Trading places is one way to see the world, at little cost

March 23, 1997|By Barbara Shea | Barbara Shea,NEWSDAY

For some homeowners, spring cleaning means sprucing up the house, not for themselves but for strangers who'll stay there while they vacation at the other family's chateau or villa.

House-swapping attracts a wide variety of travelers. And no wonder. The only significant cost is getting to your destination.

Two major agencies publish catalogs of exchange possibilities, and a dozen or so newcomers are Internet-based. All are merely forums, however; it's up to house swappers to interview one another, check credentials and iron out any concerns -- such as how to handle cancellations. Though agencies say the worst problem they ever hear about is messy housekeeping (which some homeowners head off by exchanging cleaning services, too), they recommend making sure your home and car insurance are paid up.

Intervac, based in San Francisco, is a network of 22 independently owned companies offering more than 10,000 homes in 30 countries (most listings are in Europe, led by France). The United States is the second most popular destination, representing about 20 percent of houses listed. Directories are published in January, March, May and June. A subscription fee of $65 ($60 if you're over 62) plus $13 postage and handling buys three catalogs and one listing of your own home (add $11 if you want to include a photo); the fourth book is available for an additional $25. Call 800-756-HOME.

Vacation Exchange Club/Homelink, based in Key West, Fla., publishes five catalogs a year. The largest usually is January's, which this year has about 8,000 entries from several dozen countries. About two-thirds are in Europe, the rest in North America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand. Members pay $83 for two years' worth of directories, including one listing a year ($18 more if you want to include a photo). The company expects to have a Web site this summer. Call 800-638-3841.

International Home Exchange Network is among the new Internet-based forums. It allows any casual Web surfer to scan its listings of houses from about 30 countries. Members pay $29.95 a year to post their home; changes and photos are free. Some properties are also available for rental or hospitality exchange (you visit each other free or for an agreed-upon fee). You'll find the site at http: //www.homexchange.com.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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