Can't sell a house? Try trading

Diane Peek

MIAMI — Diane Peek needed to move from Georgia to central Florida, but for six months no one even showed interest in the house she and her husband built outside Atlanta.

In suburban Orlando, Andrew Bou needed to sell his family home to move to Atlanta but also no luck. Peek and Bou each joined a Web site that matches people willing to trade their homes.

They punched in their needs and their likes and dislikes, and like two singles finding love on a dating site, they became a match. About seven months later, they swapped homes.

Peek and Bou are part of a small but growing number of homeowners who are turning to the Internet to swap properties. The sites — there are about a dozen — allow interested homeowners to browse potential swaps narrowed by giving preferences such as price range, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and city of choice.

The homeowner also creates an account with the same information for others to browse.

"It was a wonderful experience for us," Peek said. "To me it's just a great thing with the housing market the way it is right now. It's a great way to hold on to your equity if you have to move."

Some experts said they don't expect online house trading to become a major trend because in most cases it's usually simpler to sell a home, move to the other city and house hunt. Swapping also limits choices because the traders have to be swapping regions.

"I definitely know it's a growing market and certainly there are opportunities," said Paul Habibi, real estate professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. "I think these are still going to be one-off transactions and not the norm."

Brian Stroka, owner of onlinehousetrading.com, the site Peek used to swap her home, said the swaps aren't pure trades; it's a little more complicated than that. Each party buys the other's home, getting a new mortgage. That gives a bit more flexibility as the homes can be of widely differing values.

On his site it's free to post a proposed trade and profile and to look at properties. There is a $29.95 one-time fee for advanced searches, and he makes money from advertising.

The Tampa entrepreneur has no way of tracking successful trades unless someone writes to thank him. He said his site, which he began in June 2007, is growing fast. He said it has more than 50,000 profiles and gets about 75 new ones a day.