Our flights home coincided, and to save both families the cab fare, we asked the Peroux to drive our car to the airport. Right on cue, they pulled up to the curb as we were lugging our bags out the door. We exchanged quick stories, keys, and good-bye kisses. After using each others' pots and pans, beds and towels, we felt an enormous bond. They laughed at the dozen bottles of wine we'd stuffed into our carry-ons. We were impressed by the computer they'd assembled. Back at our house, everything seemed to be in order. The worst damage suffered was a broken grill brush. And we were amused by the staples they'd left behind: a 16-pack of Devil Dogs; a tub of fudge-swirl ice cream; several packs of frozen onion rings. We recently received our renewal form in the mail from Intervac. Our check is in the mail. This year, we're shooting for Italy.
HOW IT WORKS
Agencies specializing in house swaps act as middlemen. For an annual membership fee, you post pictures and descriptions of your house on the group's Web site, along with a list of what you're looking for—type of house, location, time of year. Members browse the site and strike deals with one another.
Most agencies don't screen their members, and there's no such thing as home-exchange insurance—though you should check with your broker to find out what your homeowner's policy covers. Try to arrange a meeting with your swap partners beforehand, and get some friends to drop in on them during their stay. For peace of mind remember that the arrangement is mutualÑwhile they're living it up in your quarters, so are you in theirs.
AGENCIES TO CONSIDER
Digsville (www.digsville.com) charges $50 for a year's membership, and if you don't find a match within that time, they'll extend your terms. · For $30 a year, you can list your house on the International Home Exchange Network (386/238-3633, fax 386/254-3425; www.ihen.com). · HomeLink (800/638-3841 or 813/975-9825, fax 813/910-8144; www.homelink.org) updates its directory of 11,000 house exchanges three times a year. Membership is $70. · There's no fee to search the Home Exchange (800/877-8723 or 310/798-3864, fax 310/798-3865, www.homeexchange.com) web site, which has over 7,000 worldwide listings. (Posting your own home is $50.) ·Intervac U.S. (800/756-4663 or 415/435-3497, fax 415/435-7440; www.intervacus.com) lets you choose whether you want to post a photo of your house or just describe it. Membership is $50 without a photo and $68 with.