Home Base Holidays was contacted recently by a comparison website, with a link to home exchange services comparison data, and the suggestion that 'your readers will love it because it lets you search for and compare exchange websites by the number of listings, exchange types offered, membership fee and more.' As well as some puzzling omissions/inclusions in the sites compared, the 'and more' didn't really cover anything that would be very useful for first time home exchangers to help them choose the best service for their needs.
1. Does the site show full contact details, i.e. can a site visitor or member call the office if they have a question or is there just an anonymous email contact form?
2. Are you comparing like with like? Free listings sites may have many ‘members’ but many will not be actively looking for home swaps. A smaller number of up-to-date listings where members have shown their commitment to arranging exchanges by paying a modest membership fee is generally much more valuable.
3. Membership options range from a few months to ‘lifetime’ so very difficult to compare. How many lifetime members are likely to be active?
4. How up-to-date are listings? Can you see the join or renewal dates and expiry dates in all listings? Can you see years as well as months in exchange dates wanted? Are there many older listings with blanks where the exchange dates should be (this indicates that the exchange dates are over and members either aren’t looking for further exchanges at present or their listings are kept in circulation after expiry to bulk up the numbers of listings)?
5. Encourage readers to look at the balance of listings, i.e. there may be a large number of listings overall but if there are many members in your area or country looking for swaps in the area or country of interest with a small number of listings, an overall large number of listings won’t mean your choice will be as good as it would be if you joined an agency with a better balance of listings.
6. How long has the agency been in business? Many new agencies (the majority offering free listings) are started every year but many of the owners lose interest after a few months, leaving members arranging exchanges in limbo.
7. Does the site provide a good deal of information on how to arrange exchanges, e.g. does it publish regular newsletters and/or a blog?
Some of the above points could easily be incorporated into a simple data comparison chart as used by the comparison website but, unfortunately, as with many decisions we all must make, some vital information on home exchange is difficult to show effectively in such a simplistic way.