We recently talked with Brian Luckhurst, co-founder of HomeExchange50Plus, about home exchange for seniors. Here’s what he told us.
How did you first get involved with home exchanges?
Our first home exchange was to Brittany in France in the early 1990s when our two children were still quite young. We swapped our four-bedroom semi-detached house in West London for a six-bedroom detached house in a rural location in Brittany. As it was our first exchange, we were naturally anxious as to how it would go but, having researched the location quite extensively and talked on the telephone with our swap partners beforehand (luckily Catriona speaks French fluently), this helped allay our concerns and put our minds at rest. Our other main concern was how they would like our home and whether would it be good enough for them. Of course it was.They particularly liked the location as it is minutes away from the train station with direct access to central London.
I have to be honest: it did take a lot of persuasion to convince us to carry out our first swap but, having had a hugely successful holiday in Brittany, we were now convinced home exchangers!
What would you say is best about doing home exchanges instead of short-term rentals?
Saving money is the best and most obvious thing over renting – with no accommodation costs, the savings can be substantial. Other major savings can be achieved by swapping cars, sports equipment and even boats.
What’s your most memorable home exchange?
A couple of years ago enroute to a wedding in upstate New York, we stayed in a loft apartment in Manhattan with wonderful views across the Hudson River. Although we had visited this great city on two previous occasions staying in hotels, having our own loft apartment (albeit five floors up without a lift!), made us feel like real New Yorkers.
Have you had any less-than-successful home exchange experiences?
We have been fortunate that all our swaps have been really successful, but I appreciate that is not always the case. You do hear of the occasional bad experience but luckily they are few and far between. We have received two complaints from members since we started HomeExchange50plus back in late 2009. One was about the home being more “tired” than described, and the other was about the swap partner being less friendly than expected. These experiences did not stop either group from arranging further exchanges.
What made you think of setting up a home exchange web site for people over the age of fifty? Why home exchange for seniors?
The idea started in late 2008 when I was put on a two-day working week and, although I thought I could play golf every day, I soon realized that was not going to be the case. We wanted a project to keep us busy in retirement and thought a home exchange business was a perfect fit for us.
We soon realized that, we would find ourselves in direct competition with the “big hitters,” which would have been a huge challenge with our limited budget, so we decided to specialize. As we fit into the 50plus age range, we thought, why not cater for this specific group? Home exchange has become a legitimate and reliable alternative to more traditional forms of travel and, not surprisingly, baby boomers and seniors have become great fans. We tend to be more flexible on dates, we don’t normally have to worry about school holidays, and cost savings are very important to us. I also think we are of an age when we no longer like being seen just as tourists and prefer to live more like a local when on vacation.
What kinds of help and support do you offer your members?
Our website contains a comprehensive FAQ section which can deal with most initial questions and queries. We are always available to any member who needs help, either via email or telephone or indeed, if a member is near us in London, we would be more than happy to meet up. Many of our members need help with creating their listings and uploading photographs, and the communication between us helps us to get to know them, which we both appreciate. We have in the past met up with two groups of members, one couple from the USA who were visiting London and another who invited us to dinner at their home in Surrey, about an hour’s drive away.
Most other home exchange sites include at least some rentals. Why did you drop them?
We initially created the Rental section to offer an additional marketing platform for members who were swapping their rental vacation homes. We also believed that by having a Rental section we could persuade rental home owners to consider Home Exchange as an alternative use of their homes. But it was never more than a secondary operation, so we decided to concentrate all our efforts on our raison d’être: e.g.,homes for exchange. With the recent arrival of airbnb and similar sites, it was the right decision.
What’s the most critical advice you have for seniors who are thinking about embarking on a home exchange?
The most critical advice I would give is the same for anyone considering a home exchange, not just for the over-fifties. Go with your gut feeling. If after communicating with a potential swap partner, you have any doubts that cannot be overcome, then politely decline the swap and move on.
The more general advice is to jump in and enjoy the excitement of the idea and experience this wonderful way to travel.
What can homeowners do to avoid disappointments and make sure their home exchanges are successful?
Good communication between both parties is vital and the best way to make sure a home exchange is a successful one. That combined with lots of research about the location of the home is important to avoid disappointments and misplaced expectations.
Any insights you’ve had about the home exchange process since starting your web site?
One thing that has surprised us is the number of people who register with us but never list their home.We tend to put it down to them still being unsure about the idea of swapping homes. Also, and I have to admit to getting annoyed at this (being the grumpy old man that I am), some people list their home and then do nothing, relying on others to do all the hard work and the contacting, and then they “moan” about not having arranged any exchanges.
We do have a number of single lady members who, as well as considering home exchanging, like the idea of hospitality exchanges, which is when you take turns staying as guests in each other’s homes. This form of exchange appeals to the more sociable among us, and I think it works particularly well for singles, who are often worried about travelling alone in a different city or country. It also helps to avoid the dreaded supplements that single travelers often have to endure.
Many people swap homes simply for a cheap holiday, but what we have also found is many of our members use home exchange for non-tourist reasons – while visiting family and friends, often for special occasions like a wedding or christening, or to get to know an area or country prior to moving there.
Any other tips for our audience about how to find the right home exchange partners and do mutually satisfactory home exchanges?
I have previously highlighted being proactive, not waiting to be contacted by others. My other main recommendation is to be open to suggestions as to where and when to go, and to compromise if need be on the accommodation on offer. Do not try and hold out for like for like with homes, as many home exchangers seem to do. I would be more than happy to swap our four-bedroom house for a one-bedroom apartment, provided the location is right.
Home exchange is a bit like internet dating, you can hope for attractive with a great sense of humor, but consider accepting less and you may love the experience, resulting in a wonderful vacation and a long-lasting friendship.
The most popular location on our website is “Anywhere,” which, combined with ”Anytime,” tends to sum up what our 50plus members are about when they travel via Home Exchange!
Questions for Brian? Send them to us or to email@example.com.
For more on home exchange, see “Travel on the House 101: The Basics” and “The Differences Between Home Exchange and Short-Term Rental” elsewhere on this site.