Swap My Home? You Must Be Joking!

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My wife and I recently returned from our annual “pilgrimage” to the UK. We stayed for over a month, most of it in London. We have a small property there, but being financially challenged (or perhaps in my case just a thrifty Scotsman!), we rent it out all year round. So when we visit, we usually have to impose on friends with spare rooms; or kip down on bed-settees in our kids’ flats; or shell out for expensive and impersonal hotel rooms.

But not this time. No, we spent our month in London in the luxury of our “own” home: an ultra-modern, two-bedroom apartment in a gated community, perched on the picturesque edge of the Grand Union Canal in Brentford (near Kew and Chiswick, for those of you unfamiliar with West London). Our apartment came with all mod cons, such as a roof patio, 40-inch plasma TV, hi-fi, two bicycles… and even a 650cc motorcycle! Above all it came with space…… our own space. We were even able to throw dinner parties – a delight for my wife, who loves entertaining.

What is more amazing is that it didn’t cost us a penny! How did we do it? Simple: we exchanged our condo in central KL (Ampang Hilir) for that apartment in West London. While we were living it up there, our exchange partner was living it up here in KL.

How does it work? Well, you begin by signing up with a home exchange agency. Your details – along with those of your property, where and when you would like to exchange, and so on – are then published on the agency’s website. You meanwhile can browse and search the website’s database of other subscribers. When you find one or more properties you are interested in, you simply send the owners an email proposing an exchange (only subscribers can do this). The rest is down to negotiation between you.

You do need to be patient. Quite often the first people you approach, or who approach you, do not work out, due to wrong dates or other incompatibilities. But if you keep at it, you have a good chance of landing an exchange partner in a place and at a time that suits you. Obviously, the more flexible you can be, the easier it is to clinch an exchange.

When we tell our friends here in Malaysia (particularly Malaysians) about this, their first reaction is often one of horrified disbelief. Typical questions include… How can you open up your house to total strangers? How can you trust them? What if they wreck your place or steal your valuables?

Such worries are understandable. In truth, swapping your home does involve some risks. But so do most rewarding things in life! Moreover, there are good reasons why home exchanges are far less risky than they look.

A key factor is to look at your would-be exchange partners and their homes. I guarantee that you will be surprised. The vast majority of exchangers are not bohemian or impoverished. Quite the reverse. Most are mature established professionals (including many retirees like us). Their main aim, again like us, is to have a comfortable home-from-home – one that will enable them to experience and enjoy their destination country in a way that simply

would not be possible in a hotel. What’s more, many of the homes on offer for exchange (including a good number of second/holiday homes in fabulous locations) are simply stunning. Indeed, they put our modest KL hacienda to shame!

So my answer to sceptical friends is……Look at the people, their background, and how they keep their own home and contents – a home, incidentally, they are going to trust us with. Are such people really likely to trash our place?


Moreover, if for any reason you don’t like the look of particular exchangers, you can simply decline their offer. You can also stipulate any restrictions (for example, we won’t have families with young children; and we don’t allow smoking inside our property), plus any extras you do or do not wish to exchange (eg. we offer our car because we are keen to get a car at the other end, but you don’t have to).

I hope I have managed at least to tickle your interest. But in order to clinch the deal, let me tell you about our experiences. Our most recent exchange, this June, went off with barely a hitch. Not only did we enjoy our host’s home and its facilities; equally important, when we got back to our place, we found it virtually in the same state as we had left it over a month earlier.

That was, I admit, our first exchange from KL, and first for a number of years. However, when our children were younger, we swapped our then London home over half a dozen times – all of them successful and largely uneventful. And we now have plenty of future plans. Obviously to go back to the UK again. But also to Australia (we already have a week pencilled in at a family home in central Melbourne, plus plenty of other Ozzie offers), not to mention offers from Bali, Vietnam, Paris….

So what are you waiting for! Simply Google “home exchange” or “house swapping” or similar to bring up more websites than you will ever need. How to know which is best for you? Well, for a start look at how many subscribers they have in the countries you want to go to (most websites will let you browse this without first becoming a member). On some, you can also search for people who want to visit Malaysia. In the end, we signed up to two websites, one of which has produced most of our best exchange proposals.

Happy exchanging! If you want any more information or help,email me at [email protected]

Source: The Expat October 2010 Issue

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