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Travel & Holiday

Make yourself at home with swop

Holiday makers can choose from about 80 Singapore homes listed for mutual exchanges on websites
The Straits Times - February 21, 2012
By: Nicholas Yong
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Make yourself at home with swop The villa in Lovina, Bali, where the Adams stayed. -- PHOTO: JASMINE ADAMS

So you are going on holiday and you need a place to stay. Fancy swopping your home with someone else's for two weeks?

Home swops or home exchanges, a common practice in the West since as far back as the 1950s, is starting to catch on here. At least 80 homes in Singapore are available for temporary exchange with foreign home owners via websites such as HomeExchange.com, HomeForExchange.com and 1stHomeExchange.com. These range from three-room flats to condominiums and even colonial bungalows.

For a yearly subscription typically costing US$60 to US$120 (S$75 to $150), users can log on to the website to view the details of the lodgings available in the destination of their choice around the world. They then contact the respective owners to work out the swop. No money is exchanged and the system operates on an honour system. Exchanges do not need to be for equivalent accommodation. For example, apartment dwellers can swop for private houses. Swops do not need to be simultaneous either.

Ms Ans Lammers, founder of HomeForExchange.com, which is based out of Sweden and the Netherlands, tells Life! that Singapore homes were first listed on the website for exchange in 2005. There are now 14 Singapore residences on the website. A quick search on the website reveals that about 40 members from around the world are interested in staying in a Singapore home. Ms Lammers says the website aims to offer a 'simple to use and affordable website for all people interested in non-commercial home exchange'.

While most swopping home owners here are expatriates, Life! found one Singaporean who does it. Lawyer Jasmine Adams, 53, exchanged homes successfully three times with owners in Bali and Spain. Two of the swops were done in Bali.

Mrs Adams, who is married to a Briton, says the couple prefer to stay in villas or apartments while travelling as they like to visit markets and buy local produce to cook their own meals. They have a child together and two children each from their previous marriages.

'The home owners that we swop with tend to be like-minded, adventurous people. So far, all three owners have been helpful in giving us local information, and we have never had any issues with people who come to stay,' says Mrs Adams, who lives in a three-storey home in Hertford Road.

She took the plunge on home exchanges last year, partly assured by the fact that her domestic helper would be around to look after the house and keep an eye on guests.

She says that her stay in a 90 sq m apartment in Bilbao, Spain, last year was particularly pleasant.

She recalls: 'The owners were a young couple and they prepared some DVDs on the Basque country. They even wrote a little booklet about the places to go and the architectural features because they knew we are interested in these things, and left us with their Internet password. The apartment was also five minutes' walk from the train station.'

Singapore-based Portuguese expatriate Vanessa Marisa, 39, who has exchanged homes with owners in countries such as Australia and Spain, says: 'You get to stay in a house for free and step into someone else's life and experience the culture as a local.'

However, an unpleasant experience last year has turned the administrator, a mother of two young children, off the idea of home swopping.

An Italian woman from Perth stayed at her semi-detached house in Yio Chu Kang for seven days over Christmas and the New Year. Ms Marisa recalls: 'She came to my house and had a really big problem with my cats to the extent that she threatened to kill them, even though I had told her beforehand that I have two cats. It was disturbing, and really made me re-think the whole idea.'

If you are considering swopping homes, both Ms Marisa and Mrs Adams advise spending time to get to know any prospective exchange partners first. As Mrs Adams puts it: 'You must really make sure the home owners you exchange with are kosher.'

For example, she spent six months getting to know the home owners in Spain via Facebook and phone calls, and working out the details of the exchange.

All the home-swopping websites encourage members to use their home-exchange contracts, which clearly set down the terms of the exchange such as date and time of arrival, and oblige exchange partners to take utmost care of each other's houses. For example, partners agree to replace or repair any broken items.

To get a clear picture of the house you will be staying in, Ms Lammers also advises users to 'communicate intensively' with prospective exchange partners through phone calls and photo exchanges.

Ms Marisa says home owners should 'go crazy' with the details of their home and what is in it when listing it on the website, so that whoever comes to stay has realistic expectations. As she points out: 'The problem is that you are basically inviting strangers into your house, so it doesn't go smoothly every time. Sometimes, the price that we pay for not paying money is very high.'

 

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