House swapping - Stepping into somebody’s else’s life

Fancy visiting a far-flung destination or just popping to somewhere in Europe, but your budget doesn’t stretch to accommodation? Then maybe house swapping is for you, says Nuala Woulfe.

HOUSE-swapping used to be so unusual it featured in movies, such as The Holiday or Tara Road (Maeve Binchy house-swapped to research her bestselling book). House exchange is more common now, and popular with Irish expats.

“We’ve Irish people wanting to come home from countries like New Zealand, but don’t necessarily want to stay with grandparents, and they’re finding it difficult to get property here. Fortunately, some people in Ireland, who want to go ‘Down Under’ to visit family, are realising the benefits of home exchange and are now making their property available,” says Marie Murphy, of www.homelink.ie.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii from lovehomeswap.com

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House-swappers are of every nationality and from all parts of the world and they’re not put off by the Irish weather. You don’t have to have a house in a tourist area to attract visitors to your home; a suburban house will appeal to the mostly American, German, French or Spanish tourists who favour Ireland. Even pets are not a disadvantage; your holiday guest may be happy to feed your cats or water your prize tomatoes while you’re away.

“We’ve 500 people in Ireland who are part of an international network of 14,000 house-swappers. The fee is €120 and, for that, you upload your full listing and 20 photos. Members can even house swap within their own country, but mostly people want to go abroad,” Marie says.

Cape Traverse, Canada from lovehomeswap.com

France is the destination most desired by Irish people and Marie says house-swapping is a fab way to go abroad. “If you want a house in a very specific area, for rigid dates and it has to have a pool or other ‘must haves’, you’re going to be disappointed. You also have to do a bit of work yourself, like answer emails, where you’ll need to be friendly. Writing back one-liners is not going to make other people feel comfortable,” says Marie.

Dublin teacher, Anne O’Reilly, house-swapped with Homelink for the first time last year and her experience was so positive that it’s the only type of holiday she wants from now on.

Anne O’Reilly with Ben, Josh, David and Ronan at Versailles

“I knew other teachers who’d tried home exchange and I decided to give it a go. We’ve four kids and, last year, we stayed in a house in Versailles, outside Paris, where we swapped cars and that worked out fine. This year, we’re going to Toulouse and the house even has a pool. I stayed in contact with the person we swapped with last year, and we might do a youth exchange in the future. You tend to build up a relationship with the person you swap with. I think it’s a more authentic experience than just booking somewhere abroad,” she says.

Mum-of-two Joanne O’Donnell, from Killaloe, County Clare, went on her first home exchange last year, with UK-based company, lovehomeswap.com.

Joanne O’Donnell with her sons, Ben and Sam, on holidays in London. 

“A woman from London wanted to come to Killaloe for a family reunion and asked if we’d be interested in London, which wasn’t even on our radar at the time. Everything was done via the website and it was very secure.

“We skyped each other a few times and I thought, ‘why not?’ Theirs was an architecturally designed house in Fulham, with a lovely garden. The cost-saving was immense and the house was very child-friendly. We also had a list of contacts, in case anything went wrong. I haven’t swapped since, but I stayed in contact with the lady in London, and if I was thinking of going to America next year I’d be interested in house exchange again,” says Joanne.

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