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 websites, dug through all of them to pull out relevant comparative information, and reviewed many of them individually.
I have identified 108 active home exchange websites: 18 are location specific and another 16 are predominantly in just one country or region, 37 focus on a specialty population (elderly, luxury homes, gay, etc.), and 37 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.
Competition might seem like a good thing for improving products, but this is a case where 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 websites 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 site 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 review my list of all the sites and relevant data on each one.
Relevant considerations in choosing the right home exchange website
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 websites 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.
- Vacation rental – the usual rental system applies here, and owners collect payment via the website.
- 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 general 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 2015 I hesitate to endorse specific sites because I realize that I’ve only done in depth testing on a handful of the 108 home exchange websites. 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.
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. I don’t have much to criticize except to say that they might want to try innovating a bit and offering some new options as the market is changing and growing. I have had good luck finding swaps on here to match my varied destination desires around the world when I’m seeking a simultaneous exchange.
GuesttoGuest – This is the largest general swap site as measured by membership, and the only free one of the big sites. 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 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 through GuesttoGuest, but in my experience there are a lot of inactive members and it’s tough to get a match elsewhere even if there are a lot of listings.
Love Home Swap – I find this site useful for the structure of their points-based swap system, with a nice user interface. However, I don’t have as much luck finding matches on this site as I would expect given their claimed membership size.
Homelink – This is the oldest home exchange network and it is loved by it’s members. Until their site redesign this year I found the interface so old school it was unusable for me. But the redesign is a significant improvement, and members are super loyal and their reputation is very good. I’m still not a member so I can only report second hand on user experience for this one.
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).