Pick a location, pack your bags and you’ve got yourself a holiday – all for free.

Sound too good to be true? Well it’s not. Introducing the newest craze in family holidays, the ‘house swap’.

First made famous by Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black and Kate Winslet in 2006 blockbuster ‘The Holiday’, the house swapping industry has gone from strength to strength – there’s even a section on the Guardian dedicated to finding your perfect holiday home.

the holiday movie

There is a little catch (hence the word ‘swap’); you will have to be comfortable with the idea of another family staying in your house, sleeping in your bed, cooking on your stove… even driving your car! House swaps generally involve swapping complete lifestyles, meaning you’ll not only be sharing bricks and mortar, but everything from friends, and neighbours to restaurant recommendations.

Ellie Lambert, air hostess and mother of two packed her family off to NYC to stay in a luxury penthouse apartment for a week over Christmas last year.

“We’d only just recently renovated our home in North London so were short of cash but property rich” she explained. “House swapping in order to go on holiday just made sense. We got onto www.homebase-hols.com and just went for it!”

And what’s more, she would thoroughly recommend it.

“The whole process went really smoothly, we felt comfortable in the knowledge that our house would be looked after while we were away. We were a bit wary initially of swapping cars, but we informed our insurance so knew we were covered if anything disastrous was to happen – which luckily it didn’t!”

Tempted yet? There are plenty of sites where you can list your home as available to swap – most of which require you to pay a small subscription fee in order to list and browse potential holiday properties and destinations. Just join up, find a property you wish to holiday in and contact the owner to come to an agreement – it’s that simple.

Ben, property expert at www.sellhousefast.uk says “the trend is becoming particularly popular amongst middle class families who want to escape for some winter sun or an Easter getaway; websites such as www.luxehomeswap.com cater especially for people who are ‘proud of their homes’. Browse the website and you’ll find everything from plush pads in LA and penthouse apartments in NYC to charming country homes in Edinburgh and rustic villas in Tuscany – all ready and available to stay in, at no charge (except for the returned favour of your home).”

There are however some downsides, and as would be expected, horror stories are not unheard of. Caroline Connolly, of ‘Homelink’ – which charges £115 for 12 months membership – says although swaps rarely go wrong, there is the odd unhappy customer. “’The tiny number of complaints we do receive are to do with “housekeeping standards”. And if we did have a genuine concern about a swapper, they would immediately be expelled from the site.’
3 years ago, Bill Turner and family swapped their 4 bedroom detached Kent home for a condo in Colorado. Whilst the 3 week holiday itself was nothing short of dreamy, the return home was the stuff of nightmares.

“We returned home, jetlagged and tired after a delayed flight, to find our house left in a complete state. The windows had been left open, and the house didn’t look like it had seen a hoover, duster or cleaning product in three weeks”.

He hasn’t been put off house swapping though, “We do plan to do it again sometime in the near future, but will make sure we do our research thoroughly”.

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