Q: I have heard that some people "swap" their homes with others for a week or two at a time in order to save on hotel expenses and other vacation costs. What do you think of this idea? How can I get information about what types of properties are available for swapping, and where?
A: I've never been involved in a home-swap myself, but I know several people who have. Most of them were happy with their experience, and many have done it time and again.
In a typical swap arrangement, you would agree to let a family from another state or even another country use your own home while you and your family use theirs. You would not only eliminate hotel bills, but save additional money by being able to cook your own food and perhaps even use their car instead of renting one. Another advantage is that the home you'd stay in would likely be much larger than a typical hotel or motel room.
Veteran home-swappers say problems are rare. Most disputes involve housekeeping standards: You might feel that you left their house spic and span, then arrive back home to find that your own place is a mess.
Less frequent problems, such as damage or theft, are much harder to resolve because it can be difficult to sue someone who lives in another state and almost impossible to get reimbursement if they reside in a different country.
There are several organizations that specialize in listing properties that are available for swapping. For an annual membership fee of about $50 to $100, they also will help you arrange a deal, provide the necessary paperwork and might even attempt to resolve any disputes that could arise.
Some of the largest exchange services include HomeLink International (800) 638-3841, www.homelink.org; HomeExchange.com (310) 798-3864, www.homeexchange .com; ExchangeHomes.com (800) 848-7927, www.exchangehomes.com; Home Exchange Club (877) 795-1019, www.digsville.com; and Intervac Home Exchange (800) 756-4663, www.intervacus.com.
It's best to contact at least two or three companies, or visit each of their Internet sites. That's because some firms primarily handle U.S. listings, while others focus more on properties available in Europe, Canada and other foreign nations.
Q: I heard that Donald Trump is planning to build a hotel that is shaped like a giant flower. Do you have any details?
A: Construction of the bodacious builder's latest project, called the Palm Trump International Hotel and Tower, is expected to begin next year on a palm-shaped island in fast-growing Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The architect's rendering features a tall, cylinder-shaped hotel closely surrounded by four giant, gold-sheathed petals - giving it the look of a flowering tulip.
The New York-based Trump Organization is working on the project with a company owned by Dubai's crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, whose vast fortune makes "The Donald's" estimated $2.7 billion net worth look downright modest.
Trump isn't required to put any money into the new complex himself, but will collect a handsome fee to at least lend his expertise and prestigious name to the resort.
Q: Is there a good Internet site that provides information about home repairs?
A: Several Internet sites offer information about home repairs and improvements, but some are clearly better than others.
One of my favorite sites is www.askthebuilder.com, which is operated by construction expert Tim Carter. It has a free database of hundreds of different projects, and a terrific search feature that can help you quickly locate the particular information you need.
Q: You recently wrote that homeowners who create a simple living trust can avoid the expensive probate process and protect their privacy after they die. But isn't it true that creating a living trust provides an owner with extra tax breaks, too?
A: No. Creating a simple and inexpensive living trust can provide a homeowner or even a renter with many benefits, but gaining some additional tax write-offs isn't one of them.
Most people who form a living trust keep all the tax benefits that they currently have, such as the ability to deduct their annual mortgage-interest payments and to keep most or all of their resale profit when they eventually sell.
Forming a trust won't automatically create any new tax write-offs, although upper-income people often add other money-saving tools (like certain types of tax shelters or charitable arrangements) to their trusts if their belongings eventually will be subject to the special federal tax that is levied on estates valued at more than $1.5 million.
- David W. Myers is a 20-year veteran of the newspaper and magazine business, having previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Times and Investor's Business Daily.