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Home exchanges let thrifty travelers swap till they drop

Times Staff Writer

From a financial standpoint, if nothing else, the benefits of home exchanging are clear.

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, http://www.digsville.com. Founded 1999; about 4,000 listings. Site lets members set up a personal home page, save home searches, rate their exchange partners. Only members can access contact information. Listings $49.95 per year.

Global Home Exchange, 6140 Kirsten Drive, Nanaimo, BC, Canada V9V 1J7; telephone/fax (250) 756-6177, http://www.4homex.com. Founded 1997; 500 to 1,000 listings. Nonmembers can access contact information. Listings about $31 per year.

Green Theme International, 9 Rue des Insurges, 87130 Linards, France; 011-33-555-084-704, http://www.gti-home-exchange .com. Founded 1990; about 2,000 listings. Only members can access contact information. Listings $30 per year.

Holi-Swaps.com, 11024 N. 28th Drive, Suite 200, Phoenix, AZ 85029; (602) 604-1537, fax (602) 234-5773, http://www.holi-swaps.com. Founded 1997 in England, expanded into U.S. in 2001. About 500 listings, most in Britain, Australia, Canada, U.S. Nonmembers can access contact information. Listings free to $50 per year; average listing is $25.

Home Base Holidays, 7 Park Ave., London N13 5PG, England; 011-44-20-8886-8752, http://www.home base-hols.com. Founded 1985. About 2,000 listings, with Britain particularly well represented. Only members can access contact information. Listings about $47 per year.

HomeExchange.com, P.O. Box 30085, Santa Barbara, CA 93130; (800) 877-8723, (310) 798-3864, fax (310) 798-3865, http://www.homeexchange.com. Founded 1991; 6,000-plus listings. Nonmembers can access contact information. Listings $50 per year.

Home Exchange Network, 70 Broomfield Ave., Newton Mearns, Glasgow G77 5JP, Scotland; 011-44-141-571-8068, fax 011-44-141-571-8069, http://www.home-exchange-network.com. Founded 1997; about 120 listings. Only members can access contact information. Listings about $32 for one year, $48 for life membership. Once enrolled, you create your own Web page giving details of your exchange. HomeLink USA, P.O. Box 47747, Tampa, FL 33647; (800) 638-3841 or (813) 975-9825, fax (813) 910- 8144, http://www.homelink.org. Founded 1953 as Vacation Exchange Club. About 12,000 listings. Only members can access contact information. Listings $70 per year for Web only, $110 for Web plus printed directories. International Home Exchange Network, 118 Flamingo Ave., Daytona Beach, FL 32118; (386) 238-3633, fax (386) 254-3425, http://www.homexchange.com. Founded 1995; about 3,000 listings. Nonmembers can access contact information. Listings $29.95 per year. Intervac, 30 Corte San Fernando, Tiburon, CA 94920; (800) 756-HOME (4663), fax (415) 435-7440, http://www.intervacUS.com. Founded 1952; about 12,000 listings, most outside the U.S. Only members can access contact information. Listings $50 to $65 per year for Web only, $99 to $125 for Web plus printed directories. The Invented City, 41 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94104; (415) 252-1141, http://www.invented-city.com. Founded 1991; about 1,700 listings, and seeking more in California. Only members can access contact information. Listings $50 per year. Latitudes Home Exchange, P.O. Box 622, Cortez, FL 34215; tel./fax (941) 761-1709, http://www.home-swap.com. Founded 1993; about 600 listings. Only members can access contact information. Listings $50 to $56 per year. Custom matching service -- that is, the agency searches for a match that meets your specific requirements -- is $160 domestic, $250 international. 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, http://www.exchange-of-homes.com. Founded 1996; several hundred listings. Most contacts available to members only, but members can choose "open" listing if they prefer. Listings $39 for one year, $10 extra by letter or fax. Translation of listing from English, French or German is $20. 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, http://www.thevacationexchange.com. Founded 1996; 1,000-plus listings. For vacation properties (second homes) only, so exchange need not be simultaneous. Only members can access contact information. Exchanges may be direct (two members swap; each pays $150) or indirect (one member lets the other use his home and receives a credit that pays for his next exchange; user pays $300). Membership $29.95 per year. Vacation Homes Unlimited, 16654 Soledad Canyon Road, Suite 214, Santa Clarita, CA 91387; (800) 848-7927 or (661) 298-0376, fax (661) 298-0576, http://www.exchangehomes.com. Founded 1986; about 3,500 listings. Free database previews. Only members can access contact information. Listings $30 per year.

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