While not new by any means, a trend that’s grown substantially is home-swapping for vacations. Some people trade places to feel as if they’re members of the community they visit instead of feeling like tourists. Others trade because hotel costs in a pricey place might be beyond their budget.
Whole businesses have sprung up around the concept, with listings everywhere from Craigslist to numerous professional sites. One thing often lacking, though, is insurance against the additional risk a vacationer takes when allowing a perfect stranger into his home.
While home-swapping traveler blogs extol the low number of serious problems—the person you swap with is as anxious that you treat his home well as you are that he treats yours well—there are also horror stories, such as a British family who swapped their home for a place on the beach in Australia, only to come home and find that their “guests” had sold their house, belongings and car during their absence.
Then there’s the story told by Jim Fiske, vice president and U.S. marketing manager for Chubb Personal Insurance. “We actually had a situation a couple of years ago,” he related, “when one of our clients lent their home in a ski resort area to some friends.” The friends “lit a glorious fire,” basking in the après ski scene, and went to town for ice cream. By the time they returned, the house had burned down.
Theft and loss are not the only hazards to an exchange. Fiske cautioned, “When you introduce third parties to a house, you not only introduce property risk, but also liability exposure and identity theft.” After all, whoever lives in your home while you’re living in theirs will have ample unsupervised opportunities to take your car for a spin, authorized or not, and rifle through your private papers, as well as track down any valuables. Said Fiske, “It’s a limited upside and potentially unlimited downside.”
Even if you’ve allowed the exchanger to drive your car, what if he has an accident? Fiske told of an arrangement in which someone had an accident driving someone else’s car. The driver was seriously injured, said Fiske, and sued the owner, who was ordered to pay the difference between what his insurance company covered and the amount of the claim, because the swap company had a limit of liability.