May 10, 2017 / 5:14 PM / 3 years ago

Your Money: Leveraging your home for a European vacation

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Spending half the year in the French countryside seems like a luxurious goal, but Deborah Jacobs, author of “Four Seasons in a Day,” figured out a way to make it happen.

FILE PHOTO: Tourists enjoy a boat trip on the Seine river past the Eiffel Tower on a sunny spring day in Paris, France, May 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

Jacobs spoke with Reuters about renting out her house to finance travel plans, scoring free airline tickets and reducing home damage.

Q: You rented out your home to subsidize your travel costs. What was your biggest expense?

A: Maintenance. For instance, we didn’t have air conditioning on the bottom floor of our home. We’re willing to live without it, but the kitchen gets beastly during the summer. We bought an air conditioning/heating unit and had it installed during the dead of winter when the labor is generally cheaper because of lower demand.

Q: What tips do you have for minimizing surprise expenses caused by damage to your home?

A: Take pre-emptive measures. First, we don’t rent for shorter than 30 days, so it’s easier to screen tenants. We spray door locks with WD 40 and make sure tenants know how to unlock and lock doors. This practice could have saved the lock on our screen door. It cost over $100 to fix.

We now put out coasters after watermarks were left on our nightstand from a child putting a water glass directly on top of it without a coaster. We use a lot more tablecloths, too.

Q: Do you feel investing mainly in your home as opposed to stocks was a wise financial move?

A: We were told paying off our home was a terrible long-term financial strategy by financial professionals. We didn’t get the tax deduction for mortgage interest, but our home has quadrupled in value since we bought it.

We don’t like paying interest. My affinity to interest is only interest I earn, not interest that I pay.

Q: You spent 30 percent more on rent in your first three-month trip than on your second one. What mistakes should other travelers avoid?

A: No matter how good reviews are, don’t rent a home for multiple weeks sight unseen. We had to move at the last minute when a home wasn’t well-maintained. Now, we book individual places for a week at a time and only for the first three weeks.

We aren’t scared we won’t have a place to go because we start off in high tourism season, and we’re moving places during times when rentals are less in demand. Rents dropped as tourism seasons changed from high season to shoulder season (in between low and high season) to low season. We could also ask to stay longer in homes we liked when we didn’t book too far ahead.

Q: Rent is posted on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway, but are these prices negotiable?

A: I try to negotiate rent every time we are staying a week or longer. It’s reasonable to ask for a discount if you’re staying for more than a night or two. The way I phrase it is: “We’re interested in the house for this time period, what price could you offer?”

Q: How can travelers save money on airfare?

A: We never buy plane tickets. We get a new credit card every year that has a free frequent flyer miles offer. This past year, we opened a Chase Sapphire account. Charging $4,000 within 3 months earned us 100,000 miles that we can use on a variety of airlines.

Compare mileage rates to the cities you’re visiting with the lowest mileage cost. We fly into the less mileage pricey Zurich rather than Paris.

Q: Are housing swaps a good idea?

A: Only swap homes if the value is the same or better. Otherwise, you’re losing money.

We had an offer for someone to swap with us for their home in Vermont for a month. Our rent is $300 per night. Theirs would have averaged under $200. Even if we wanted to stay in Vermont for that long, we’d lose $100 rent per night.

(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang

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