Sarah Beeny takes a look at the American practise of house-swapping as a means of moving home and wonders if it could work here…

Only the most optimistic of industry watchers would say that conditions in the UK property market aren’t tough. The credit crunch, the lack of availability of mortgage finance for both first-time buyers and those with equity in their properties, and anxiety over the state of the economy in general have led to what is, at best, a pretty stagnant property market.

Meanwhile, in the United States, where the credit crunch originated, the property market is suffering more seriously from a lack of activity. Developers are desperate to sell units, estate agents have been going out of business and the number of repossessions is up sharply.

However, there may be a solution of sorts on the horizon for a few out there. For years, Americans have used holiday home swaps as a way of experiencing a different area and lifestyle while still enjoying all the comforts of home. Now there are some who are trying to see if this concept might work for more permanent home swapping. And you never know if it helps the odd person move over there you may see it happening over here.

How does it work?

In much the same way as holiday home swapping websites operate. The idea is to find someone in the area to which you want to move and who wants to move to the area in which you live. From there you can hopefully find a fellow home-seeker with the kind of property you are looking for, and arrange a swap.

This system clearly does needs a considerable amount of luck as you may well want to move to a family home from the cool city apartment you live in because you may have just had kids but will the older couple wanting to downsize want to retire into that city apartment?  There are clearly a great deal of luck and considerable amount of volume needed to make it work but apparently we are told that matches do happen and when this does happen it’s a pleasant and easy trip for everyone.

House SwappingWhy do it?

Shortly – why not – if it does work then you obviously don’t have the cost of an estate agent but also there is massive ‘feel good’ factor about knowing the people who lived in your home now live where you used to.  This kind of property transaction allows buyers and sellers the opportunity to ‘try before they buy’. As the system is based on a vacation home swapping system, those people who meet and propose a permanent switch should also be able to arrange a trial period in which they live in one another’s properties. This eliminates a huge part of the uncertainty that goes along with a relocation to a completely new part of the country.

Disadvantages

The main disadvantage I see is that matches are extremely unlikely to actually occur – there are various websites that do this in the UK but they are little known at present and even if they were very widely known and all properties were on them matches would still be rare.

Legal issues

There will need to be the normal legal agreements in place to transfer ownership, to enable permanent exchange of the properties to take place.

Properties will have to be approved by a mortgage lender in order to proceed, adding another layer of confusion and bureaucracy.

Legal and financial institutions will treat any home swap as an ordinary transaction of property.

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