Misleading membership claims from home exchange network LoveHomeSwap

On March 15 the advertising standards organization in the UK (ASA) ruled that the home exchange network, LoveHomeSwap, was misleading people by advertising 100,000+ members in 160+ countries. You can read the full decision here. I have never been able to verify the LoveHomeSwap membership claims. And they have never responded to my direct questions about the large discrepancy between my counts and their claims. As of March 15 the number of members and countries has been removed from the LHS landing page.

While LoveHomeSwap is not the only network with misleading membership claims, LHS was the primary driver behind my addition of a “listings claimed” column in my spreadsheet of house swap networks. The “listings” column is my best calculation of how many members the networks really have.  But I can’t be 100% certain my counts are accurate so I also display membership claims separately. Prospective members need accurate information about network size.

The complaint against LoveHomeSwap was brought by HomeLink, another European-based house swap network. LoveHomeSwap’s response to the claims conceded that they might have had members in only 158 countries on the date of the complaint, but these numbers fluctuate daily. And they found only 150 members who should have been deactivated, essentially asserting that the complaints were mostly false.

LHS further argued that some members use a “pay per booking” option instead of a subscription, which costs £499 per booking. I can find no information about this option on their website. In the LHS FAQ they state: “10.6 No fees are payable for Exchanges unless you become part of our Exchange Fee Programme.” (This exchange fee programme is the optional insurance people can purchase for swaps.) Regardless, I don’t see how it would change the member count if these people were indeed active searchable members.

The ASA apparently looked closely at the listings LHS claimed as members: “… we identified several listings with barely any information that did not appear to be genuine listings that were included in the list of 100,000 homes.” They found:

“We understood that, in addition to users with ongoing paid subscriptions, the ‘100,000 homes’ in ‘160+ countries’ figures also included users not on a subscription, such as users who had cancelled their subscription, users who had chosen not to subscribe after a 14-day free trial and users who had not yet started the free trial. In those cases, the user would still receive email alerts for swap requests, and would be offered the chance to upgrade to the paid subscription if they wished to finalise a swap. Their listing, however, would remain on the site indefinitely unless they marked their property as inactive.”

And so ASA concluded “it was likely that a significant number of listings were inactive.” The ASA decision required Love Home Swap “not to make claims about the number of homes available and the number of countries in which homes were available unless they put in place sufficient measures to ensure that the figures did not include inactive listings.”

In my most recent review of LoveHomeSwap in May 2016 I wrote: “LHS continues to make it very difficult to count listings. They now claim to have 90,000 listings in 160 countries, but I can’t verify this or break membership out by region. Searches appear to turn up significantly fewer than would add up to this number. In fact, a brute force search where I leave all parameters blank (which should return all homes on the site) gave me only 8,256 listings. As I mentioned above, I find a lot of matches for my swap needs, but I wish I could explain this large discrepancy in listing numbers.”

I continue to find value in my LoveHomeSwap membership, but am also dismayed by the company’s business practices. I strongly discourage people from signing up for a trial membership until LHS makes clear changes to their payment and deactivation systems. I hope LHS will take this opportunity to re-evaluate how they handle inactive listings and create a system that is more transparent for both existing and prospective members.

I reached out to LoveHomeSwap for a comment on this ruling, and they wrote: “We are pleased that the ASA has acknowledged our willingness to co-operate in ensuring that our advertising is compliant. The ASA has asked us to take some additional steps to help back up our claims and we are very happy to do so, as we continue to grow our global community of home swappers.”

3 Comments

  1. I have found this misleading advertising also in housesiting websites. In my experience, these sites make little effort to make current listing data available or updated. So a person finds out that most of the listings are outdated or already filled only after paying the subscription fee. Thanks for the warning about home swap sites.

    • Hi Deb
      Please don’t assume that all home swap sites are the same. I am the HomeLink UK representative and I can assure you that HomeLink does not show expired listings. All of our listings have an expiry date displayed and our system is set to automatically deactivate listings (both paid and trial) on this date. While this might make it appear that we have fewer listings, users can expect a much higher response rate and they can be confident that they’re not wasting their time contacting members who have left (or thought they’d left).

  2. I find the same issue in metasearch travel sites. I work at AllTheRooms.com, which aggregates Airbnb with all the major hotel sites, Homeaway, Couchsurfing and several other sites. In terms of the online bookable global home market, Airbnb is by far the biggest, with about 3M listings. Homeaway has about 1M. Tripadvisor is number 3 with even less. However, sites like Tripping claim they have 10M listings and HomeToGo advertises 8M listings, without even having Airbnb on their sites. They are counting the same listings over and over if they show up on both Tripadvisor and on Flipkey (same company), or on VRBO and on Homeaway (same company). It’s just as bad as these homeswap marketplaces, because you would want to decide which metasearch to use based on their market coverage.

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