This is one of the most popular posts on my site, and my thoughts on this change over time, as do some of the facts in this post. So here’s the version for 2016. Check out the older versions for some good comments from 2015 and 2014 on home exchange networks my readers like and dislike.
When I decided to try out house swapping I was overwhelmed by the number of websites serving people interested in home exchange. I spent a few weeks going through them at random, and searching in vain for objective reviews or at least some overview information comparing the sites. I finally made my own comparison document of the sites that seemed like the best potential match for my purposes. But even after doing that I couldn’t pick a best one, so I ended up just joining three of them and hoping for the best. Now, after learning more about how house swapping works and what I want from a website, I’ve gone back and done a more comprehensive search for home exchange networks, dug through all of them to pull out relevant comparative information, and reviewed many of them individually.
I have identified 85 active home exchange websites: 12 are location specific and another 10 are predominantly in just one country or region, 30 focus on a specialty population (elderly, luxury homes, gay, etc.), and 33 are without a specific focus. There are new home exchange websites popping up regularly, but the older ones are also consolidating and/or shutting down, and this year’s assessment actually represents a pretty significant consolidation of the industry since I last wrote this in July of 2015 when I counted 108 active home swap sites.
Competition might seem like a good thing for improving products, but this is a case where too much competition is inefficient for the users. You only have to join one house swapping site, but that means you will only see homes listed on that site. And house swapping depends on your ability to find someone interested in visiting your town when you want to visit their town, so volume is especially important to improve your odds. Most home exchange networks cost money, and it takes some work to build a decent profile and go through listings, so ideally you want to only join one or two. This means it’s important to pick the site or sites that will best meet your house swapping needs.
So how do you pick which home exchange network to join?
There isn’t much information out there about the home exchange networks so I created a spreadsheet of them all and then wrote reviews of those that have a sizable membership as well as those that are new but show promise. I tried out the trial memberships where available, joined many of the sites, conducted multiple searches on each site to see how many houses turned up and I explored the features of each site.
You can find this spreadsheet with all the home exchange sites and relevant data on each one here.
You also need to think about what’s important to you in a home exchange network. I recommend starting with a list of your goals for house swapping. Below are some of the key considerations and goals to think about.
Do you have specific destinations that you want to visit? Will you be focused in one region of the world or do you want to travel to lots of different places? There are swap sites that are location-specific or that just have the majority of their listings in one area. If you only want to travel within Australia, join a site devoted to that rather than one that lists homes all around the world.
Do you have specific needs or a group of people with whom you want to swap? For instance families with children, vacation home owners, seniors, gay folks, etc. If so, you might benefit from a site devoted to your needs or demographic.
Other features offered by some networks that might be important to you include: house swapping insurance and/or security deposit, contract templates, and variations on timing and method of house swapping (see below).
Number of members
Size matters. And not just the overall number of listings on a website, but also the number of listings in places you want to travel. Where possible, in my reviews I’ve provided a breakdown of listings by continent, or for some sample countries. But I strongly recommend doing some searching yourself on any sites you are considering joining. Look at the results for cities you’d like to visit, and include the consideration of how many people on that site want to visit your city.
I started off with membership in three of the largest swap sites, but when looking for swaps to Spain I found that I was better off joining a site that is focused almost exclusively in Europe: Home for Home. Their largest country of membership is Spain and many people on the site are looking to visit the United States so this greatly increased my pool of options for a trip there. In the end that site was only useful for me for my Spain exchange and I ended up canceling my membership after that trip.
There are variations on how you can exchange homes. Here are the options that exist on home exchange networks:
- Simultaneous house swap – this is the traditional model where two parties swap houses for an agreed upon set of dates.
- Non-simultaneous house swap – Non-simultaneous works best with second homes, but is also useful for people going on vacation and leaving their home empty. In this case each party picks different dates for the swap.
- Swap points – earn points for letting others stay in your home while you are away (or while you are home), and then redeem those points to stay in any of the other homes participating in the program.
- Hospitality exchange – this allows people with extra space in their house to host visitors in exchange for being hosted themselves at some other date.
- Housesitting – not a common option, but a few websites offer listings for housesitting.
The Best House Swap Websites
People often ask me to just tell them which home exchange network to join. I think that’s a tricky question to answer because it really depends on your specific travel needs. As I update this post in 2016 I am even more hesitant to endorse specific sites because I realize that I’ve only done in depth testing on a handful of the home exchange websites out there, and a LOT of people read this post! But the title of this post sort of promised to tell you which ones I think are the best. So…. if you agree with me that size is important for increasing your odds of finding a match, and you want to travel to lots of places around the world and not limit yourself to one specific country or region, I think the following sites are very good options.
By my count there are only four sites with more than 15,000 listings: GuesttoGuest, HomeExchange.com, and HomeforHome. Of these, only the first two are generalist sites with no geographic or demographic focus. Below I recommend the two biggest sites as good bets for people to join, and then give my suggestion for the most useful of the sub-15,000 members sites. (Note: some home exchange networks claim far more members than I can verify on their sites, and perhaps you should believe their claims, but my recommendations are based on verifiable numbers. I list the claimed membership in a separate column in my spreadsheet. If you work for one of these companies and can show me that my counts are wrong I will happily update my numbers!)
The Biggest Home Exchange Networks
HomeExchange.com – One of the largest swap sites, this one has been around since the early 90s and has all the basic features and functionality working pretty well on their site. For me this is probably the easiest site to use among those I recommend. This year they stepped up the innovation by offering “balloons” which you can earn and spend on exchanges. Balloons are similar to swap points, something I’ve been hoping HomeExchange.com would introduce because I like the flexibility, but I haven’t had a chance to try out their new system yet. I have had decent luck finding simultaneous exchanges on here to match my varied destination desires around the world.
GuesttoGuest – This is the largest general swap site as measured by membership, and the only free one of the big home exchange networks. A majority of their members seem to be in Europe. For me the base requirement of deciding to pay to join a swap site helps with the trust of those I find on the site. So although I personally love free, I like my fellow swappers paying, and so I opted to pay for the member verification on this site. GuesttoGuest is the only website that has been doing swap points for a long time. With everyone automatically enrolled and earning guest points, I think the concept here is really good. If you want to play around with a free site while deciding where to spend your money, this one is a good bet. I have had pretty good results finding swaps in Europe and South America through GuesttoGuest. However, the down side to a free site is a higher proportion of inactive members, which can make it harder to find a match even when the number of listings looks promising for your desired destination.
Smaller Home Exchange Networks
Love Home Swap – I find this site useful for the structure of their points-based swap system, with a nice user interface. In the past year I have found an increasing number of matches for my desired swap destinations and had some really good Love Home Swap exchanges. But I have also heard more complaints about this home exchange network’s customer service than any others, and I’m dismayed with how long it takes them to fix serious bugs on the website. Beware that their billing practices are angering a lot of people so be sure you really want to use this site before you give them any payment information.
Homelink – This is the oldest home exchange network and it is loved by it’s members. I don’t use it but I know many members who are super loyal and their reputation is very good.
Have a favorite home exchange network? Tell me about it in the comments (and include reasons why you like them so that readers can benefit from your experience).