Tourists have long used home swaps as a way to save money
and escape the blandness of hotel rooms; trading use of a house on the beach
in Florida for a New York City apartment or lakeside cabin for a week or two.
The idea has now spread to permanent swaps. With far more
home sellers than buyers in the market today some entrepreneurs have come up
with web-based ways of putting sellers together with other sellers in hopes
of meeting the needs of both.
According to reports it does work, but visiting some of the sites gives one
a new appreciation of the words "needle" and "haystack".
The Wall Street Journal in an article by Jennifer Levitz last month, identified
four of these house swap websites
and we visited each. If you
wish to do the same the URLs are OnlineHouseTrading.com, GoSwap.org, DaytonaHomeTrader.com,
and DomuSwap.com. The venerable Craigslist.org is also getting in on the action
with 7,392 home swap listings in December, an increase of 56 percent in a year,
however, on our quick visit we found that most were still of the vacation variety.
The premise is a simple one. As it says on the DomuSwap website, "there
are many more sellers than buyers, and therefore few offers and sales. Many
of these sellers, however, are actually buyers needing to sell their existing
homes before they can buy." These websites attempt to uncover possible
trades thus expanding the seller's market to more potential customers
The smallest of the sites, DaytonaHomeTrader, is operated by a local franchise
of Coldwell Banker. Its listings, 24 the day we visited, are limited to Florida
and most appear to be from builders who are willing to take on a smaller home,
probably as a way to generate activity within existing developments as well
as to diversity their portfolios. The house being traded into must have at least
a 20 percent greater value than the home being traded and the smaller home cannot
suffer from functional obsolescence or deferred maintenance. The site claims
7 success stories since January. There seems to be some rationale to this site
as it is geographically limited - Florida sellers looking for each other.
Not so for most of the others. The chance of finding a home in the particular
part of Tennessee belonging to a seller who hopes to move to your part of rural
Maine seems to be a monumental crapshoot.
As for the sites themselves, we found only GoSwap to be fully transparent and
user friendly. A casual visitor can access all listings and get a brief description
of the property and find out a bit about where the owner is willing to consider
swaps. A simple and free registration allows access to more detail - a
comprehensive (or as comprehensive as the owner provides) property description
and more information on the terms for a swap. A present there appear to be about
400 listings on the site several of which are in exotic off-shore locations.
GoSwap.org says it is "geared to find a perfect match across multiple
property types and eliminate any transaction costs as there are no real estate
commissions when owners trade." The site also allows posting ads in various
categories and with multiple exchange combinations. One example given in a press
release: "what if your kid is going to college out of state and the family
is on a tight budget, but you have a piece of land that's been sitting dormant
for years? Perhaps you could exchange that property for several years of housing."
In fact, we found one owner willing to accept a sailboat in trade for his land
DomuSwap has listings in 48 states and a visitor can view all listings by state
and locality without registering. However, you must register a property to trade
before you can access information on the types of trades an owner would consider.
At the bottom of each site were several categories, each linked to a number
- matches, connections, seekers, extended - and some of the numbers
were impressive - in the thousands in some cases. But nowhere could we
locate an explanation of what the words and numbers meant. Realtors are welcome
to post listings on the site and, in fact, are assured that they can keep their
commissions, maybe even earn two.
OnlineHouseTrading has received the most press of late but it was certainly
the least user-friendly of the sites. You must register to access any of the
site's services and indicate in general terms where you are looking and
what you have to trade. Once that is done you are presented with a teaser list
of possible matches, but with only the price, number of bedrooms and baths.
To get any further information you must list your existing property and pay
a $19.95 fee for six months (renewals are free.) No browsing at this site.
All of the sites tend, in their promotional materials, to compare themselves
and their technology to match-making websites which have certainly been a staggering
Internet success. There is also a crying need for some real innovation when
it comes to buying and selling real estate. We have to wonder, however, if there
is a large enough audience for house swapping and if the concept is practical
enough to support even one such site let alone four.