally spent on traditional vacation accommodation, home exchange also provides the traveler with the opportunity to “live like a local” instead of a tourist, experiencing their destination’s day-to-day life in a way not previously possible.
Guidebook legend Arthur Frommer calls home exchange, "the single most sensible, logical and intelligent method of vacationing." Shelley Miller writes in the Huffington Post, “We experience the region like residents: We eat in a kitchen, gather around the fireplace in the living room and ride through the community on bicycles from the garage. We're part of a neighborhood not a business district.” 
Exchangers might also include items like cars, boats, RVs or sports equipment in the exchange agreement. Other benefits include access to washing machines, books, music, the internet, toys for the kids and the general comforts that come with home living.
How Home Exchange Works
1. Signing up. The user signs up with a service providing a network of members with homes, as well as the online tools needed to execute the exchange (See list below).
2. Creating a listing. Members create their own listings, consisting of a profile and a home description. Emphasis is put on providing as much information as possible, including neighborhood highlights and photos, in order to attract members who are looking for what the home has to offer.
3. Searching. The search tools on many sites allow members to filter searches by destination, date, number of rooms and number of travelers. Additional criteria might include home amenities and local attractions. Reverse search tools allow users to search for members interested in visiting their specific area.
4. Receiving and sending inquiries. Most sites allow members to exchange messages without revealing any personal details, until they are ready to reveal the details to their match. Members also receive inquiries from other members with homes located in their stated destinations.
5. Getting acquainted. One key aspect of home exchange is the idea that nobody exchanges homes with a stranger. Members get to know each other through the many emails exchanged while deciding dates and other arrangements and are also known to exchange phone calls and photos.
6. Etiquette during the exchange. Once a member is in their exchange home, it is understood that they treat it with the same respect they expect for their own home. Many specific house rules will have been previously arranged between the parties, and the rest is common sense.
Home exchange was the subject of the 2006 romantic comedy, “The Holiday,” directed by Nancy Meyers, in which a home swap between Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz leads to romance with Jack Black and Jude Law.
Due to the current slump in the housing market in the United States, houses are staying on the market for longer than anticipated and house swapping has evolved to help buyers and sellers find a more permanent match. As with more traditional house swapping, the internet helps prospective buyers and sellers find a match in their desired location. This form of permanent house swapping is more popular in the Sun Belt and other regions where the market is slower.
This system is not well-established and has a number of kinks that must be dealt with, including how to account for differences in the values of houses. In addition, lenders often must approve the swap and there may be issues related to the house's condition, capital gains and foreclosures that both parties must be aware of.
Currently, none of the house swapping web sites release numbers of successful swaps, and there is speculation by some that they are merely lead generation sites that charge an up front fee to post property without creating successful transactions.
There are also mechanisms for tenants of public housing to swap their homes. For example, UK law allows a system of mutual exchanges that have seen up to six homes swapped in one coordinated move.
Use in Ethnic Conflicts
A totally separate use of the term home exchange describes a method of avoiding violence in war-torn areas, in which an endangered ethnic minority in one neighborhood swaps homes with a member of the opposite ethnic group who is an endangered minority in their own neighborhood. Each minority resident ends up in a neighborhood where they are in the majority.'
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Home exchange.|
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