Ah, spring break. Sun against bare skin, waves lapping at your feet, and hawkers pushing fishing trips in Cabo, Disney tickets in Orlando, helicopter rides in Hawaii and show tickets in Vegas, all free.
What’s spring break without the enticement of a time-share? Should you take the bait and get a freebie in exchange for four hours of your vacation?
No. It’s not that I’m against buying a time-share. It’s because the $10,000 to $20,000 that a buyer plunks down for a “new” time-share through a resort is money that will never be recouped. Even time-share marketers, who are known to make unfulfilled promises, have quit using the word “investment.”
Ed Shaw, a lawyer who specializes in bankruptcies and divorce in Brainerd, sees individuals and couples every month who want to get out of their contracts. It’s an investment that people enjoy until the relationship or the income stream dries up.
“A time-share is always a hot potato in a divorce,” he said. “They all want the other side to have it.”
Even if a time-share is paid off, there are annual maintenance fees of about $1,100 on average and those costs are rising about 5 percent each year. Then the owner may get socked with a special assessment. Owners can just quit paying the annual fees, but resorts take them to collections and ruin their credit.
Shaw has seen older couples who no longer use their time-share due to poor health who are scared that the kids will be burdened with annual maintenance fees. “They don’t want their kids to have to inherit it,” he said.
His advice? “Don’t buy one unless it’s on a fire sale for a few hundred bucks. Make sure it’s a place you want to go, and it’s well-maintained from a legitimate company. Do your homework.,” he said.
Attorney Mike Finn of Finnlawgroup.com advertises that he can get owners out of their time-share contracts. “I discovered an industry that could use a good cleaning up,” he said. “Nobody’s interested in enforcing what I perceive to be a fraudulent sales practice.”
The Miami-based lawyer charges a flat fee of $3,500 to get someone out of paid-up contracts. He can also help the person who owes thousands on their high-interest loan (17 percent is common), but he charges more for that based on how much money he is saving the client. “I know I can get it canceled, and it doesn’t involve litigation,” he said.
An estimated 9 million Americans own a time-share, according to the industry trade group American Resort Development Association (ARDA). In 2014 consumers bought almost $8 billion worth of time-share properties in the U.S., with an average sale of $20,020, according to Consumer Reports. Although the median age of time-share owners is 51, owners who have bought recently have a median age of 39.
Eight of 10 time-share owners say they would buy their time-share again, according to the ARDA. So why do I say buyer beware?
Simple. There are plenty of time-shares available on the secondary market for 30 to 100 percent less. (Giving away a time-share and the seller paying closing costs is not uncommon.) People pay full-price because they fall prey to really aggressive sales pitches. Example: The ARDA saying that a family of four saves $18,000 over 18 years with a time-share instead of hotels. Lisa Schreier, a former time-share salesperson and blogger at Timeshareinsights.com, did the math and figured out that the hotel would cost $428 per night for a week’s stay. Yet few families spend that much per night on a hotel.
You are better off going to secondary-market sites such as Tug2.net, Redweek.com, eBay and Craigslist. But even secondary-market buyers need to be cautious. The new owner could be saddled with unpaid bills and assessments, a poorly maintained property and amenities that may not transfer to a second owner.
For those who want to get out of a time-share, be wary of scams. Check with a local real estate lawyer who may know of someone who specializes in time-share contracts. Brian Rogers, owner of Timeshare Users Group (www.tug2.net), said that owners who want to get rid of a paid-off time-share may have cheaper options than paying $3,000 or more to a lawyer. Most owners make the mistake of calling the resort to try to cancel, but they should contact the homeowner’s association board of directors instead. “Write a letter and maybe offer to cover the closing costs or cover one year of maintenance fees,” he suggested.
Rogers said that most time-shares fetch between zero and 15 percent of their original cost with one exception. Disney has a healthy resale market of 75 to 80 percent of the original value.
Before attending a sales presentation for a freebie, at least understand the difference between points and weeks, common fees and blackout periods. And don’t believe any salesperson who says you can’t think about it overnight. You can and should.