Ways to keep your home safe when you do a house swap

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As the economic climate forces us to look at alternative holiday arrangements, the popularity of home exchange is growing by 15 per cent each year.

Following an initial spike in staycations, usually under canvas, the concept of exchanging homes is fast becoming the trend for many looking to save costs on their holiday.

It is estimated that 1.6 million people took part in a house swap last year, enjoying a holiday in a new area, often abroad, relishing the opportunity to become a temporary “local” while saving on hotel fees or expensive accommodation. Dr Steffan George, development director of the Master Locksmith’s Association (MLA), the UK’s locksmithing trade association, gives advice for people considering house swapping for their next holiday:

“A house swap can represent an excellent value holiday and a fantastic way to see other parts of the UK, or indeed the world, at minimal cost. However, there are significant security issues at stake in allowing strangers access to your home and the MLA would recommend that you follow the advice below to ensure that the house swap is a positive experience. It’s paramount that you find your home and belongings as secure on your return as when you left them. These pointers should help you to rest assured that your home is protected against unscrupulous house-sitters and give you peace of mind to enjoy your holiday:

A home exchange will involve giving the key to your house and all of its contents to your exchange partner. You want to be sure that the guest in your home is not making copies of your keys, providing themselves with unwarranted access in the future. Investing in a patented key system is a good way of preventing this threat. Patented keys carry legal protection, preventing their duplication without proof of ownership, ensuring you know exactly how many keys are in circulation and who has access to your home. Visit www.locksmiths.co.uk to find an MLA licensed locksmith who can assist with this.

It’s advisable to put your guests in touch with a neighbour, friend, or family member. Not only does this give those close to you the chance to check up on your behalf, it presents them with the opportunity to run through any ground rules.

It’s wise to lock away any valuable items that are easily stolen or broken. While many insurers will cover house exchange programmes (providing they are informed beforehand), they will not cover thefts that show no signs of forced entry, a problem when you are essentially giving a stranger access to your home. For this reason, it may be a good idea to invest in a safe, expertly specified and fitted by an MLA licensed locksmith. A safe will allow you to store valuable items, secure in the knowledge they’ll still be there when you return.

Be sure to change the codes on your alarm once the exchange is over to prevent your “guests” returning uninvited in the future.

Make sure you discuss in advance whether the guests will be leaving the property unoccupied at any time during their stay (perhaps to visit friends or relatives) and that you have agreed the security procedure for this eventuality, including setting timers for lights and organising collection of mail from the doormat.

Try to exchange keys either in person or through someone you can trust to ensure all keys are returned and secure.

It’s worth calling out a professional to conduct a review of the security of your home before you put it on the house-swap market – it’s important not to overlook things like repairs to perimeter fencing which could compromise your property’s security.

Always use a reputable company to arrange an exchange.

Dr Steffan George is development director for the MLA. To view free home security guidelines go to: www.locksmiths.co.uk/homesecurity.