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Lois Sealey, Editor, Home Swappers
I am very pleased to publish an article by a real journalist in this, the 50th edition of Home Swappers Newsletter. Over to Edel:
'Okay, so the excitement of Christmas is most definitely gone and the rest of the winter and spring stretches ahead with apparently no sunshine or even warmth in sight. To relieve the January/February blues, most of us sit down and plan our summer holidays. This was us, last year when we knew we'd be off to Australia for the 50th Wedding Anniversary of my parents - a huge family event to be marked with as much fanfare as we could make. And so we started surfing for exchanges in Perth.
The home we could exchange is in Florida (we are Irish ourselves, but with our miserable summer weather here, reasoned that people would be more interested in the Sunshine State, than dreary suburban Dublin). Easy we thought! Well, not so. If you drill directly through the centre of the earth from Perth you come out in Florida - the exact opposite side of the world. Not many people were up for travelling that far. In fact we only had one couple interested in an exchange. They were English ex-pats living in Perth and travel home to England regularly - on one of their trips they were going to extend their holiday and go to Florida also. We offered them an "open-ended non- simultaneous exchange" as they were unsure when they could travel.
Exchanging is a "Leap of Faith" for both parties. You hope that someone is as house-proud as you are and will treat your home with the care and respect you will treat theirs. We were lucky, my family in Perth checked out the house and location before we committed but most of the time, this option is not available to people. We did speak to the couple over the phone and liked what we heard. Of course, when we travelled to Perth, we also met them and hit it off instantly. They were lovely and their home was gorgeous and we did indeed treat it with as much care as we treat our own.
In trying to organize an exchange to Europe this year, I have come up against a number of different obstacles. We have to offer a non-simultaneous exchange because our second home is rented out for the July/August period, but my husband's business shuts down in the second week in July and we are stuck to starting our holidays then. I assumed this wouldn't be a problem because planning to holiday in Florida in July and August with children is madness. It rains!! A lot!! From June onwards humidity is also very high and precipitation (rain) is guaranteed almost daily. The best time to holiday in Florida is actually April or October - before the heat of the summer settles in (but with temperatures still up in the high 20's and in October, after the rainy season, but before winter, when the temperature is in the low 20's). Perfect for sightseeing, park visiting, walking, and just enjoying the sunshine. Area knowledge is important and exchangers need also to pass this on.
Second homes for the most part are rented out by the owners. Ours is furnished with not only everything you need to make your holiday comfortable, but it is maintained to a very high standard. We rent to the American market - Americans don't do untidy, unhygienic or lacking in conveniences so every few years our home is stripped, repainted, recarpeted, re bedded, and everything is brought up to date - including bedspreads!!
And so, while exchanging is still a wonderful way to vacation, finding the perfect home and homeowners to swop with is sometimes not that easy. My advice: keep trying - that's what we're doing.' - Edel, HE19644
The photo shows Edel with her children while on holiday in Spain. Check out her exchange offer (and lovely photos) in Orlando (link below). Also see the blog post Edel recently contributed to on the advantages of exchanging to a second home. There are comments on this post already - do add your own.
In the last two issues of Home Swappers I hinted at a new project I have been involved in that would directly benefit Home Base Holidays members. At last I can reveal that Guardian home exchange, a new service operated by Home Base Holidays for Guardian News and Media Limited, was launched in January.
As far as I am aware, Guardian home exchange is the very first home swap service to be provided by a large news and media organisation. I am particularly pleased that, after tendering for the contract last year, Home Base Holidays was chosen to develop and operate this innovative new service for the Guardian.
The Guardian has had a major marketing campaign to launch the new service (full page ads in G2 - wow!) and there is a steady growth in the number of new members joining as a result. Home Base Holidays members have access to all home exchange offers from Guardian home exchange, in addition to listings already available from our partner agencies in the First Home Exchange Alliance (FHEA).
Do check out the new Guardian home exchange site (link below) developed by our programmer, Nick McAdden. The only difference in listings as seen on the Guardian site is the little blue 'G' house icon beside Guardian members' exchange offers in search results.
Catherine, who recently wrote a review of the e-book, 'Home Exchange Academy', has raised an important issue that other families are very likely to have encountered when first discussing the idea of a home exchange with their children:
'As our family discusses potential home exchanges, our daughters (age 7 & 9) are expressing a lot of anxiety about someone they don't know sleeping in their beds and touching their "stuff". I'd be interested in hearing from other families with children of similar ages about how they've addressed such concerns.'
It's not only children who may have problems with the idea of having 'strangers' in their homes and using their 'stuff' when first presented with the idea. However, Catherine is the first to raise this issue especially from the point of view of children and it will be useful to get feedback from experienced exchangers on how they have handled this with their own children.
Children in families that have been taking part in home swaps since they were babies or toddlers will accept home exchange and having guests in their homes while they are away as perfectly normal. But, it's understandable that older children in families considering home exchange for the first time may have concerns about allowing exchange guests to sleep in their beds and use their toys and games when they aren't at home.
Try to involve your children in your plans for a home exchange at an early stage. If they browse listings on the website with you, point out the positives of staying in a home (new toys, games, books, possibly local playmates) and of all the fun they would have exploring the area. Make it clear that you will have to consider a number of exchange possibilities so that they don't get their hearts set on one particular offer that may not be available.
If possible, exchange with a family with children of similar ages to your own. Encourage your children to correspond directly with the children in the exchange party, sharing information on their interests and what they enjoy doing, things they like to do in your neighbourhood that the guest children may enjoy too, exchanging photos of themselves and any pets, explaining how to care for pets, etc. Hopefully, the children will become email or social networking pen pals and, by the time the exchange takes place, should be fine with the idea of having new 'friends' sleeping in their beds and using their stuff.
Reassure your children that, although you will all leave most of your things (apart from personal items and clothing) for your guests to use, any of their special things (perhaps a 'baby' toy that they wouldn't want touched or might feel they would be ridiculed for still having) can be stored or locked away so they won't be seen or used by any of the exchange guests.
*Note: Catherine, shown in the photo with her family, is now a Home Base Holidays member. Check out the family's attractive exchange offer in Toronto, Ontario:
Casual family home in one of Toronto's most walkable neighbourhoods, a brief ride to the heart of downtown by subway (aka Tube) or streetcar. See the full exchange offer, HE20397.
Do get in touch (email link below) if you have other ideas to share on how best to deal with anxieties children may have about allowing exchange guests to use their rooms and belongings.
Many Home Base Holidays members are retired or semi-retired, with finally the time to enjoy travelling abroad for longer periods. Indeed, retirees make excellent home exchangers as they are often able to be very flexible on dates and lengths of exchange, to fit around the needs of exchange partners. However, as exchangers get older they are likely to find it more difficult to find suitable travel insurance cover, especially for lengthy trips to long- haul destinations. Add to this, pre-existing medical conditions and the search for travel insurance at an affordable cost is likely to be even more daunting.
Roger, a long time Home Base Holidays member and enthusiastic home exchanger, shares his own experiences that are likely to be of interest to many other members in similar circumstances. Indeed, Roger has kindly offered to answer individual questions from members (log on to your member area and access HE3866 to contact Roger):
'I have just completed an exercise to find an affordable annual policy for travel in Europe (we have - at least for the present! - given up flying) and thought that your older, less-than-100%-healthy members might be interested. Once you are over 70 and have to admit to daily medication (however trivial the condition concerned may seem!) your options become very limited - many of the comparison websites won't even consider you and all insurers (that I have found) require a lengthy phone call and additional premium even for a single-trip policy. However, Direct Travel Insurance Services of West Sussex have just insured two of us with high blood pressure and an under-active thyroid respectively for less than £150 for the next 12 months - with no increase on their quoted price because of these "pre-existing medical conditions". Not only have they accepted us, but the service was great: professional, friendly and very quick - the paperwork arrived 36 hours after the phone conversation. There is no limit to the TOTAL days away from UK in a year but each trip is limited to a maximum of 31 days (this is the Advantage Senior European Multi-trip policy) - probably enough for most people in the context of European exchanges? Direct Travel won't, however, cover people over 65 with a worldwide annual policy at all!'
Also check out information on moneysupermarket.com, that includes a directory of insurance providers who can help if you need travel insurance to cover pre-existing medical conditions. As Roger noted, you may not get direct answers from a comparison site when you need a combination policy to cover different aspects of your travel insurance needs but this might, at least, give you a good place to start for information.
Roger's exchange offer in Taunton, Somerset: Modern detached house with small garden. 10 minutes walk from town centre (shops, restaurants, etc) and 2 minutes from nearest supermarket; 2 miles from M5 motorway. Devon coasts (north and south) both only an hour away (traffic permitting!) and the Cotswolds and South Wales only slightly more. See the full exchange offer, HE3866.
Some time ago I published a post on the blog based on a question from a Home Base Holidays member, Allowing Use of a Computer/Internet Access by Home Exchange Partners: Any Potential Problems? Ian, who posed the original question, was mainly concerned with the legal position should a member of the exchange party have downloaded illegal material onto a computer. Although we still haven't come to a definitive answer on that particular question, there has been useful feedback from other members, one response published in an earlier issue of Home Swappers. Following from this, Maureen, an experienced exchanger from Australia, shared her own experiences, which any home exchanger with a monthly Internet tariff fixed by the number of hours of usage should take note of:
'I noticed the item on computer access on home exchanges so thought I'd add my tuppence worth ...
We were caught quite badly when we did a swap with some folk from France. Our programme for the Internet is capped at 400 gs which is normally quite sufficient. We didn't even consider mentioning this to our swappers so sure were we that it would be sufficient for their use.
However, they brought another couple with them (with our consent) and they discovered that they could read a French daily newspaper over the Internet. All four of them read it every day! So our usage skyrocketed to 2500 gs and we received a bill for $400 extra over our plan.
We of course picked up this cost and put it down to experience as we had not put any restrictions on our swappers for the use of the Internet. They also downloaded software that we were unable to remove on our return.
While we were at their home, unfortunately there was a wild storm and lightening hit the house and knocked out the Internet. With the language problem we were unable to get it fixed so were unable to use it whilst we were there. We found an Internet cafe and used this.
However, this experience did not bode well for our next swappers as we agreed not to use each others' Internet service and, instead, both used Internet Cafes!
So I guess this is a word of warning to clarify what is available and what parameters you expect to be honoured. Regards, Maureen'
Maureen's home exchange offer on Australia's Gold Coast:
'Our house is situated on Queensland's Gold Coast, magnificant beaches & tourist attractions. Excellent golf courses & the sun shines all the time - warm weather guaranteed any time of year. Our house is two story, has 4 bedrooms, three of which have en suite bathrooms and the fourth has a bathroom downstairs nearby. We have a swimming pool with spa and the rear balcony overlooks a lake so the views are spectacular.' See the full exchange offer and more photos, HE14532
Editor's Note: As some members now combine leisure and work while on exchange, if you are in this situation and need to have access to a computer, or at least a reliable, high-speed Internet connection in an exchange home, do make sure you clarify that this will be available before agreeing to an exchange.
A rogue agency, allhomeexchange.com, based in China, at some point joined and contacted members of all major home exchange agencies and copied listings from some sites without permission. We added an alert about this scam in the private member area on our site, and on our blog, as soon as we became aware that some members had been contacted. From reports received from other agencies, allhomeexchange.com is likely to have collected names and email addresses by joining several agencies for this purpose months ago. Although it would have been labourious to collect email addresses from our site, one at a time from responses to exchange offers, the private site based messaging system we introduced last autumn will now prevent this from happening again. No email addresses are shown in messages between members - you decide when you are ready to share any contact information, including your email address, with another member.
No legitimate business would ever send spam or allow another company to mail their members without permission. It is crucial that members never respond to any such unsolicited (spam) membership offers, no matter how tempting a 'free' offer may at first appear. The claimed 21,000 listings (totally unrealistically high number for a new agency) is rapidly dropping (at last count, a little over 2000) as the word gets out and members whose listings were illegally copied from other sites have demanded that their listings be deleted.
Although this scam has been widespread, affecting members of many home exchange agencies, very few people should be taken in by it. However, if you did respond to the invitation for a 'free' listing, all you have done is confirm that your email address is valid (which could lead to more spam).
I won't give it credibility by including a direct link but, if you registered with allhomeexchange.com, or find your listing on the site:
Home Base Holidays will continue to co-operate with other legitimate agencies and to alert the wider home exchange community to never respond to unsolicited messages from unknown sources. We need members to be vigilant too in order to thwart increasingly sophisticated scammers on the Internet. If in doubt about any home exchange related message you receive, please contact us before responding.
Some members do join more than one agency to increase their exchange opportunities. If you decide to do this, look for another well established club that charges a reasonable membership fee, includes full contact details on their website and has a secure private messaging system. Remember, if a 'free' offer looks too good to be true, it probably is!
Newsletter Contributions: We are always pleased to hear from members and subscribers and to receive contributions for the newsletter and weblog - short reports on your exchange experiences, tips you feel would be useful to those new to the idea of home swapping and any questions you have on home exchange. Please include 'home exchange' in the subject line when contacting us as messages with no subjects (or dubious sounding subject lines!) or unexpected attachments may end up in our spam folder and deleted unread.
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Be Alert: The Home Base Holidays private member area is for one-to-one exchange offers between members only, not for any other purpose. Please let us know if you receive any other type of message via your member area. Never respond to unsolicited messages from unknown sources.
Copyright: All Home Swappers content is copyright and cannot be used in any form without written permission from Home Base Holidays. However, please feel free to forward the newsletter (in full) to friends and colleagues who may be interested in home exchange (use the Forward Email link below the newsletter).
Further Information: Check the archives to read past issues of Home Swappers Newsletter. Also, don't forget to visit the Travel the Home Exchange Way weblog for regular information and updates plus special exchange requests. To receive notices by email whenever a new post is added (generally no more than three a week), add your email address to the box above 'Get email updates' in the left hand column of Travel the Home Exchange Way.
Home Base Holidays, London, UK 1985-2008: 23rd year providing a home exchange service worldwide