Home exchange appeals to a broad spectrum of people. And there are a lot of niche house swap networks that focus on specific groups: Australians, Christians, academics, home schoolers, and more. This can create a nice sense of community for the members of the swap network. But it also limits the number of members, and hence the opportunities for exchange. To learn more about one of these speciality home exchange networks I interviewed Brian Luckhurst about the network Home Exchange 50 Plus. Lots of people take up traveling later in life. Rough Guides argues that travel gets better as you get older. Brian explains why he sees real value in a network focused on this community.
The Retirement Project
ShareTraveler: I think I read somewhere that you and your wife founded and own Home Exchange 50 Plus. Is that right?
Brian: Yes, my wife Catriona and I are the founders of the site which we launched in October 2009. We created homeexchange50plus.com as a project to keep us busy in our upcoming retirement from work, and it certainly has achieved that, plus it has provided us with many wonderful holidays. Catriona is still working part time but I am fully retired.
ST: Are either of you web developers?
Brian: No, but I wish we were, as it hasn’t always been plain sailing dealing with some web guys over the years, and it would be easier and less expensive to add features and upgrade where we would like to, without having to rely on others. Prior to this endeavor I had been involved in the estate agency world so I knew a bit about property and had my own ideas of how to market homes for sale although not for exchange. And we had enjoyed many home exchanges before we started out with our project. We loved the idea of swapping homes and really thought we could introduce the concept to more people and help others to enjoy the experience of traveling this way, and we still do.
ST: Home Exchange 50 Plus is a unique network because it focuses only on folks over 50. What made you think there was a need for this specific type of swap network?
Brian: When we were thinking about a potential retirement project, our main thought was, let’s create a home exchange website, but we soon realized we would find ourselves in direct competition with the ‘big hitters’ of the day, which would have been a huge challenge with our limited budget, so we decided to specialize. We considered other niche home swap markets, like teachers, doctors etc., we even considered, being Scottish, what about one for Scots around the world, but as we fit into the 50 plus age range, we thought, why not cater for this specific group.
Home exchange was becoming a legitimate and reliable alternative to more traditional forms of travel and we believed that baby boomers and seniors would become great fans of the concept and therefore provide us with a potential and growing network. Home exchange is a concept built around trust, and swapping your home with a complete stranger requires a bit of a leap of faith, especially if it is your first time, and we thought it would be an easier leap if you were exchanging with someone with a similar outlook on life, and being within the same age group is a great starting point. Our members do seem to appreciate what our site offers and they like the idea of swapping their home with someone of a similar age, interests and values.
We had looked at SeniorsHomeExchange and thought we could do better. And as they marketed themselves as the only website specifically for seniors, this spurred us on with the idea of 50plus. Many members of SeniorsHomeExchange have subsequently joined us.
[ST adds: SeniorsHomeExchange shut down in 2017]
ST: As you’re based in the UK, are most of your listings in Europe?
Brian: Yes we are based in Twickenham, West London, and yes the continent with the most listings is Europe with 364 homes, including 122 in France and 81 in England. By specializing as we do, our home listings are limited in number and currently we list 950+ homes in 50+ countries, including 199 in Australasia, 159 in Canada and 133 in the USA.
Partnerships with other swap networks
ST: You have a partnership with the Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship, can you tell me more about this?
Brian: We were approached a few years ago by The Rotarian Home Exchange Fellowship asking us if we would be interested in some form of a partnership with them, as their partnership agreement with HomeExchange.com had come to an end. Our partnership, in truth has not been seen by either party as a huge success, at least to date, but it does help attract some new members to our website.
ST: Do a lot of Rotarians decide to swap with the broader HomeExchange50plus community?
Brian: Our Rotarian section is really quite a small part of the site with currently 53 Rotarians with homes listed, of which six have chosen to swap only with other Rotarians, all the others have selected to swap with all our members. We also recommend to any new Rotarian member to select to swap with all members as it obviously provides more swapping opportunities for them.
ST: Your network currently offers traditional simultaneous or non-simultaneous home exchanging as well as hospitality stays. Have you considered adding a points-based swap option?
Brian: Yes we have looked at this as an additional option but at this stage we have decided against going down that road, at least for now. We also currently have a partnership agreement with IVHE whereby our members are offered a one year complimentary membership of their site and they focus more on a points based system which we personally have used and find it works well.
ST: How does this partnership work?
Brian: All HomeExchange50Plus members are offered a free year with IVHE. When this agreement was set up, IVHE management did not wish it to be reciprocal so their members do not have free membership of ours but they do benefit from an increased choice of homes to swap with thanks to our members joining IVHE.
ST: Have you considered similar partnerships with other networks?
Brian: We are not adverse to having partnerships with other networks providing we see a benefit in the arrangement. Prior to being approached by IVHE we already had agreements with GlobalHomeExchange and EchangeDeMaison, both of whom have subsequently been acquired and are now within the HomeExchange network umbrella.
The future of HE50+
ST: Can you tell me what you are doing to keep HomeExchange50Plus growing in the face of so many other house swap networks?
Brian: We obviously would love to grow in size and have many more homes to offer our members, but we have a limited budget so whatever we do, it has to be cost effective. Only last week we gave the go-ahead for some SEO work on our behalf and we will see how that works out and obviously continue with it if the results prove beneficial. We are always looking at different promotions that we can put in front of potential members and currently we are offering a 6 months free membership to those who join our 50plus club for a two year period. This also includes renewals as I am a firm believer that our existing members should not lose out on what we offer new members. We also offer members who recommend us, a three month extension to their membership period for each referral that results in a new home being listed, and this helps bring in new members. Please do not think that I am being negative, only practical, when I say that we are small, and will remain so, but there is an old saying “small is beautiful” and I hope our members, current and new, will agree.
ST: What are you plans for the future for HE50+?
Brian: We see it as our baby or should that be more, our grand child, so it will be hard, when the time comes, to say goodbye to it as it will leave a great void in my life especially. But that is something that will have to be considered sometime in the future as neither of our two kids have any interest in taking it over. So if anyone is interested in doing so please get in touch. In 2009, I believed that there was great potential in a specific 50plus home exchange membership, and that belief has not diminished and indeed has become even stronger now.