View the updated version of this post here: Best Home Exchange Websites July 2017
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 each one individually (so far I’ve made it through the general sites, I will continue on to review the specialty and location-specific sites next).
I have identified 68 active home exchange websites: 7 are location specific and another 12 are predominantly in just one country or region, 22 focus on a specialty population (elderly, luxury homes, gay, etc.), and 27 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. According to homeexchangeexpert.com, “There are almost 70 home exchange organizations around the world; the United States is home to about one-third of them and the others are sprinkled around the world.”
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 to pick which site to join? There isn’t much information out there about these sites so I created a database of them all and then wrote reviews of all that have a good size 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
Lastly, 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. The challenge to this approach: members on that site in Spain don’t necessarily speak English and don’t write their listings for an English speaking audience so my rusty Spanish is being put to the test.
There are a number of options offered by these websites for how you can exchange homes. Some of these options make it harder to compare sites based on number of listings. Those offering rentals will look larger than they would if they only offered house swaps. In most cases rentals seems to be a small sub-section of listings on home exchange websites, and it is a convenient feature to have that option when you can’t find a swap.
- 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, 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
Love Home Swap – This is currently the biggest of the swap sites. They are the result of the merger of a few smaller sites and some venture capital funding, and they are rolling out new features and functionality regularly. They are also the most expensive of the non-luxury house swap sites. Currently I find them useful for house swapping, but I’m hopeful that their newly introduced swap points function will result in some good opportunities for non-simultaneous swapping.
HomeExchange.com – Another 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’ve read some bad reviews of them, but I don’t have much to complain about except to say that they might want to try innovating a bit and offering some new options as the market and functionality of new sites is changing and growing.
Guest to Guest – This is the third largest general swap site, and the only free one of the big sites. A majority of their members seem to be in Europe. I like their concept of free membership with a charge to be verified except that many people on there are not verified. 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 verification on this site. There are some significant issues with the functionality of this site, including search difficulties and lack of notification of new messages. However, they are the only website that has been doing swap points for a long time. With everyone automatically enrolled and earning swap 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.
knowyourtrade.com: This one website compiled information on many of the home exchange sites out there. Unfortunately their lists and information about the sites seems to be quite outdated, and the website is hard to use.
homeexchangeuniversity.com: This site has some good info on home exchange.
home-exchange.findthebest.com: A house swap site list from 2013
homeexchangeexpert.com: Free guide on house swapping, interviews with various home exchange websites, and paid services to help you with home exchange.