There are few phrases more evocative of childhood than, “I’ll swap ya!”
Usually it’s a dinosaur egg for a half-eaten lollipop, or a dog-eared book for a shiny new trinket.
In other words, it’s not “even-steven”.
So how does it work when the item being swapped is a little more expensive? Like a house?
Australian company House Swap Holidays has seen growth of 80-100 per cent year on year, since 2010. It’s based on the economic model of “collaborative consumption” – shared access to products or services.
In the US, HomeExchange.com has organised more than 400,000 swaps.
Increasingly, abodes are switched in shorter spurts, for a weekend or fortnight.
Like Mrs Mangle, I love rifling through someone else’s digs: looking at books in the library, playing with kitchen appliances, waltzing through wardrobes. But – hang on – that means they can do it too.
This is the key to the success of a home swap: mutual respect.
“It’s all about building trust,” according to Bee Cogger from HouseSwapHolidays.com.au.
“Getting to know your home swap partners before the swap and doing reference checks all help to form friendships, ensuring the process goes smoothly,” she says.
This is how it worked for single mother of two Kate Taylor, who exchanged her Hobart house for a plush apartment in a gated community on the Gold Coast.
“After that, I got an inquiry from a couple in Penang. I hadn’t even thought about going overseas for Christmas, but now I’m taking my boys to Malaysia for a month, with no accommodation costs,” she says.
Her advice? Lock up valuable and personal items: they’re not covered by insurance because you’ve invited these people into your home.
While the traditional home-swapper is a retiree with the flexibility to travel for long periods, families benefit the most.
Think about it: no accommodation costs; home cooking; free laundry; and the use of a car.
If you swap with another family, you’ll get a cot, highchair, stroller, bike, trampoline or swing set.
It’s perfect for larger families, who struggle to find affordable apartments. (My sister and her hubby have been known to pile all three kids into bed with them, which is not ideal for holiday romance…).
HouseSwapHolidays.com.au has plenty of homes left for Christmas, especially in the most popular destinations of Byron Bay, Tasmania and Queenstown.
And the cost? Annual membership fees across the different companies range from $65 to $130, with House Swap Holidays offering $39.90 for a limited time.
So, I have a slightly (actually, heavily) used house on the outskirts of Sydney. Anyone wanna swap? I might even throw in the kids, if they’re playing up. It’s a bargain, if you ask me.