House Swap Bali
Pick a Country, Any Country
Sara Frisk never thought about traveling to Mexico City until a stranger named Pilar Muñoz invited her. Ms. Muñoz, a publicist for designers, lives in a 4, 300-square-foot penthouse apartment with glass walls and luscious green views. The home has richly grained wood floors, trim modern sofas and a kitchen island you could sacrifice an ox on.
“If I was going to Mexico, I wanted to be on the water, but that house is completely amazing, ” said Ms. Frisk, a graphic designer and design consultant in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago.
She had lost her heart on Behomm, an 18-month-old home-exchange website that has the comeliness of a shelter magazine, with one big difference: Viewers don’t just drool over beautiful properties; they stay in them.
Ms. Frisk had planned to travel over Thanksgiving and couldn’t make the timing work for the Mexico City dream loft (she ended up in the Berlin abode of two architects). Now she’s trying to arrange to stay there with a group of friends.
“It feels a lot more spontaneous planning a vacation around the home than doing all the research about where you want to go, ” she said.
Like other home-swapping sites, Behomm (pronounced “be HOME”) allows its members to trade properties, simultaneously or at different times. No money changes hands, as with Airbnb. The conditions for bartering are worked out in advance, and the reciprocal arrangement helps visits run smoothly.
Arriving at their destination, guests may find wine chilling in the refrigerator, a car at their disposal and a pet waiting to be fed. The principle is mutually assured protection: Do unto another’s B&B Italia sofa as you would have someone do unto yours.
What makes Behomm different (and a likely harbinger of home-exchange sites to come) is its peer-to-peer network. All its members are visual artists, designers or allied professionals. To join, they must work in one of 98 creative disciplines listed on the application, from animator to window dresser.
And they must have a great-looking place. The landing page at behomm.com features, among other beauties, a fashion designer’s Danish beach cottage, a photographer’s 1920s Milanese flat and an architect couple’s rustic (but not really) house in the Iron Horse neighborhood of Tucson.
Given the expertise of Behomm’s members, such stylishness is almost a foregone conclusion. Or so the founders believe.
Behomm was created by Eva Calduch and Agust Juste, both 48-year-old graphic designers in Barcelona, Spain. The couple, longtime home exchangers, had become tired of slogging through the tens of thousands of entries on popular sites like HomeExchange.com.
“We were wasting hours and hours, ” Ms. Calduch said. Then one day they found an architect’s stunning apartment overlooking a seaport on the Balearic island of Minorca and realized that they ought to concentrate on the residences of their peers.
They began swapping with landscape architects, photographers and interior designers, and a network started, one that became the foundation of Behomm.
The first 300 people to join were offered free lifetime memberships (like many home-exchange sites, Behomm charges annual dues). Even now, new members have a year’s free trial before they pay a fee of 95 euros (about $113).
The site has some 1, 200 members, with Spain and the United States supplying the most — about 200 each. The locations are as far-flung as Bali and Florianópolis, Brazil. Even Japan has four subscribers. (A remarkable number, Ms. Calduch said, considering that a Japanese colleague told her, “We don’t even invite friends over.”)
Around 10 to 20 percent of applications are rejected, often because the homes are shown to be messy or dirty. As for the rest, choices are based on “subjective aesthetics, ” in Ms. Calduch’s words. Those decisions have nothing to do with size or luxury, she added: “A tiny place with very little can be nicer or more tasteful than a castle.”
Nathalie Golliet, a designer in Paris who organizes culinary events, was one of the first to join. “I remember well, because I have the number 26, ” she said.
She has made four swaps since becoming a member, including one in Marrakesh, Morocco, with Françoise Lefebvre, who shares her interest in food.
Each woman was impressed with the other’s well-equipped kitchen. Ms. Golliet even learned how to prepare Moroccan dishes from a cook Ms. Lefebvre sent over while Ms. Golliet was staying at her house.
Behomm is not the only home-exchange network to streamline its membership. A site called Seniors Home Exchange is limited to people older than 50. The rationale is that this age group isn’t hampered by school-age children with disruptive vacation schedules. What’s more, the site insists, “Our experience has been that mature people tend to take better care of things when they are not theirs.”
Trust is fundamental to home exchange, and it is easier to come by in small communities with common interests.
Arun Sundararajan, a professor at the Stern School of Business at N.Y.U., who researches the digital sharing economy, said social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, and tools that verify one’s real-life identity, now allow us to vouch for a person’s credibility and good intentions.