The apartment with Sydney Harbour Bridge views.
The apartment with Sydney Harbour Bridge views. Jan Richards

Jan joins the house swapping set

THE view was stunning, the apartment superb, the price perfect - it was free.

What's house swapping all about? Free accommodation, free car, all the comforts of home, someone else's home.

It hadn't really appealed, the idea of living in someone else's home, having all their stuff around me.

However, after an overseas trip fell through, but the urge to be on the move hadn't diminished and finances weren't what they needed to be, I decided to give it a go.

A cup of coffee with a regular house-swapper, and I was at the keyboard, paying the membership fee and joining Home Link.

I decided to visit some friends and family I hadn't seen in years, so I was looking at Sydney and Melbourne.

I set two parameters: I wanted to be close to the city and public transport and I decided to travel in late winter/early spring so the visitors in my home would have the benefits of what I think is the best weather on the Coast.

I trawled the database for homes that met my needs. I didn't take too much notice of the actual homes. It was the location I was most interested in, and that was the case with the people I swapped with.

I emailed, "Fancy winter in the sun?" and offered my home, (a two-bedroom, two-bathroom brick home in a quiet cul-de-sac, less than 10 minutes from the beach).

Before long I had three swaps back-to-back. A huge family home with distant ocean views up the road from my brother in Manly, a penthouse apartment right on Sydney Harbour and a walk to the city, and an apartment in Collingwood with city views, 100 metres from the tram and a 10-minute ride to the city.

A holiday right where I wanted to be, for the price of the air flights.

There was a lot of emailing, and I had to complete a house guide - a run-down on my home - including everything from how to use the TV to insurance details.

The guides in the homes I visited were extensive, and helpful. When you can't find the on/off switch on the espresso machine and you've just got out of the car after driving from Canberra, you need the guide.

Home Link also has a swap agreement. I believe it is not a legal agreement, just a statement between swappers.

One couple wanted to do the agreement, another listed in their guide some details of culpability in case of a car accident, the other (the apartment with Harbour Bridge views, marble bathrooms and light switches that worked with heat sensors) was happy to meet, shake my hand, and show me how to use the "air" key to enter the apartment and the gym, the lap pool and the other pool.

Essentially house-swapping is about trust.

You let them into your house, they let you into their house, and you trust each other not to trash the place, or nick the silverware.

Accidents do happen, like the time I broke the toilet seat. I can't explain how embarrassing it was contacting the owners to explain I'd staggered out of bed, plonked my bum down and snapped a porcelain toilet seat in their marble bathroom.

Fortunately, he had a sense of humour, even suggested he might have weakened it.

And that gets to the heart of it. If your home is your castle, and you don't want to share it, then house-swapping is probably not for you.

But if your home is a place you live in, and feel happy about sharing, while you live it up somewhere else, then give it a go.

Once you settle in to the house-swap mentality, relax in your new surroundings, get the hang of the espresso machine and the TV and drive the car out of the garage, you find yourself in a new home, with a new place around you to explore.

It's not a competition about whose house is better, or trying to swap with homes of a similar value. It's about the location, the holiday, what your area offers that your swappers want, that they can't get at home.

My home near the beach, with the leafy outlook and the sounds of birds during the day and possums at night, was just the trick for people who are used to city noises.

Your swappers will treat your home as if it were their home.

While I was entertaining my Melbourne friends with a sleep-over, I was happy to know my swappers were having rellies stay.

While I was getting to know Sydney, my swappers were testing out the Coast's golf courses.

And there are freaky swap stories. My Melbourne swappers landed in Buderim and received an email from a family they had swapped with in Germany who were swapping five minutes down the road.

Home-swappers are a community, and I'm happy to have been accepted.

And if you're lucky, like I was, you might just snag a penthouse apartment, and sit up in bed one morning, and look out the massive windows at a harbour view.

House-swapping is not just a free holiday, it's much more than that.


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