Room rates in the U.S. are creeping upward: The average hotel room cost $79.01 a night in December, up from $77.14 in December 2001, according to Smith Travel Research of Hendersonville, Tenn. Dreaming of a European sojourn? When the euro reached its low in October 2000, it was worth only 82.3 cents. Now it equals $1.08, so in that period a 150-euro hotel room has increased from $123.45 to $162.
Compare those numbers with the cost of registering with a home exchange agency: Annual membership fees range from $29.95 to $125. For that you get the chance to examine hundreds of listings placed by like-minded homeowners and usually to make as many exchanges as you wish.
Exchanges are arranged by the members, not by the agency. As a rule, no money changes hands. Best of all, house swappers aren't confined to a hotel room. And when two families with children of similar ages make an exchange, well, there are no toys like someone else's toys.
Home exchanging is based on trust, but it isn't blind trust. Usually the parties get acquainted by phone, mail or e-mail well before the swap; some exchangers arrange to meet at the start of their vacation, even if only for an hour at the airport. You may be further reassured to have a friend stop by to greet your exchange partners during their stay.
Home exchange agencies say theft is not a problem; if there is friction, it's usually caused by a difference in housekeeping standards.
Once dependent on printed directories, the home exchange industry is now largely Internet based. (Several agencies that continue to issue printed listings are included below.) Members scan listings online and contact prospects by e-mail.
The services below have listings for properties worldwide. Many offer vacation rentals, free or paid hospitality exchanges ("You be my guest, then I'll be yours"), youth hospitality exchanges and/or house-sitting besides standard home swaps. Exchange properties vary from houseboats and RVs to modest apartments to lavish estates.
This list is not exhaustive. Agencies that did not respond to queries, that are limited to a single country or that have a niche audience -- say, gay and lesbian, Christian or disabled clients -- are not included. Find these by typing the appropriate phrase ("seniors home exchange") into an Internet search engine.
Digsville.com, 1100 Valley Brook Ave., Lyndhurst, NJ 07071; (800) 856-9059 or (201) 964-9044, fax (201) 964-9047,
Global Home Exchange, 6140 Kirsten Drive, Nanaimo, BC, Canada V9V 1J7; telephone/fax (250) 756-6177,
Green Theme International, 9 Rue des Insurges, 87130 Linards, France; 011-33-555-084-704,
Holi-Swaps.com, 11024 N. 28th Drive, Suite 200, Phoenix, AZ 85029; (602) 604-1537, fax (602) 234-5773,
Home Base Holidays, 7 Park Ave., London N13 5PG, England; 011-44-20-8886-8752,
HomeExchange.com, P.O. Box 30085, Santa Barbara, CA 93130; (800) 877-8723, (310) 798-3864, fax (310) 798-3865,
Home Exchange Network, 70 Broomfield Ave., Newton Mearns, Glasgow G77 5JP, Scotland; 011-44-141-571-8068, fax 011-44-141-571-8069,
HomeLink USA, P.O. Box 47747, Tampa, FL 33647; (800) 638-3841 or (813) 975-9825, fax (813) 910- 8144,
International Home Exchange Network, 118 Flamingo Ave., Daytona Beach, FL 32118; (386) 238-3633, fax (386) 254-3425,
Intervac, 30 Corte San Fernando, Tiburon, CA 94920; (800) 756-HOME (4663), fax (415) 435-7440,
The Invented City, 41 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94104; (415) 252-1141,
Latitudes Home Exchange, P.O. Box 622, Cortez, FL 34215; tel./fax (941) 761-1709,
Réseau International d'Echange de Foyers, Mark Siegrist, Creux de Corsy 55, CH-1093 La Conversion, Switzerland; 011-41-21-791-3288, fax (815) 550-6605,
The Vacation Exchange Network, P.O. Box 277, Whippany, NJ 07981- 0277; (800) CONDO- 44 (266-3644) or (973) 386-9208, fax (973) 428- 3925,
Vacation Homes Unlimited, 16654 Soledad Canyon Road, Suite 214, Santa Clarita, CA 91387; (800) 848-7927 or (661) 298-0376, fax (661) 298-0576,