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The hidden truth about timeshares

For some people, like retirees Don and Irene, timeshares are the perfect vacation solution.

They enjoyed being able to plan for their vacation on the same week every year, and they liked the predictability of knowing exactly what to expect at their resort.

However, owning a vacation timeshare can become an unpredictable and frustrating exercise. Here are the three important things to remember to make sure you are getting the most out of your resort purchase.

1. Be a smart consumer from the beginning.

If the person who is working to sell you a timeshare is working on commission, he or she will do everything in his or her power to entice, bully, guilt or manipulate you into signing on to the deal that is the best for their paycheck – not necessarily what is best for your needs or budget.

For example, when Don and Irene bought a timeshare ownership it was for a week of time at the resort. When the resort was sold to a new managing company, their week of time shifted from seven days to a fixed number of points. And while you can’t make a week shorter than seven days, fixed timeshare points can lose value. Like Don and Irene, you may find yourself pumping more and more money into your vacation account for the exact same vacation.

If you are in the market for a timeshare, here’s my money-saving tip: go to the resale market. Make sure you are dealing with a licensed real estate broker. You can go to Licensed Timeshare Brokers to find one. And, as with any real estate transaction, be clear about what you want and stay strong. Walk away from any “deal” that doesn’t offer the flexibility, location, or financial structure that you are looking for.

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2. Once you’ve bought, you’re in for life.

As a property owner – even if it’s a property you only visit once a year – you need to stay on top of your rights. A great resource is  National Timeshare Owners Association(NOTA).

There is also the ARDA Resort Owners’ Coalition, a non-profit program sponsored by the American Resort Development Association, and dedicated to “preserving, protecting and enhancing vacation ownership.” Critics have argued, however,  that the ARDA looks out for the RESORT owner’s interests and not as much those individuals who have purchased timeshares. Their website is still worth a look though, as it does contain some good tips and information.

3. A timeshare isn’t an investment property.

In fact, if you are looking to sell your timeshare, be prepared to take a loss on your investment. While the resale market is a smart place to go if you are a buyer, selling your vacation timeshare can pose a real challenge. ARDA has an excellent section on frequently asked questions and consumer advisories on the resale market. If you have decided it’s time to let go of your timeshare, make sure all of your paperwork is in order, including the legal documents from your original purchase (your resort manager can provide these.) Follow ARDA’s “Timeshare Seller’s Checklist” to make sure you have everything in order.

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If your resort developer, management company, or homeowners association is not able to help you in the resale process, you can go one of two ways: hire a licensed broker who specializes in timeshare resales (see the link above) or market the property yourself.

If hiring a licensed broker:

–Shop around and compare services and prices before giving the commission to an agent.

–Do some research on the company you plan to do business with. Call the Better Business Bureau in the state where the company is located.

–Do NOT give your credit card or wire money until you have a written contract. And always read that contract carefully.

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If marketing the property yourself:

–Research the asking prices for similar kinds of properties, and then research the prices paid for recent sales at your resort.  Chances are the asking prices will be higher than the sale prices. You want to be sure to price your property attractively in order to increase inquiries and the chance of selling your timeshare.

–Advertise widely. Place ads in the real estate or travel sections of newspapers; advertise on websites like eBay or Craigslist; check and compare prices for online advertising sites for timeshares such as redweek.com.

–Remember, if you sell your timeshare yourself, you are responsible for the whole process, including transferring documents, titles, etc.

If you are truly done with your timeshare, but can’t sell it, there are a few final options. You can pass it on to your family. Transfer of ownership rules (which vary from state to state) should allow you to give your timeshare to a family member. You can donate your timeshare to charity. There will likely be fees involved and you should check with your tax advisor before making a charitable donation. You can retain ownership and rent your timeshare; some resorts have rental programs or policies, or you can advertise the rental on an owner site.

Timeshares can be a fantastic way to ensure that you enjoy your vacation year after year. But like any major purchase, you’ll be happier if you do your research up front, hold out for the exact type of resort you want, and have an exit plan if you find that the timeshare lifestyle no longer works for you or your family.

Robert Massi joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1996 and currently serves as a legal analyst as well as host of Bob Massi is the Property Man, part of FBN’s Friday lineup (Fridays, 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT with an encore at 12:30 a.m. ET / 9:30 p.m. PT). The program highlights the various facets of the housing industry and features experts who break down current property trends and pricing deals. Massi appears weekly on Fox & Friends for his segments “Rebuilding Dreams” and “Legal Ease” along with appearing at other times on Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network (FBN) for real estate and legal segments.

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