Thursday, April 23, 2009

Home swap vacations: Cheap — but with risks

It's an alluring vacation idea in a recession: To beat pricey hotel rates, you swap homes with a family in the city you want to visit.

But when push comes to shove, you might have doubts about home exchange programs that open your home to strangers and the possibility of theft, property damage or injuries.

As people look for ways to trim traveling costs this summer, the risks and rewards of home swapping are getting closer scrutiny. In a perfect world, the idea is to save money and get a glimpse of life among local residents, all while keeping the conveniences of home.

"Home exchange isn't just about money. It's about getting off the tourist track and really caring about what other cultures are like," said Helen Coyle Bergstein, founder of the swapping site based in New Paltz, N.Y.

That said, here's what you need to know to arrange a successful home swap

Q: How does it work?

A: The traditional home swap is when you trade places with another homeowner at the same time. There are other ways to do an exchange, however. You might go on a cruise while they stay in your home, then they might hunker down with relatives when you visit.

Without hotel ratings to give you guidance, be prepared for varying accommodations. Asking the right questions should prevent unwelcome surprises.

Q: Are there any costs?

A: You'll most likely need to pay for membership to an online home exchange site. This gives you access to a bank of listings and boosts your chances of finding a suitable swap.

Membership fees vary, but are usually between $40 to $100 for a year.

Q: How do I know people are trustworthy?

A: Home exchange sites don't screen members, so you need to do your homework.

As with eBay or other peer-to-peer sites, home swappers can be rated after a stay. Don't be shy about reaching out to reviewers. Ask about their experience. Did the swappers keep the house clean? Did the online photos accurately portray their home?Q: How do I protect against property damage or liability due to injuries?

A: Generally, home exchange partners are treated as any other guests under homeowners and renters insurance policies. So if your exchange partner breaks your lamp or steals a computer, you're covered, according to Kate Hollcraft, a spokeswoman for Allstate. The normal deductibles apply.

Q: What if one of us has to cancel the trip?

A: There aren't many options to protect against trip cancellations. But one option is getting a policy offered through CHECtravel. The policies, which are written by TravelGuard, start at about $15, or 5 percent of the coverage amount up to $50,000.

Q: What is the most common reason for dissatisfaction?

A: Cleanliness. Standards vary widely, so be honest about your housekeeping and don't be afraid to ask about your partners.

Don't rely on photos alone. If you're afraid of seeming rude, volunteer information about your own habits. Be sure to indicate whether you smoke or have pets.

Source: MSNBC


Dorothy said...

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