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Exchange websites offer a different way to vacation, experience a new place

There are many home exchange websites that offer the opportunity to exchange homes simultaneously or non-simultaneously. Kerry Brock and his wife, Mary Lawton, used a home exchange website to arrange to stay at this old farm house on the island of Oland off the Swedish coast, in 2014. (Courtesy of Kerry Brock)

There are many home exchange websites that offer the opportunity to exchange homes simultaneously or non-simultaneously. Kerry Brock and his wife, Mary Lawton, used a home exchange website to arrange to stay at this old farm house on the island of Oland off the Swedish coast, in 2014. (Courtesy of Kerry Brock)

If you’re handy with a screwdriver, love animals and are not afraid of a little housework, there is a world of travel opportunities out there.

A growing number of websites act as international matchmakers between folks eager to trade house-sitting duties with homeowners who want to go off on vacation knowing their pets and home will be cared for.

And if you’re interested in swapping your New Mexico home for the authentic experience of living in a Swedish farmhouse for a few weeks for free, there are websites for that, too.

Kerry Brock, a retired businessman who lives in Santa Fe, has done dozens of home exchanges with people all over the world since the mid-1990s. He and his wife have stayed in homes throughout North America and in New Zealand, France, Australia, Sweden, Bali and Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa.

The accommodations ranged from a tiny apartment in Paris to a 150-year-old Javanese-style home in Bali complete with two servants.

“It’s not for everyone, and it’s not right for every holiday,” Brock said. “But to us, it has been absolutely fabulous.”

Building a network

The couple did their first exchange through personal friends, but the arrival of websites that allow far-flung homeowners to post house photos and details online has made the process easier, he said. Saving on the cost of accommodation has allowed them to stay longer in destinations, sometimes as long as nine weeks.

It’s given them the opportunity to shop and socialize in the local community and appreciate other cultures in ways not possible when staying in a hotel or touring by bus. They’ve also made lasting friendships.

Kerry Brock and his wife, Mary Lawton, stayed at a home near this beach on an island off Madagascar in 2013. The couple, who are retired, have been using home exchange websites for many years to arrange visits to places all over the world. They have also exchanged homes with many people who have stayed in their Santa Fe home. (Courtesy of Kerry Brock)

Kerry Brock and his wife, Mary Lawton, stayed at a home near this beach on an island off Madagascar in 2013. The couple, who are retired, have been using home exchange websites for many years to arrange visits to places all over the world. They have also exchanged homes with many people who have stayed in their Santa Fe home. (Courtesy of Kerry Brock)

“You end up building an international network of acquaintances that mean something,” Brock said.

Brock has used HomeExchange.com and HomeLink.org for his arrangements. But there are many other websites, most of which charge a membership fee. Some cater to particular markets; Knok.com is mostly for families; International Vacation Home Exchange, IVHE.com, focuses on vacation or second-home swapping.

The exchanges can be simultaneous, as when the owners swap houses at the same time, or non-simultaneous, which can happen with second homes. Some exchanges include the use of cars.

The websites enable interested parties to contact each other in a secure environment. HomeExchange’s etiquette guide recommends allowing plenty of time for this stage. Parties have to get to know each other and feel comfortable about the arrangement.

“You have to ask yourself ‘do you feel comfortable with people sleeping in your bed, and opening your closets,'” Brock said.

He said they always set restrictions such as no pets, children or smoking in their home.

Joanna Marsh stands outside a cafe in Paris, which she visited through a home exchange arrangement. (Courtesy of Joanna Marsh)

Joanna Marsh stands outside a cafe in Paris, which she visited through a home exchange arrangement. (Courtesy of Joanna Marsh)

The details

While Santa Fe, with its historic buildings and art galleries, may be a more familiar destination, former New Mexico resident Joanna Marsh said Albuquerque has unique attractions.

“If I still lived in Albuquerque, I wouldn’t hesitate to promote my home,” Marsh said.

She said Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta would offer a great home exchange opportunity. Marsh now lives in Costa Rica where she has used both the home exchange and house-sitting websites for vacation arrangements.

Marsh said she and her husband are usually away for a month.

She shared these tips for promoting your home for a home exchange or house sitting situation.

Post details of your house sitting or home exchange request well in advance of the planned departure date.

“I’m a big believer in taking really good photographs. I like to see bedrooms, bathrooms and the kitchen,” Marsh said.

She always prepares an instruction manual with details about things like how to operate the washing machine – she’s found that Europeans are not familiar with U.S.-style washers – pet care, and useful phone numbers.

House sitting websites like MindMyHouse.com and HouseCarers.com show house requests for house sitting in locations worldwide. Some are very remote, requiring 4-wheel-drive vehicles. Some require house-sitters to be experienced with horses, or able to handle multiple dogs and cats. Others need competence in gardening or household maintenance. Some situations are paid, some not; references may also be necessary.

“I usually engage in lots of correspondence. I can sense if someone is sincere and I have a good feeling about them,” Marsh said. “I’ve maintained friendships with the people who’ve stayed in our house. It’s a nice way to meet people.”

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