Love Home Swap: Home exchanges for stylish travellers
Are you intrigued by the idea of home swapping–where you stay in someone’s digs in Singapore or Sydney, while they stay in yours–but a bit concerned that your fellow swappers’ sense of style might be somewhat, um, lacking? In other words, are you reluctant to give up your carefully decorated pad to spend two weeks surrounded by velvet Elvis posters and sheets of unknown thread count?
Fear not, gentle traveller. Love Home Swap, a home exchange site dedicated to matching chic homeowners with their counterparts in more than 70 countries, hit the Internet in October 2011. And this week, an investment firm called MMC Ventures lobbed £800,000 at the fledgling website. Clearly, someone thinks Love Home Swap CEO Debbie Wosskow is onto something.
This isn’t the first home exchange website for Wosskow, a British entrepreneur and angel investor. She started in 2010 with an even posher concept called Luxe Home Swap. It’s now integrated into Love Home Swap as a sort of premier service.
Here’s how it works. You can join Love Home Swap for an initial fee of US$1 for four weeks. If you like it, you can pay US$159 a year and swap one or more of your houses (assuming you own more than one) an unlimited number of times. Or you can pay US$299 a year for the Luxe Home Swap option, which includes perks like a personal concierge service to arrange things like restaurant bookings and access to a range of Hedonist city guidebooks. Wosskow is also working on add-on offerings like insurance.
The membership fees are a bit stiffer than those on other home exchange sites, which may be one way that the site quietly focuses on the more stylish end of the home swapping spectrum. It also builds on social media networks to encourage like-minded people to swap with each other. For instance, members can see whether anyone in their Facebook network is offering a house for swap through the site. Wosskow says that fosters confidence, as does a Luxe option called the Trust Centre, which helps members evaluate the person on the other end of their swap.
I caught up with Wosskow a little while ago when she did a quick publicity swing through Canada to promote the site. “Canada is a very important market for us,” she says. “Fifty percent of Canadians have never heard of home swapping.”
It wasn’t really on Wosskow’s radar, either, until Hollywood put it there. “I remembered seeing the crappy movie The Holiday,” she says. Despite her views on the film’s artistic merits, she was intrigued by the swapping premise. She thought it was a solution for young mothers like her who had become accustomed to boutique hotel style while travelling but didn’t see it as a feasible choice with small children in tow.
But when she checked out existing sites, she found them very “Craigslist.” So Luxe Home Swap and then Love Home Swap were born.
Even though home swapping has been around since the 1950s, it has until recently been seen as something of a niche product for hippies, teachers and retirees. “My mission is just to make home swapping mainstream,” says Wosskow. Her argument that the average swapper saves about US$2,000 to US$3,000 per trip in hotel fees may just be the perfect enticement in these recessionary times.
Interested in taking the plunge? Check out my five tips for happy house swappers.