In 1953 David Ostroff developed the idea of swapping homes with fellow teachers and family. He typed the first list of exchangers on his manual typewriter and mailed it out to participants. Originally the list only included people who lived in the U.S. After all, it was the 50s. Who would have ever thought that people would home swap with someone in another country? Through the decades that’s just what happened and Ostroff joined forces with people around the world who shared the same vision of traveling the world and staying for free.
Today HomeLink International has grown to 14, 000 members in 80 countries. There are 27 HomeLink Representatives worldwide; Karl and Katie Costabel are the owners of HomeLink USA. Today they’ll share some of their insights into home exchange.
1. Hi Karl & Katie, Thanks for joining me. HomeLink is almost 60 years old, more than half a century! You must have some long-time members. What’s the record?
Katie: Hi Shelley. Thanks for inviting Karl and I to take part in your blog series on home swapping.
I had the pleasure of speaking with one of our members recently who told me he has been with us since the 1960s! He has enjoyed over 100 exchanges in 50 years! Just this morning I renewed a longtime HomeLinker’s membership by phone and she told me they have been HomeLinkers since 1969 with over 70 exchanges under their belts!
One of the many benefits of HomeLink membership is that you’re not restricted to a certain number of exchanges per year. We leave the details of every exchange completely to the discretion of our members. The sky’s the limit!
2. When did you acquire ownership of HomeLink USA?
Karl: I purchased Vacation Exchange Club (VEC) from our founder, David Ostroff, in 1988. VEC officially became HomeLink International in the 1990s with the onset of the Internet.
3. You’ve been exchanging homes for more than 20 years. My husband and I have swapped for 12 years. So for people like us home swap is fun and adventurous! But let’s talk about the concern that many newcomers have. What’s your advice to people who are fearful of having strangers in their home?
Katie: The idea of having a stranger stay in your home is something to seriously consider. However, through the process of arranging a swap with your exchange partner, a trusting relationship is formed, which naturally promotes a real sense of security.
We encourage our members to address their concerns and conditions of the exchange prior to the exchange. There is no inappropriate question to ask your potential exchange partner. You simply need to be honest and open as this is the foundation of the home swap experience.
Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right during your initial correspondence with a potential exchange partner simply decline the offer to exchange and move on to seeking another, more suitable exchange.
By the way, HomeLink offers mediation services to our members on the rare occasions when unfortunate circumstances arise during an exchange. In almost 60 years of exchanges there has never been a reported incident of theft or vandalism during an exchange. The complaints we receive are due to minor differences in cleanliness standards or some type of unintentional damage that occurred.
4. Please list the top ten countries where you have the most exchange members.
1. United States – 2250
2. France – 1800
3. Great Britain – 1350
4. Australia – 1100
5. Germany – 1050
6. Netherlands – 900
7. Canada – 850
8. Italy – 700
9. Spain – 550
10. Switzerland – 450
5. What are the most popular home swap destinations?
1. United States
4. United Kingdom
6. What’s your favorite thing about working at HomeLink?
Katie: Without question, it is the daily communication with our members. We take great pride in our customer service and it’s a
wonderful feeling when we’re able to help. It could be as simple as guiding them through one of our website functions to being able to help find alternate exchanges for members who suffer a last minute cancellation. Our HomeLink community is comprised of a group of caring and generous people. It’s a privilege to be a part of it all.
7. HomeLink.org has about 14,000 members. Can you tell me approximately what percentage of your members travel with children and what percentage travel without kids?
Karl: About 40% of our members travel with children and the majority of the remaining members are empty nesters and/or retirees over 55 years old.
8. Anything else you’d like to say about home exchange?
Katie: I could talk all day long about the benefits we enjoy as home swappers.
Home swapping is an amazing way to travel! It’s so much more than free accommodations. You get to live like a local and also have the opportunity to forge lasting friendships with your exchange partners.
We remain in touch with exchange partners of ours from over a decade ago and now we arrange exchanges with other members in their area, so we can spend time together instead of staying in each other’s homes.
Thanks Karl and Katie for being with me today.
Thanks again, Shelley, for giving us the opportunity to be a part of your new blog series. Karl & I applaud your continued efforts and enthusiasm in spreading the word on the wonderful world of home swapping. You are truly appreciated and it has been a real pleasure chatting with you today.