Q: What can you tell us about home exchange companies? Are they a good idea?

A: There are numerous companies that are dedicated to this money saving strategy. Essentially, home exchange allows two parties to swap homes for a vacation, thus avoiding hotel charges.

One well-known firm is the appropriately named
Home Exchange.  For a one-year membership of $99.95, members will have unlimited contacts and exchanges with no additional per-exchange or per-day fees to over 14,000 Listings in 110 countries around the world.

Another is
International Home Exchange Network with properties in the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Virgin Islands, France, Italy, England and more. It charges a yearly fee of $39.95. And there's
Home Exchange International, which has listings is over 60 countries and charges $30 for a one-year membership, with a guarantee that if you don't find a home exchange partner during your 12 month membership, you'll receive your another 12 months for free.

 And if you're older, you might consider
Seniors Vacation and Home Exchange, which caters to the over 50 group, and costs $79 for 3 years (there's currently a limited special with the membership fee reduced to $59 for 3 years).

Home exchanges usually work out just fine. It's a good idea to ask for a video tour of the home you're considering, and to write up an informal letter of agreement stating what you expect from your host. Are you expected to mow the lawn? Is use of the family car included? Are pets allowed? Who's responsible for cleaning when you leave. Don't be afraid to consider all the ins and outs, and put them in writing. Be a good host yourself, by preparing things like restaurant and entertainment suggestions in your locality, and a list of emergency phone numbers. Most of this is just common sense, but too many people go into home exchange without proper preparation, and that's when the trouble can start.

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