Fulton resident Melanie Velasco and her husband are planning a trip to the Sea of Cortez. They’ll stay at a beachside family home “a little off the beaten path” that promises excellent whale watching. Their stay will be free. In exchange, the beachside residents are coming to stay at Velasco’s house in Fulton.
The couple advertises their home for an annual fee through a global home exchange service. Velasco said it’s different than VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), where renters don’t have any stake in the game.
“There is mutual respect for the property. It’s not like renting. No money changes hands,” she said. “Some people even exchange cars, or take care of a pet.”
The free lodging allows families to take month-long sabbaticals and immerse themselves in a new culture, she said. Velasco typically seeks destinations where she can use her Spanish language skills, and she hopes to spend time exploring Spain.
“It’s a lot of retired people who can get away for longer periods of time,” she said.
Simultaneous trips are possible but more difficult to arrange, she said, particularly for Minneapolitans seeking a trip in winter.
“You have to have somebody who wants to come to Minnesota,” she said.
Sedona, Arizona resident Gary Bohn is one such person seeking a Minneapolis home in late December, in order to visit family over the holidays. In past years Bohn and his wife have stayed at a house near Minnehaha Creek. In exchange, they offer their Sedona four-bedroom home with scenic views, a pool and access to trails.
Their first home exchange allowed them to visit the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. They’ve completed about 20 home swaps since then, staying in Costa Rica, the Virgin Islands, Florida, North Carolina, Los Angeles and Hawaii.
“It’s a very inexpensive way to travel,” he said.
They typically exchange cars at the airport, so travel expenses are primarily limited to the flight.
“We love it, it’s literally like picking up a life,” he said. “We usually do car swaps too. To us the location is always more important than a big, beautiful home. We would rather have a modest house in a great location.”
He said the increasing popularity of Airbnb has made it easier to swap homes over the years.
The company HomeExchange.com said its membership has grown more than tenfold between 2005 and 2016, facilitating 138,000 exchanges in the past year.
When Bohn meets friends who are skeptical of the idea, he explains that travelers are “all in.”
“They’re in your home, you’re in theirs,” he said. “We’ve never had a problem. Every once in a while a wine glass gets broken.”
By offering a home in sunny Sedona, Bohn said they often have their pick of worldwide destinations. But Minneapolis only has about 20 homes available for exchange, he said. Seattle, by comparison, has about 200 available homes.
“We could go to Hawaii anytime we want,” he said. “It’s harder to get to Minneapolis at Christmastime.”
Seeking a permanent swap
One Excelsior resident is looking for a Minneapolis home to permanently exchange. Janet Malotky recently posted an ad to the Uptown and Lakes Facebook bartering group: “Home swap? $1 … Let’s trade houses!”
She explained that her kids are grown and she wants to downsize and move to the city, preferably to an older and interesting home near park space with a cook’s kitchen and enough yard for a small garden. She’s hoping to swap with a city family interested in Minnetonka schools, elbow room and woods for kids to explore.
“We want to move downtown,” she said. “We thought maybe there’s somebody who wants to do the opposite of us.”
Malotky said she hasn’t found any responses yet, but thought the ad was worth a try. A trade might work for someone who wants to sell a house without the trouble of listing it on the market, she said. Her $559,000 home features a kitchen design inspired by Julia Child’s kitchen in Provence, France; a sky-lit solarium and a hen house in a yard that backs into the Gideon Glen Nature Preserve.
The property’s realtor, Woody Love, said he hasn’t seen many home swaps, but said the idea could catch on among people moving between phases of their lives.
“It’s certainly happened,” he said. “It’s hard to match people up in that way, but it’s not unheard of.”