Home holidays: Can a house swap save your staycation this summer?

With self-catering in high demand, more people are looking to beat peak-season prices by swapping homes. But how exactly does it all work?

Orla Fahy and her family on staycation

Conor Power

So the green light has been given for summer staycations. That’s great news for our home holidays, but also poses some dilemmas. Last summer, popular parts of Ireland were swamped with domestic tourists during school-holiday months, resulting in some overcrowding alongside peak-season rental rates, from Hook Head to Hare Island and from Ballyheigue to Burtonport.

This year, the battle-hardened Irish holidaymaker is better prepared for the Irish summer season, with all of its positives and pitfalls. In considering the kinds of holidays that one can plan for safely, the idea of the Irish home swap seems to be gaining traction.

“What a lot of people have done over the years is to do maybe a short break in Ireland and a long holiday — or even two holidays — in summertime abroad,” says Marie Murphy of Irish home-exchange company Homelink (homelink.ie), which has operated here since 1953.

“Since dedicating a special page 20 years ago to those exchanging within France, a lot of people have been using it — often for short breaks — but many are now planning longer holidays within the country,” says Lucien Mazik, Honorary President of Intervac International, another home-exchange agency, which Irish people have also been using since the 1950s. “In Ireland, there’s a great opportunity for people to see how well home exchange works; particularly in a country with such variety.”

Irish home-exchangers have been used to swapping for overseas holidays. As they dipped their toes into the Irish market for their main holiday for the first time in 2020, many did so reluctantly — but feedback has been so positive that it’s creating a stronger appetite for summer 2021.

“We had terrific feedback from those who did that last year,” says Marie. “Even when they were worried about finding things for their children to do and were worried about so many things being closed, they still found lots of things to do and see.”

Home exchange isn’t for everyone, of course. For many people, the notion of allowing relative strangers to live in their home for two weeks simply isn’t what holidays are made of, but many aspects of Ireland’s prolonged lockdown have forced a rethink. The well-documented increase in the number of households with pets, for example, has left many people reluctant to abandon their dog or cat for their summer holiday, or anxious to avoid placing them in kennels. A home exchange provides the perfect solution for this conundrum: you simply find another family in the same situation, bring the pets, or leave them at home and look after each others’ dog or cat.

“We started in 2009 after we had our first child,” says Dublin-based Sarah McNamara, who is planning an August home exchange with her family in Kerry. “We’ve done over 50 home exchanges now and it’s been a mixture of international ones and ones in Ireland. We think it’s fantastic… From a practical point of view, you have the high chairs and cots and beds… in other words, you swap with people who are in the same zone as you in terms of family needs… If you have children, I think that you only get a holiday when they’re entertained.”

“We’ve three children and it works out great for them,” says Orla Fahy, who lives in Wexford and who is also something of a home-exchange veteran.

Buoyed by her family’s experience of a home-swap staycation last summer, she’s planning three week-long holidays in Ireland this year.

“When you’re going to a house where there are other children, you have this whole other world of toys and books for them to explore and which keep them entertained — for days when you just want to chill out in the morning and you’re not going anywhere.”

“The other reason we like to do it is that we’re usually off the beaten track,” says Sarah, “where people wouldn’t be so used to tourists and would be very interested and very friendly.”

A row of homes in Portrush, Northern Ireland... could a house swap be for you?

A preference for avoiding crowds and exploring some of the unknown corners of the country is just what many Irish holidaymakers have in mind right now.

“Home exchange is the ideal holiday for these times, in many ways,” says Lucien Mazik. “It’s a formula that keeps contact to a minimum. Apart from the family with whom you’re exchanging, there need not be much contact at all — a bit like living as you are at home, with far less exposure to contacts than if you were, for example, in a hotel.”

The flexibility of the home-exchange option means that rescheduling the holiday isn’t a problem either, as there’s no question of financial loss or of wrangling with an airline or a travel agent suffering its own financial meltdown. Though anecdotally, there are reports of people exchanging homes with friends and family around the country, Homelink and Intervac believe most prefer the assurances that dealing with an agency gives you, not to mention the vast choice of accommodation.

It’s common for both parties to sign a contract beforehand, for example; essentially committing to a code of behaviour that amounts to respecting one another’s homes and property. Looking after a pet, for example, would be included in such an agreement.

“I’ve honestly never heard of anyone exchanging with friends or relatives,” says Marie.

“Of course, there are people who go the solo route,” adds Lucien. “Those who say, ‘Well, I think I’ll just let my membership lapse this year and do another exchange with one of the many people I know already through the agency.’ It’s no big deal, really, because almost everyone who does that comes back to us… sooner or later!”

How to home swap

  • Homelink (homelink.ie) offers a full year’s listing of your house, with photos, for a fee of €125. It offers 30 days’ free listing without obligation, unless a suitable exchange is found.
  • Intervac (intervac-homeexchange.com) charge €85 per year for a similar service. It offers a free trial period of 21 days.

Neither place a limit on the number of exchanges/holidays one can make. After that, your only costs are transport. Given the interruptions in travel within Ireland, both companies have also offered extensions to homeowners’ listings.