Zap housing cost from vacation budget

03/22/2010 8:56 AM

03/22/2010 8:56 AM

When Ed Kushins agreed four years ago to have his company, HomeExchange.com, featured in the Hollywood film "The Holiday," he didn't fully foresee the transformation which that lucky break would bring about in his life. A big movie hit, that featured Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz exchanging homes and finding love as a result, the film brought an avalanche of new members to HomeExchange.com, making it undoubtedly the single largest U.S. company in the field.

As a result of the film "The Holiday," HomeExchange.com now has more than 32,000 home-exchange listings (35 percent in the U.S., the remainder around the world), and continues to receive between 400 and 500 new listings each week.

Home exchanges (which also can be apartment exchanges) have now become mainstream, according to Kushins (whom I recently interviewed on a radio travel show). Whereas once people would inquire anxiously about the safety of a home exchange, they now focus instead on the mechanics of the exchange, having concluded without any problem that the procedure is without substantial risk. According to Kushins, in 18 years of arranging home exchanges he has never once received a report of theft or malicious damage. The fact that someone has negligently knocked over a piece of bric-a-brac is the usual worst report.

I asked Kushins to name the chief factors that brought about this enormous surge in home exchanging for vacation purposes. He of course cited the speed the Internet can bring to the process, the fact that people can now post virtually unlimited photos to their listing, that they have no limitations of space in describing their homes or apartments. He did not mention the recession, which obviously has caused people to search for ways in which they could eliminate the cost of accommodations on their next vacation trip. Using your own home or apartment as an asset, you now have the ability to completely eliminate the cost of housing from your vacation budget. That latter factor has had a special impact on the demographics of the audience for home exchanging.

Years ago, seniors and teachers were the predominant group that engaged in home exchanging for vacation purposes. Today, the key group are families, especially those with young children.

So there you have it. What used to be a half-dozen or so companies that arranged home exchanges has now grown into an industry of at least two dozen major companies. They include, among others, Homelink-usa.com (which claims more than 50 years of successful operation), Intervac.com and Intervacus.com (an international group), Exchangehomes.com and Digsville.com. And there are the specialists, which feature home exchanges in one particular country: AussieHouseSwap.com (for Australia), HomebaseHolidays.com (for Great Britain) and Exchangehomesoia.com (solely within the U.S. and the Caribbean).

But Ed Kushins' HomeExchange.com may well be the largest of all.

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