One of the inevitable side effects of lockdown was that people became heartily sick of their homes and their neighbourhoods. While continuing to dream of far-flung destinations, we joyfully embraced any easing of restrictions that got us outside of our immediate locale.
When the ability to roam countrywide became possible yesterday, this seemed positively exotic. There still remains a lot of uncertainty about foreign travel and in terms of taking a break within Ireland, there are concerns about the cost and availability, as well as the impact that necessary safety measures will have on the entire experience. Nonetheless, the desire for any change of scenery is strong, which is why the option of a domestic home exchange is now being seen as an increasingly attractive option. Even if you’re fed up with your own abode, there’s a good chance that someone elsewhere in Ireland will find it the perfect antidote to their cabin fever, and vice versa.
While the idea of house swapping is more usually associated with doing a foreign exchange, Covid-19 means this is no longer the case. Marie Murphy, the director of HomeLink Home Exchange Ireland, says the company has very recently added a new section to its site to allow members who are actively seeking a domestic exchange to contact each other, and adds that swappers don’t seem to mind where they go.
“I don’t think people are fussy. I think they’re just saying if we can get away somewhere else in the country. I know people don’t often think of Dublin as a holiday spot but it’s great for kids from other parts of the country who don’t get to see parts of Dublin and go to the zoo or go to the parks and it’s a little different for them,” she says.
Pearl Heneghan is one such home swapper. The Spanish and French teacher joined HomeLink in 2017, after hearing about it from a colleague at school and originally signed up with the view to heading abroad. Although the Heneghans exchanged their house for three weeks with a family in France in 2018, and intend to do a swap in Valencia, Spain when it is possible to travel again, they have more often used the network to exchange with other Irish home owners, swapping with people in Donegal, Kerry and Howth, Co Dublin. Later this summer Pearl, her husband and four-year old daughter will be exchanging their home in Strandhill, Sligo for a house in Kilkenny, where they’ll be joined by Pearl’s sister and her family.
“We wanted to get out of Sligo for a while. Over lockdown we’ve been inside our own four walls for a long time so it’s nice to get a change of scene” she explains. “Generally we look for a house that’s quite spacious and child-friendly because we’ve got a little girl. Usually when you go to a house where there are already kids, it’s fantastic because they’ll have toys and stuff out the back like a swing.”
For Pearl, who is expecting her second baby in September, one of the major attractions of doing a house swap is that you have all the comforts of a home, like towels in the hot press and condiments in the kitchen cupboards. There’s also the aspect of considerable financial savings, with no money exchanging hands between house swapping hosts. However, the easiest and most straightforward way to get the ball rolling on a house swap is to sign up to a home exchange site where membership fees are incurred. It costs €125 to join HomeLink for a year, with a 30-day free trial. Other well-known sites include Love Home Swap, where there are various pricing options available ranging from €9-€13 billed monthly, and two weeks’ free membership, and HomeExchange, which has an annual membership fee of €130.
“We figure by doing one swap in the year you’ve got your money’s worth,” says Pearl. “I’m going to a hotel for one night with my sister in August and we’re having a nice night away, a dinner and spa treatments but that’s €175 each.”
However, according to HomeLink’s Marie Murphy, house swapping can be a hard sell. “The first time you say it to someone they think, ‘Oh my god, everybody is going to root through my belongings and see all my private stuff’, or that someone is going to break everything in your house. But actually, the total opposite is the case. I think the secret is that they’re in your home and you’re in theirs. It’s based on trust.”
Other people might be concerned that their house isn’t inviting enough to tempt someone else into doing a swap but Marie says this is generally not an issue. “They want a comfortable base and a place they can come back to in the evening, maybe outside with a glass of wine if they can – normal things really,” she says. “It’s not so much that you live in a touristy area, it’s more that the house has to be clean and tidy. You don’t have to stage your home but you want to make it look as nice as your home can look. Most people are proud of their home and want people to enjoy it while they’re there.”
Generally, house swappers will communicate their expectations to each other. This might include replacing any breakage and leaving a home as you find it, providing instructions for your visitors as to how things work in the house, as well as insider tips on what’s recommended in your town or area, and maybe even the makings of a meal. “We usually lock one or two rooms and you can put all your bits in there if you want and they have the run of the rest of the house,” says Pearl.
And theoretically, there’s no limit as to how long you swap your house for – it could be for a weekend, a few days or two months – or alternatively you could arrange for multiple swaps with different home owners throughout the summer. It’s something that Irish digital nomads or anyone who does not expect to be back in their office until much later in the year might think about. But that really comes down to finding other people willing to swap with, for the time frame you’re looking at.
With HomeLink, it’s also possible to arrange a non-simultaneous exchange where you might be offered a home for the dates you wish even if the other person isn’t free to visit your place and this might happen if one person has a second home available or has arranged a stay with someone else for that period. In the case of Love Home Swap and HomeExchange, both have a points system where if someone comes to your house but you don’t travel to theirs, you collect points and use them for a different stay later.
“We’ve got a lot of interest over lockdown and a lot of people of Dublin have contacted us,” says Pearl of her home in Strandhill. “You’d have offers and sometimes they wouldn’t suit and that’s the way it goes. Sometimes you would send out a lot of requests as well and you get rejections because it’s not the time of year that they want to travel so you’d probably have to put in an evening or two looking online and seeing what’s out there.”
Ultimately, she believes that there’s a house swap possibility out there for everybody. “It’s something that in the beginning, I would have been slightly nervous about doing but having done it for the last three years we don’t even think twice about it. For anyone playing with the idea I would say give it a go and see how you get on. We’ve found it fantastic.”