PORTLAND, Ore. -- Spring Break is just a few months away, and many families are looking for somewhere to go on a budget. According to Love Home Swap, a family can save an average of $3,487 on their next trip by swapping their house for someone else's house in a destination of their choice.
But before you decide to hand your keys to a perfect stranger, you'll want to understand the ins and outs of swapping.
Katie Schrall and her young family swapped their Southeast Portland home for one in San Francisco, just a block from Golden Gate Park. On another trip, they swapped for a home in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"It's a huge leap of faith," admits Schrall.
Martha Wright and her family swapped their Northwest Portland townhouse for a beautiful home in the Columbia Gorge with an expansive view.
"It does involve a leap of faith," agrees Wright. "But I think you get over that really quickly once you start looking at the homes that are available, and you see that the homes are awfully nice."
Both Portland families use the website Home Exchange to manage their swaps. It offers 46,000 listings in 140 countries.
The Problem Solvers also like Intervac, IVHE and newcomers - Knok and Love Home Swap. These are all membership-based sites where users pay a monthly fee, ranging from $8.25 to $25.
"The willingness to get online and establish a profile and pay annual dues is hopefully going to weed out people who are not going to be good exchange partners," explains Wright.
You can either arrange simultaneous swaps (where you stay in your swapping partners' home while they stay in yours) or non-simultaneous swaps or some sites allow you to earn credits to use later.
"You'd be really surprised," said Wright. "We live in a very desirable location, and people are eager to explore the Pacific Northwest."
"We've had multiple (offers) from Switzerland, Denmark, and recently there's been one from Paris," said Schrall.
The key to a successful swap? Both women say that it's communication.
"I think it's good to connect with them on the phone," advises Schrall. "Things either sound right or they don't."
Schrall also exchanged a half dozen emails with her swapping partners to iron out the details.
On some sites, you can snoop on potential swappers' Facebook pages to learn more about them and their habits. And both moms always have their neighbors keep a watchful eye on their properties.
There's also been an unexpected bonus to swapping homes.
"You're now experiencing the destination as a local would," says Wright.
"You get a view that you're not going to get if you're staying in a hotel," said Schrall.
Before you schedule a swap, check with your homeowner's insurance agent. Your policy will likely not cover any thefts in a common area because you have invited the person in, so if you have something really valuable, lock it up. Also, it's possible to swap apartments, but you need to check with your landlord.
Instead of swapping to save money, you may want to consider renting someone's home or a room in their home. Here's some websites to check out: