Entrepreneurism meet house-swapping, house-swapping meet Entrepreneurism
It kind of feels like all I have been writing about for the past month has been accommodation options for the Digital Nomad, so in keeping with theme I am going to write one last post on accommodation opportunities. Now I use the word “opportunity” deliberately rather than “accommodation options” or “accommodation choices” because sometimes an “opportunity” takes a bit of planning to be able to execute, whereas an option is provided to you.
I am sure that most of you have no idea about how I live my life. Yep, you probably know that I am a “digital nomad” who can work anywhere in the world and often choose to do that. But what most of you probably don’t know is that we have set up a homebase in a holiday destination of Malaysia. That’s right, we (my wife and 2 young children) tend to spend roughly 6 months a year in Penang and the other 6 months of the year travelling somewhere (anywhere really).
We set up our homebase around this time last year so after a year what do we think about our choice to set up a homebase and commit to some long-term expenses (which is normally something a digital nomad tries to avoid)?
We set up a homebase in Penang for a few reasons:
- We have two young (4 & 6 at the time) children who we thought would benefit from having a base to call home. They could have their toys, their own rooms, a safety blanket of sorts given all the moving around we put them through. In the last 6 months we have backpacked through Eastern Europe for 3 months, spent 2 weeks in Kuala Lumpur, a week in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia, a week in Koh Samui, Thailand, a week in Bangkok and all too many even smaller trips and travelling families visiting us in Penang. This leads to a lot of instability in their lives so we decided to give them something to call home.
- Another reason is that when we left Australia in January 2010 we weren’t certain that we would love this lifestyle so much. The whole process of leaving Australia happened very quickly (the decision was made overnight and the next day we booked tickets less than 6 weeks out). We are never really certain about anything, so we weren’t willing to sell off everything which meant that we needed to store it all. $300/month later we had our gear in storage in Australia (and that was at a significant discount because we were leasing long-term). So doing the math, it was pretty simple decision. In Malaysia we rent a large 5 bedroom house in the tourist area (i.e. near the beach) for only $400/month. That’s only $100 more than storage and for that I get a bed to sleep in every night if I want.
- We felt that having a house provided us with more opportunities. If we wanted to travel long-term (i.e. 3-6 months at a time) we could rent our place to other long-term travelling families at just enough to cover our expenses. This would be a win-win for both parties. The travelling family great a full equipped house in a great location for a great price and we can backpack without the burden of expenses back home. Our first experience of this while we were backpacking through Eastern Europe were mixed, but it won’t deter us from trying again. The other opportunity it provides, is for house-swapping/home-exchange opportunities. This is where I am currently at.
For Christmas this year we are heading to Canada to spend a few weeks in a ski resort (Big White to be exact) for a family reunion (although we are all from Australia we decided to spend winter in Canada so all the kids could have a white Christmas – not something you get in Australia). My wife and I spent Christmas in the snow last year in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria and then two weeks in a Ski Resort and we all loved it so much that my wife and I decided we wanted to spend a full ski season in a resort. Initially we were thinking of heading back to Bulgaria, because it was so cheap to live there (read my fictional take on the expenses for a single digital nomad – costs are real though). This is when house-swapping popped into my head.
House swapping is simple, you arrange to stay in someone’s place and they come and stay at your place. Often people are flexible enough that the swap doesn’t necessarily need to be simultaneous which works even better for planning. People bank time to use at a later date when they are in your region. So I signed up to homeexchange.com which has over 42,000 homes listed and added our house to their database. I then started searching for locations I wanted to stay in North America. These included, Copper Mountain & Breckenridge in Colorado, Big White & Whistler in Canada. At this point in time I have found two great opportunities. One is a hotel room that is ski-in/ski-out at Big White and the other is a 4 bedroom home in Leadville, Colorado. Leadville is about 30 minutes drive to Copper Mountain (I am partial to Copper Mountain because I worked there in 1999 for a ski season during my Australian university break – and loved it).
I have to say the homeexchange.com search fucntionality does not lend itself to searching for specific keywords. They do have a very complex looking interface that allows you to choose lots of options but in the end Google does a much better job then their website does. If you are like me and looking for ski-in/ski-out locations in a ski resorts you could run a Google search something like this:
The site:homeexchange.com limits google to search just the homeexchange.com website and the “ski-in/ski-out” is the term it is search for. You can change it for whatever you want. Perhaps site:homeexchange.com “villas in Marrakech“.
Oops, I’m back. That was 20 minutes of being side-tracked looking at properties to try and swap in North American ski-resorts .
Benefits of setting up a homebase
I am all about getting an advantage. I don’t want to take advantage of anyone, but I do want to GET an advantage if I can. So lets consider this. If I was to head to North America and try to rent a 1 or 2 bed Condo in a ski resort that is ski-in/ski-out, the monthly prices range from $3000/month to $6,000/month depending on the resort (this is for non-luxury Condos as I am sure they could go much higher). We’ll use the low end figure for this math as I certainly wouldn’t spend $6000/month on rent. If I wanted to stay for 3 months the cost would be $9000. If I can arrange a house swap then this effective comes down to the cost of my accommodation in Malaysia. When I include ALL of my fixed costs it comes to around $800/month (this includes the guy who mows the lawn, the lady who comes to clean the house everyday, the cable TV, internet, two mobile phone accounts etc). That’s a net gain of $2200/month if I can arrange a house swap. In effect I go to an expensive location and only pay for the expenses of a cheap location. That is a win for me, the people I swap with come to a tropical destination, they get a big house, with everything they need, plus a housekeeper coming everyday to help them. They get all the conveniences of home but the experiences of a holiday, which I believe is a win for them. See win-win!
Some times options are only born out of preparation. Most digital nomads simply say I don’t have a homebase, I can’t do a house swap and stop there. Others, like me get a homebase they can use. But what if you don’t want a homebase?
An option for those without a homebase
For those of you who don’t have a home base I have been thinking about how you could get around this. AND I HAVE A PLAN! Again, it will take some planning, but it could allow you to visit places that you previously ruled out due to expense. You’ll need to put on your entrepreneur hat for a few minutes if you don’t mind.
Great, you’ve dug your entrepreneur hat out of the back of the closet and now have it on, excellent!
I will use Penang, Malaysia as an example because I know the figures off hand.
Renting an apartment in Penang is super simple and not too expensive. You can get a very nice fully furnished 3bd apartment with 180 degree ocean views for between $700-$1000/month. Generally you can get an apartment within a day of arriving if you know the right people. Knowing the right people in a location will be important.
So my idea is when you are in a highly desired (but inexpensive) location like Penang, Bali, Thailand or a thousand other places around the world, spend a few days going around seeing apartments (take lots of photos and lots of notes) and build up a relationship with the real-estate agent. When you have found 3 or 4 apartments (you’ll need more than one) you can signup to homeexchange.com and list these apartments as your properties. You can go through the negotiations of the house swap and then when dates are locked down you can contact your real-estate friend (because you have built up a good relationship haven’t you?) and book one of the apartments for the period of time that the house swap required.
IMPORTANT: you DO NOT need to rent these places full-time, just for the period of time that the house swap is required. The reason I am suggesting you get a least 3 or 4 properties on your books is that if one apartment is rented out during that specific period you can jump to the second choice rental.
When you first think about this is seems underhanded or something just a little wrong, but when you actually sit down and think about it, what is wrong with it? Are you cheating anyone? No. Are they getting an apartment that you have vetted extensively and know the ins and outs of? Yes. Is it in the exact location you said? Yes. So what’s the problem. [honestly though I would love to hear other peoples opinion on this].
So if you are like me and want to travel to all the expensive locations, like North American ski resorts, stay in great locations in expensive cities like New York or to be able to go on cheap Mallorca holidays then this could be a perfect compromise.
It takes research, it takes effort. You can’t simply find something on the internet and try to swap it because your credibility would be shot in a moment if something went wrong. I am certainly not advocating this. But if done correctly you could certainly have the best of both worlds.
Entrepreneurism meet house-swapping, house-swapping meet Entrepreneurism.