Strange things sometimes happen when travelers swap homes for their vacations.
Karl Costabel and his wife, Debby, of Haleiwa, Hawaii, traded their home on the northwest shore of Oahu a couple of years ago for an apartment in Paris, and discovered the owner was a French count. No big surprise there. But the count drove a Rolls-Royce -- a huge Rolls-Royce -- and, as in many home exchanges, use of the car was included.
The Costabels know a lot about home exchanging, not just because they've done it, but also because they own the granddaddy of companies that help arrange such travel experiences, the Vacation Exchange Club. They bought it a few years ago from David and Mary Ostroff, who ran the club for years.
The Vacation Exchange Club -- like a major competitor, Intervac U.S. -- produces annual booklets that list interested home-swappers in the United States and abroad. Both clubs sell the listings -- fees are $50 and $45 respectively.
The "clubs" make their money selling the listings; all arrangements after that -- shopping for the right house in the right place, initial contacts, planning and execution of the simultaneous exchange -- are up to the individuals. But that's part of the fun, many say.
"It's almost worth doing just for the correspondence and all the nice letters and phone calls from interesting people," said Phyllis Hamilton, a retired New York interior designer who now lives in Newark, Del., with her husband, Don. The Hamiltons -- he's a retired hospital administrator -- have done two exchanges in France and plan another in the Netherlands later this year.
Bill and Mary Barbour of Fort Myers, Fla., did so many exchanges they decided to write a book about it -- an anecdote-laden how-to handbook titled "Trading Places" (Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, $9.95). And, through surveys and interviews, they came up with some interesting findings. For example:
* Contrary to popular view, most home exchangers are not 65 or older. Twenty-seven percent are over 65, but 44 percent are 51 to 65, and 28 percent are 36 to 50. (Among non-U.S. home exchangers, 42 percent are 36 to 50; 35 percent are 51 to 65, and 15 percent are over 65.)
* Contrary to another widespread belief among home exchangers, teachers, the people who generally have summers off, aren't the largest trader group by occupation. It goes this way: Business managers, teachers, engineers, professors, accountants, architects, then doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
* Twenty-nine percent of home exchangers in the United States come from the West, 28 percent from the Northeast. Nineteen percent live in the Southeast and 9 percent in the Southwest, but only 8 percent live in the Midwest and 7 percent in the South. That could mean Midwesterners and Southerners are less likely to exchange; it could also mean foreigners don't want to visit the Midwest or the South. What it really means is some
where in between.
Foreign home exchangers who come to this country, said Bill Barbour, are much more likely to want to see cultural attractions and "places of historical significance," or a combination of these and the scenic outdoors. This general category can be found much more readily in the Northeast and West.
As for U.S. home exchangers heading abroad, Mr. Barbour, the retired CEO of a publishing firm, says the most frequently cited advantage is often the most practical: You can save an immense amount of money on lodging and food, as well as on a car, if that is included in the exchange, and it usually is.
"That's certainly one of the great advantages," agreed Jay Winheld, a suburban Philadelphia CPA who, with his wife, Louise, has exchanged several times in England and the United States in the last six years. "But it's so much more. It's meeting the neighbors, living the way they do, shopping where they shop, absorbing the culture and history that they live with every day."
L If you want to get started on a trade, here's a little help:
MA * The Vacation Exchange Club, Box 820, Haleiwa, Hawaii 96712.
Phone (800) 638-3841. $50 for booklets and your own listing.
* Intervac U.S., Box 590504, San Francisco, Calif. 94159. Phone (800) 756-4663. $45 for booklets and listing.
* Loan-a-Home, 2 Park Lane, 6E, Mount Vernon, N.Y. 10552. Extended exchanges. Information from Muriel Gould, (914) 664-7640.
* In addition to the Barbours' book, another recent publication is the "Vacation Home Exchange and Hospitality Guide" by John Kimbrough. Cost is $16.95, including shipping. Phone (800) 888-4741.