Home exchanges, a bit at a time

Updated: Mar 31 2008, 04:17am hrs
About once a month, Mark Bollozos makes the four-hour drive up to Lake Tahoe from his home in San Francisco for a few days of skiing or mountain biking. A couple of weeks before he leaves, Bollozos nails down which getaway hell call home that weekend.

Will it be the four-level condominium in Incline Village, Nev., with a view of the lake The chalet with mountain views one block from Sugar Pine Point State Park in Tahoma, California Or the cabin that sits along the Truckee River near Tahoe City, California, where he has become friendly with the neighbours

The homes arent his, but theyre starting to feel that way. Through his membership in HomeExchange.com, Bollozos gets to live in them in exchange for the use of his one-bedroom condominium in Pacific Heights that has a living-room view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We have a mutual agreement to go to each others places, said Bollozos, who works in commercial real estate. At this point its not even like home exchange, but more like an extension of a second home. Any time I have an interest in going to Tahoe, I drop them an e-mail.

In the past, home swapping was the province of international vacationers seeking long-term getaways. But executives with home-exchange services say short-term swaps those within easy driving distance have taken off and are the fastest-growing part of the business, though hard statistics are difficult to come by.

Thats because once members sign on to a service, which typically costs $45 to $110 a year, they connect with one another online. So while companies poll customers, they dont have immediate statistics.

What I do know is that people who used to do one exchange every year or two are now doing four, five, six or more exchanges within a year, said Ed Kushins, founder of HomeExchange.com, one of the largest swap services with 20,000 members. Weekend exchanges are one of the fastest-growing kinds. Even I've done it. I live in Hermosa Beach, and I did an exchange in Beverly Hills. It's only 20 miles away, but it's like going from one world to another.

Helen Bergstein, founder of Digsville.com, another service, has seen the same trend. Its not just about that two weeks overseas anymore, she said. In a survey I did nine years ago, exchangers were mostly middle age and older and went on two-weeks-plus trips once a year. When I did a survey a year ago, the age was lower, with many more families, and they took shorter, more-frequent trips and closer to home. Steve and Dian Jahn, of Anacortes, Washington, hadnt considered doing a weekend swap until they were contacted last year by Greg Cusbert, who lives in Vancouver.

Greg put forth the idea, and it was a very good one, Jahn said. We enjoy a great getaway in an international city, and Greg enjoys our small bay-front condo in a rural area, so it's a great change for us both.

For David and Karen Keane, early retirees who live in Lyme, N.H., short-term swaps are a way to explore New England on a budget. Since joining HomeLink International four years ago, they have traveled overseas once, but also swapped their home, which is near Dartmouth College, for places in Hyannis, Mass., Bar Harbor and Falmouth, Maine, and New York City.

NY Times / Diane Daniel