Canadian unity group creates home swap program

‘Home on lakefront with private beach and hot tub. Great sunsets. Located in prime fishing and hunting country in northwestern Ontario.’

A real estate ad? No, it’s the first listing in a brand new Canadian Residence Exchange, created by the Council for Canadian Unity. For $100 annually, people can list their own home and find out what’s available for trade.

The idea is popular in Europe – homeowners exchange houses, possibly cars, and vacation in comfort at a very low cost.  The CCU has an additional goal. At the same time as people exchange houses, they also experience another part of Canada, up close and personal.

The head of the CCU says a residence exchange is one more way for Canadians to get to know one another and their country.Rene Lemaire says he’s not discouraged that so far, only the homeowner in Balmertown, Ontario, has signed up.

“People may be a little bit afraid the first time. But after that, it goes very well. Our research from other international programs shows that there are lots of repeats from this formula. It’s such a nice way to travel.”

Annual membership
Until the end of August, membership will cer 18 months. After that, it’s renewable annually for $100. While members can make as many exchanges as they want each year, the likelihood is that most exchanges will take place during the summer months.

But the program co-ordinator, Anik Morsani, sees a number of other possibilities.

“In the fall, in Quebec, in the Laurentians, the fall colours are beautiful. And in winter, people can exchange their ski chalets – like Mont Tremblant for Whistler.”

So does that mean that people who have cottages and ski chalets are most likely to sign up for this exchange?

Rene Lemaire says maybe, initially.

“We recognize at the beginning it will be better off Canadians who will profit from the program. But we think people from all backgrounds will like this program.For example, if we promote the program with nurses across the country, then two nurses, from different parts of the country can exchange apartments, cars, and so on, and they can afford a very nice vacation. They’ll also get to know one another.”

Appealing to retired people
Lemaire thinks the program may appeal especially to retired people, who have more flexibility about when they travel. The CCU is also negotiating deals with Via Rail and Air Canada to lower travel costs to and from the exchange location.

Anik Morsani says people have common concerns about giving their home to strangers.

“When people phone you, they are worried about their property, things getting broken or stolen, and their privacy, people going through their drawers. But you talk to the person before you go, so you get a feel for the other person, you build up trust. And also, when you’re in someone else’s house, you realize that you’re worried about your own house, so that makes you more careful about their house, and they’ll be the same.”

This speaks of trust and goodwill-but just in case, participants sign forms and agree to certain commitments beforehand.

Rene Lemaire says “I’m in charge of summer exchanges for students. And we get comments from adults-very nice for these kids, but what about us? Now we have a program. And living in somebody’s house is not like staying in a large hotel. Quite often, the owners will arrange introductions with their friends, their neighbours, so there’s a real chance to communicate with other Canadians”

And if the exchange happens between homeowners who are unilingual francophones or anglophones, the CCU provides translation help.

 “It’s not for everyone, this program, but for the people who do it, they love it and say it’s the best way to travel,” says Morsani.