Traveling the world can be quite pricey, but one Mill Valley couple says they’ve found a way to experience vacationing in a less expensive, not so common, way.
Joe Friedman and Leslie de Leeuw have chosen house swapping over traditional accommodations, trading homes with other swappers from near as Santa Barbara to, as far as, New Zealand or more than 55 vacations since 2004.
“We started ironically, about 12-years ago, when we started informally exchanging homes with some friends in Santa Barbara,” explained Friedman, “We would meet for dinner and socializing, then switching homes for the week.”
He said swapping homes with their friends got them thinking and researching the, not so new, idea of switching homes, leading them to a listing on Craigslist.
“There was a listing from a couple in Boulder, Colorado who needed to be in Marin County for several weeks because they were looking to move back home to the area,” he said, “We thought, wow, we have always wanted to visit there — we did it, and even exchanged cars. We had a lovely time.”
Friedman insists that, of course, Craigslist ads are not always a viable choice for trustworthy home swaps, but admits he and his wife are no strangers to want ads.
“My wife and I met, very much by chance, more about 18-years ago, right here at the Depot,” Friedman reminisced, “I responded to her personal ad in Pacific Sun, although it had actually expired. I convinced her to meet me, and wore my Indiana Jones hat so that she would know it was me.”
They knew traveling was something they wanted to share. Soon after meeting, the two retired, taking a celebratory, conventional five-week vacation in France.
“The trip was wonderful, but very expensive; the accommodations were the most expensive part. We realized that if we wanted to travel the world, house swapping would be the opportune way to do it.”
Once they became more comfortable with the process, after a couple repeat trips to Del Mar and Santa Barbara, they began to go abroad. The pair has traveled to more than 55-homes all over the world including Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, Austria, England, Sweden, Mexico, Montreal and Vancouver, and dozens within the states.
“Stockholm, Sweden is my favorite, and Vienna, Austria, and London,” he said, “and we have had a couple wonderful exchanges in country homes in France.”
“We’ve had very luxurious ranch homes, to a very primitive, cozy casita in Cozumel, Mexico — with her little motor scooter to buzz around the island on,” Friedman says, “But the key is to remember this is not a resort stay type of situation. No room service, or attendants — though sometimes family members will stop by to make sure you have everything you need — you are engulfed in the neighborhoods, the culture, and the heart of where you are visiting; you’re living like a local.”
Though cleaning your home isn’t always the first priority in preparing for vacation, with home swapping you have to consider that someone will be staying in your home while you are gone.
Friedman explained that a lot of preparation goes into the process.
When you first begin swapping, some time must be spent preparing your listing — describing and photographing your home, almost as if you were listing it for sale, even creating an operator's manual for your electronics, power, and in case of emergency information.
He says being clear on your expectations for pets, smokers, children, and the number in your party are priorities when considering who to switch with.
“You have to clean out the fridge, and the linens, and make sure your car and your home are presentable,” he said, “We don’t have a maid service or gardener like some people do. But there are different expectations by home. You need to leave the home the way you found it.”
Friedman says they’ve never had a negative exchange per say, maybe a few where housekeeping wasn’t quite up to par, but nothing that would keep them from returning.
“The biggest negative experience we’ve had was caused by me, when I damaged a car in Del Mar,” he chuckled, “I backed their car into another car in a parking garage. I had to pay for the damage out of pocket, as to not put a claim on their insurance. Yet still, with the costs incurred from the accident, it was still less expensive than staying a resort.”
There is a level of trust because they people whose home you are staying in, are also staying in your home; some people are more careful about locking up personal items, but he says they just have one locked closet in their home.
Friedman says they most frequently use HomeExchange.com for planning swaps, where vacationers can get to know each other much like two would on a dating site. And that, normally, it is easier to travel to larger destinations, rather than smaller towns, but that there is a slight buzz factor about home swapping in the area, as 40-Mill Valley homes listed.
“We don’t have any getaways planned as of now,” he smiled, “But sometime Moscow would be interesting.”