House swap shop

Ben makes a friend

Time for the NCT House Swap Register – a marvellous service which allows you to swap homes with people who have similar aged children, and whose houses won’t feature knee-high, hand-blown, antique glass family heirlooms.

We’ve done seven so far – three times to London (where staying in a hotel would be too expensive and too inflexible with young kids), once to North Wales (where it rained), once to Buckinghamshire (where we have friends and family) and twice to Bath and its environs.

Each time we’ve enjoyed the luxury of staying in a fully equipped house, and the children have enjoyed getting to know other kids’ toys.
So even if it rains, you’re sorted.

The highlights

Looking after a rabbit for a week without having made the commitment to owning one. Ben loved playing with Rolo in North Wales… until the animal weed on him, twice.
After that he showed his adoration from a distance.

Cycling along the canal in Bath, one child pedalling furiously a few miles ahead, the other sitting happily behind me in her seat. We saw lots of wildlife, a Rosie and Jim barge, houseboats with people actually living on them, quaint canal-side pubs, and we even rode all the way into town one day. Ben’s first ever go at riding on a road.

Getting to know an Aga

Finding a “secret bathroom” in a house in London, which you got to via a door which looked like a cupboard under the stairs. Great fun for the kids.

Coming home to find the people in our house had also broken something (a stool), so we were quits.

Riding on a steam train, on a barge pulled by a horse, and on a furnicular railway.

The lowlights

Being woken by an elderly cat scratching at the door of the bedroom at 5am. We’d got past the stage of being woken by babies and weren’t prepared to submit to this treatment from a cat. Neither did we want it on our bed. It found itself shut in the kitchen overnight – with access to the cat flap should it need to relieve itself.

Cleaning the house in preparation for the swap, even skirting boards and windowsills. This is a real pain, but as a once or twice a year catalyst for proper cleaning, it’s probably just as well to have a reason for doing it, otherwise the beds would be rising up on a layer of their own carpet fluff.

Trying to make toast, boil a kettle and heat up some milk, all at the same time, using only an Aga.

Discovering a mouse in the kitchen in a house in London. Mike set an elaborate trap for it, involving an assault course ending in a box laden with cereal. It laughed in his face.

Worrying every time Ben waved his arms about that he would break something. Then scouring the shops to replace the things he did break, which included a vase, a decorated plant pot and a glass.

Having to clean the inside of the shower door every time we used it, with one of those window cleaning squeedgie things. This made me feel like a real slob for not doing the same thing at home.

Arriving at one house, having mutually agreed arrival times that would suit both families, to find they hadn’t left yet. They were at least three hours late.
Meeting each other isn’t part of the deal, as you can’t take over a house when its owners are still in it.

The verdict

If you haven’t done it before, it’s well worth trying, as long as you don’t mind people being in your house when you’re not there.

We’ve stayed in parts of the UK we wouldn’t have bothered to visit if we’d had to pay for a hotel, and it’s really useful if you have family or friends you’d like to spend time with – but not stay with, if you get my drift.

It’s almost like trying out someone else’s life, which I think would be a great way of buying houses.
Live in it for a week, then you’d really know if you wanted to move from the city to the country, or from the south to the north – perhaps Wifey and Rilly should have house-swapped before heading for the hills?

About Beta Mum

Here you can find the ramblings of a trapeze artist turned journalist who ran away from the circus to join the BBC. Cathy "mine's a Kir Royale" Keir then spent thirteen years working in Jersey, Guernsey and Devon, before downgrading to what you see before you. She has contributed articles to The Guardian, The Stage and Television Today, Junior Magazine and both the BBC and Bad Mothers Club websites. She has two children who think women can’t be prime ministers. She blames herself.
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7 Responses to House swap shop

  1. Omega Mummy says:

    You have to CLEAN the SKIRTING BOARDS? Right, that’s out, then. And it sounded such fun, apart from the rabbit.

  2. I think you’re very brave. I don’t think I could have people in my house touching my things

    I only ever clean skirting boards when I am moving house!

  3. I agree with Beta Mum, even though Home Swap has some drawbacks, the advantages far exceed the disadvantages. I do recommend trying this wonderfully enriching vacation alternative!
    My family and I just came back from a home exchange in Italy. The swap was not for a house but for a medieval tower in Tuscany. We did not have to deal with mice but with a bat! (For more details about the trip see my blog at http://www.jewettstreet.com.)
    Home exchange has become such a passion for me that I very recently launched my own home exchange network. I would like to invite you to join – membership is free for a limited amount of time (no strings attached). For more information go to http://www.jewettstreet.com.
    Also, for a member from New Zealand I seek a home exchange in Essex in September and October 2007. If you know of anybody interested in such an offer let them know about us. Thank you.

  4. brom says:

    I heard about this on the ole wireless the other day. Sounds like a good idea. From what they said and yours and Ursula’s experiences the positives far outweigh the negatives.

    Something to consider for the future methinks.

  5. bart says:

    Yes, it sounds okay, and as you say: it’s a very good reason to clean the house more then only the french way we use to practice…

  6. Drunk Mummy says:

    That’s fascinating – great post!
    I think I would be a nervous wreck about the kids breaking other people’s stuff though.

  7. jackie says:

    I just loved this post… you really depicted what it’s like when you swap house with someone for the purpose of a holiday.

    It is so true that whilst you are living in someone’s home you are so extra careful with their property and feel awful if, by accident, you were to break a glass!

    It is also the case, that in preparation for the arrival of your swap partner, you give the house a deep clean (but apart from the imminent arrival of your mother/ mother-in-law… when else would you do it.. and don’t you just feel fantastic when it’s done! It is also great knowing that you will be arriving in your swap partner’s home which has been similarly scrubbed awaiting your arrival!

    Finally, as you also pointed out… visiting another part of the country to see if you were to like living there is a great way to experience life as a local..

    NCT is a great site but your readers may also like to know that there is a new UK only house swapping site just launched that caters for families (small and large) as well as couples and singles. The site is http://www.ukholidayswapshop.co.uk

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