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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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3/21/2009 12:16:00 AM
EXCHANGING LIVES: Prescott, New Zealand couples trade homes for extended vacations
Courtesy photo
Prescottonians Tom Atkins and Joanne Tomasi stand on the deck of the New Zealand home that they are occupying as a part of a home exchange.
Courtesy photo
Prescottonians Tom Atkins and Joanne Tomasi stand on the deck of the New Zealand home that they are occupying as a part of a home exchange.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Nicky and Merv Sarson from New Zealand stand in front of the home of Tom Atkins Tuesday morning in Prescott. The Sarsons and Atkins traded homes for a six-week vacation.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Nicky and Merv Sarson from New Zealand stand in front of the home of Tom Atkins Tuesday morning in Prescott. The Sarsons and Atkins traded homes for a six-week vacation.

Cindy Barks
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - For the better part of three weeks, Merv and Nicky Sarson have been living the lives of Prescottonians.

When the weather is fine, they walk the several blocks from their Washington Avenue abode to the historic downtown to have a cup of coffee.

Or if they are feeling more energetic, they might take a quick drive out to Granite Mountain for a hike, or to Willow Lake for some bird watching.

And when they feel the call of adventure, the Sarsons pack up their car for the Grand Canyon or Canyon De Chelly on the Navajo Reservation.

For these British natives who have spent the past 35 years living in New Zealand, the chance to soak up Arizona's attractions at a leisurely pace exemplifies their fondness for home exchanges.

Indeed, although the Sarsons might be living the local life, they are only temporary residents. Since early March, they have been involved in a home exchange with Prescott couple Tom Atkins and Joanne Tomasi.

While the Sarsons have been staying at the bungalow of Atkins and Tomasi, the Prescott couple has been living at the Sarsons' harbor-side home in Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand.

They have never met in person - only through emails - but the two couples have easily slipped into the lifestyles of their counterparts.

Sitting at the kitchen table overlooking a panoramic view of Prescott and the surrounding mountains, the Sarsons recounted their local experiences.

"Yesterday, we went to Skull Valley," Merv said Tuesday, adding that other thrills have included his sighting of a vulture near Wickenburg, and taking in the desert terrain.

"When you're staying in a place for three weeks, you get to do the little local things," Nicky said. For instance, she likes the experience of simply shopping in a Prescott supermarket, and marvels at the array of chilies.

The Prescott exchange is the third for the Sarsons, and they plan a similar home swap in coming weeks with homeowners in France's Pyrenees Mountains.

Atkins and Tomasi also are seasoned home swappers. Their New Zealand experience is their fifth in a series of exchanges that have included San Diego; Vancouver Island, British Columbia; Martha's Vineyard; and the United Kingdom.

"Each one has progressed with ease," Atkins said via email from his temporary New Zealand home.

So far in Christchurch, Atkins and Tomasi have camped on the beach, taking in "thousands of waterfalls, train rides, Milford Sound, and helicoptering to the top of growing, massive glaciers."

Both couples mention the economical benefits of house swaps, which allow them to stay for free in a location of their choice, and usually come with use of the owners' vehicle as well.

Nicky Sarson estimates that house exchanges cut the cost of a trip by half.

Atkins also mentioned the economy of the arrangements, although he said other benefits, such as the ability to mingle with new neighbors, outweigh the money-saving aspects.

Adventurers by nature, the Sarsons left their home of England in 1972 to immigrate to New Zealand, where they both worked in education - Merv as an art teacher, and Nicky with the Ministry of Education.

Merv, who "packed in teaching" about seven years ago, has since thrived as a sculptor, and Nicky works on a contract basis for four or five months at a time.

"We got to the stage where we've got time to travel," Merv said. But the traditional travel itineraries, where tourists rush from one major attraction to another, did not appeal to the Sarsons.

"I don't think that is a satisfactory way of seeing a country," Merv said. "You never get to meet anybody. When you get home, you think, 'that was a holiday, but I'm exhausted.'"

Nicky came up with a solution several years ago, after reading a magazine article about house exchanges - sending the Sarsons on a Google search for home exchanges, which yielded a huge array of choices.

While obviously enamored with home exchanges, the Sarsons allow that the arrangements might not be suitable for everyone.

"If you're the sort of person who can't bear to have something one-quarter of an inch out of place, home exchange wouldn't suit you," Nicky said.

Even so, the Sarsons and Atkins and Tomasi all stress that their exchanges have been problem-free.

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• Video: Home Exchange

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, March 21, 2009
Article comment by: bill wallace

Wouldn't it be a better world if more people would do this?

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