Evanston Residents Use Internet to Find Swap-worthy Homes
by Meghan O'leary, The Daily Northwestern
Although Evanston residents can log onto Web sites to try and temporarily exchange houses, like Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz's characters did in the film "The Holiday," the possibility of finding someone who wants to visit Evanston is slim.
Instead of hunting for a temporary place to rent or buy, Evanston residents and Northwestern faculty can use Web sites such as sabbaticalhomes.com to find housing. Through the Internet, families can swap houses to limit their expenses and benefit from the accommodations offered at another furnished home.
"It's actually very easy," NU history Prof. Sarah Maza said. "They will list your home with photos and then you just wait for offers to come in."
In order to list temporary housing on sabbaticalhomes.com, users must prove they are employees of academic institutions. Many of the users are professors who are hoping to find temporary houses while they complete research in other locations.
Maza used the Web site to find housing accommodations while on sabbatical.
While Maza said she hasn't been able to arrange a swap yet, she's used the site to separately lease her home and rent a place while on sabbatical. She said she wishes she could work out a swap.
"An exchange would be ideal if it could be arranged," Maza said. "I think it could be much simpler because then you keep paying your mortgage and don't have to worry about the financial details."
Meanwhile, Evanston resident Roshanna Sylvester is searching for a house exchange for this summer and the coming year. The DePaul University professor said she needs a place for a few weeks during summer vacation and she also wants to exchange houses with a family for a year to fulfill a research grant.
"Ideally, a swap would be great if that could be arranged," Sylvester said. "We want to go to Dublin (for the grant), but the chances of someone wanting to come to Evanston are not very likely."
Sabbaticalhomes.com enables two parties pursuing a home exchange to agree on the terms and expectations for each of the tenants and the financial situation. Users list the rules, features and responsibilities - watering plants for example - that come with their houses. They also include their hopes for a temporary house and sometimes try to showcase skills such as gardening prowess to win over fellow swappers.
Although Maza said there are benefits to swapping houses instead of renting, she also said she found it difficult to track down an interested user in another area who also wants to exchange homes.
"You can do home exchanges for the summer because people want to go on vacation," she said. "But during the year it is very difficult."
Sabbaticals are more common among American academics than professionals in other countries, Maza said, adding that American academics are fortunate to have the opportunity to take long sabbaticals. In the history department, professors receive one quarter off every four years, and then they can apply for grants to enable them to go on sabbaticals for one year every four years.
Evanston real estate agents also said that there is not a large market for home exchanges, especially in the North Shore area.
"This is just one small segment of the housing market. It is not a common practice around here," said Rose Thomas, Sales Associate at Koenig & Strey GMAC Real Estate in Evanston. She also said renters run more risks, such as damage or stolen household items, by exchanging houses.
Sylvester, who said she knows other professionals who have made use of the house exchange possibility on sabbaticalhomes.com, felt that it is a convenient option for sabbaticals.
"The way the Web site works is like a matchmaking service," she said. "Most of us who get grants from one kind or another don't get those types of (housing) services provided."