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Can't sell your house in this market? Trade it.

Permanent home swaps, while complex arrangements, are gaining momentum – 8,000 a month by one estimate.

By Amy FarnsworthStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 23, 2009

DONE DEAL: Jerry Stussman relaxes by the pool with his labrador retriever. He traded four properties in order to obtain his home in Westlake Village, Calif.

Stephanie diani/special to the christian science Monitor

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Joseph Solans is playing a kind of real-life Monopoly.

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Stuck with multiple properties he would like to sell in a market in which next to nothing is selling, the Groton, Mass., developer has joined a small but growing number of people looking to do the next best thing: Trade one property for another – permanently.

Mr. Solans plans to close a deal on his first trade this week. He's promising to build a house on a lot he owns in Ashburnham, Mass., in exchange for a house in Palm Coast, Fla., and then trade that house for a commercial property in Fitchburg, Mass. He's also in talks to trade another plot of land in Massachusetts for a one-acre plot in Hawaii.

Permanent property swaps like the ones Solans is trying are not easy, often requiring two sellers with comparable properties, perfect timing, and a resolution of any mortgages tied to those assets.

But such deals are gaining momentum. Some 8,000 swaps take place every month, estimates Danielle Babb, a real estate analyst and dean of business at Andrew Jackson University in Birmingham, Ala.

Still, the scope of potential swappers is small. Approximately 4 million homes are listed for sale on Realtor.com, according to Walter Molony, spokesman for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). That figure is sizably larger than the roughly 12,000-plus listings last November for permanent and temporary house swaps on Craigslist. In addition, permanent house-swapping websites such as DomuSwap.com listed about 7,000 prospective trades this month, while BestHouseSwap.com contained more than 2,000 active listings, according to the sites' creators.

"We know that less than 2 percent of homes are sold using some sort of trading mechanism," says Ms. Babb. Still she views permanent house swaps as "a very viable alternative right now."

Four homes for one

Permanent house swapping has gained interest over the past year among investors, retirees, military families, and people moving because of job transfers, Babb says. Swaps have also become attractive in states hit hard by the real estate slump, including Florida, California, Arizona, and Nevada.

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