Review updated April 2017
Founded in 1992
$150 per year for first listing, $75 for additional listings
Sold in 2017 to Guest to Guest
65,000 listings in 150 countries
Listings by geographic region (approximate, based on counting from map view):
- Africa: 300
- Asia: 400
- North America: 20,000
- Europe: 35,000
- Oceana: 2300
- South America: 1000
These numbers do not add up to 65,000, but HE explains that this is because the rest of the listings are hidden by members who do not wish to be contacted at this time. Once again I’m surprised to see no increase in total number of members reported by HE since 2015. As one of the largest home exchanges networks, in a growth industry, I’d expect to see them growing.
There were two big changes on HE this year: First, the private owner of the site decided to sell it to Guest to Guest, a French-based Home Exchange network. Guest to Guest has made it clear they intend to keep the two brands entirely separately. (Read my interview with the CEO of Guest to Guest for more information about this acquisition.) Perhaps the stagnation in membership size at HE was part of the decision to sell to Guest to Guest, a network that has seen significant growth over the past few years.
The second big change for HE was the introduction of balloons. Balloons are the HE alternative to point-based exchanges, a way to facilitate non-simultaneous home swaps across multiple parties. You earn balloons by hosting guests (usually while you are away), and then you can redeem those balloons for stays in other people’s homes. You can redeem (or earn) one balloon for one stay, regardless of the length of stay. Sites that use points generally charge a set number of points per night, so that shorter stays “cost” less than longer stays. The balloon concept is more like a non-simultaneous swap where the exchangers are less concerned with matching up exactly on number of days.
Overall my experience with my HE membership has been good, though their emphasis on simultaneous exchanges hasn’t fit my travel style the past few years as much as the point-based swap sites do. As a result I didn’t end up doing any exchanges with this network in the past year.
Searching: The search page starts with a box for location. The results return a map as well as a list of properties and you can move around on the map to narrow in on your desired destination (small complaint: they offer an awkwardly shaped rectangle map and fixed intervals of zoom so it is difficult to focus on a city center that will match these parameters exactly). Within the geography searches it is possible to filter the results by a number of features. This includes a search on people wanting to come to my location, which you can narrow down to your specific city or search more broadly on your country. HE also returns results for people who say they are open to going anywhere, with a nice tab separation between the two groups. I find this very useful since both categories of people are good potential swap partners but those specifically interested in my city/state/country are a better bet. The geographic searches don’t work well for people who do not live within a city.
I’ve heard a few complaints that the infinite scroll on the listings page is difficult to use. I see how this could be a problem if your search returns a lot of results. You may not get to the end in one session and it is not possible to pick up where you left off at another time.
Overall I like the filters HE offers for searching, and they are one of the only sites that lets you select on number of people in the swapping party (i.e. more than 2 people won’t fit in my house). HE also allows for saved searches, sending you notifications when new properties are listed matching your search criteria.
Listings: In the search results you see pictures of the properties with a few icons for details about them. Users need to familiarize themselves with the meanings of these icons, but after some practice they are easy enough to understand. It is possible to save listings for mass emailing or viewing later. Individual listings are cleanly displayed with details easily readable and a map for locating the property. HE offers the option of pulling info from other home swap sites or peer to peer rental sites (i.e. Airbnb) to create your listing, which should make it easy for new members to get started on the site.
As with other networks that offer points-based exchanges, HE has failed to implement a calendar feature that would distinguish between availability for simultaneous swaps and dates when you’re going to be out of town and could host a balloon stay. I think this makes date-based searching far less useful, and means I’m much less likely to keep my calendar up to date.
This site offers the following variations on house swapping:
- simultaneous or non-simultaneous house swap – this is the traditional model where two parties swap houses for an agreed upon set of dates. 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.
- hospitality exchange – this allows people with extra space in their house to host visitors in exchange for being hosted themselves at some other date.
- points-based exchange – although HE doesn’t use points, the balloon concept is very similar. The main distinction is that you use one balloon for one stay, regardless of length of stay. Similarly you earn one balloon for each time you host guests, regardless of length of stay.
Site design: This website is relatively easy to use. New updates seem to be ongoing to keep the site current, but sometimes they are slow to fix bugs. For instance, I’ve noticed the email notifications don’t click through to working pages on the website and this bug has been there for months.
Additional features: The email facility is well organized, with threading of messages, simple one click archiving of old messages, and the ability to see who you have already contacted if they come up in new searches. HomeExchange.com offers a standard home swap agreement and a lot of resources on how to optimize your house swapping experience as well as general travel resources. They also have a responsive customer service chat function. HE has partnered with Trip Advisor to integrate TA reviews and ratings into their website, though I’ve never found a use for this feature.
Pricing note: HE charges $150 per year for membership in the U.S. (price varies by country), but this includes only one listing. Right now they are charging $75 for additional listings. This means that if you have a primary and a vacation home, you will have to pay extra to list both.
Overall I find HE members to be reasonably responsive and actively seeking swaps. Due to the large number of listings it’s possible to find potential swaps in many places around the world. The membership includes a diversity of ages, people with and without kids, and travel interests. HomeExchange.com is definitely one of the market leaders in home swapping. If you are looking for a house swap website that will meet a diversity of travel needs and interests, this is a good bet.