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Purchasing a Timeshare

Timeshares are properties with shared ownership, often for vacation purposes. Timeshares can be a great way to vacation in beautiful spots worldwide. Buying a timeshare vacation home can be the solution for those who don't want to spend the money for a second home. You'll get a floating week on the beach or a ski trip to the mountains without worrying about home ownership.

But the old slogan "buyer beware" has never been more accurate than when purchasing a timeshare. In terms of knowing what you are buying and the buying experience, timeshares can be uniquely problematic. Yet millions of people holiday in a timeshare every year. So, what can you do to make an informed decision on a timeshare purchase? How do you avoid a bad experience and even outright fraud?

This article provides tips on buying into a timeshare. It discusses timeshare sales pitches and the costs of owning a timeshare. The article also addresses other considerations, such as:

  • The investment potential of a timeshare
  • Buying foreign property
  • Buying unbuilt property

What Is a Timeshare Property?

A timeshare property is a vacation property with shared ownership and use. Unlike a Disney, Wyndham, Marriott, or Hilton hotel, it's not strictly a tourist accommodation. Typically, in exchange for sharing the cost of the property (often a condominium) with other buyers (a timeshare users group), you're guaranteed a period of time at the property every year. Sometimes, timeshares don't involve actual deeded ownership and instead allow for the use of the subject property.

Timeshare ownership can be for a specified number of years, for the entirety of your life, or until you sell your vacation ownership rights.

The High-Pressure Sales Pitch

One of the biggest turnoffs for many people considering buying into a timeshare resort is the high-pressure sales tactics agents are known to use.

The typical 90-minute sales pitch starts innocently enough and then moves on to the script. The agent explains what you'll be talking about and assures you that you can leave anytime. The agent will ask what you're looking for in a timeshare while listening for clues on how to make a successful sales pitch to you:

  • What motivates you? What's important to you?
  • How would you like your vacation experiences to improve? What problems have you had in the past?
  • How do you feel about timeshares?

The agent will repeat what they've heard so you know they're finding the right timeshare solution for you.

Usually, the agent will show you the timeshare in person or on video. They'll explain how the club points system works and how easy it is. They'll share stories of people like you with similar desires and problems. Then, a sales manager steps in to crunch the numbers. There will be a variety of incentives, like points-based rewards, to encourage you to buy timeshares.

Resist the Pitch: Take Time To Make a Decision

At the end of the well-crafted sales pitch and timeshare presentation, you end up with a vacation home. Was it the best price you could have gotten? Are the maintenance fees reasonable? Can you get on the schedule for the time of year you want to visit? Is it well managed?

These are the concerns you face when making a costly decision without having time to do your research. Don't get pushed into a quick decision. Go home and think about it.

  • Write down what you want.
  • Look realistically at what you can afford. Consider not just the initial purchase price but also the many fees involved and travel costs.
  • Imagine what could go wrong and add that to your list.
  • Consider what happens if this doesn't work out and your options for getting out.

Now, you're ready to go back to the sales manager with a list of questions that need to be answered before handing over your credit card or signing on the dotted line.

What Are the Total Costs?

Total costs for timeshares are more than just the upfront costs and include:

  • Mortgage payments
  • Closing costs
  • Broker commissions
  • Finance charges and interest rates
  • Annual maintenance fees
  • Taxes

If you default on some of these, it could adversely affect your credit score. There's also the cost involved in traveling to your timeshare.

Annual timeshare maintenance fees can be high. They range from several hundred dollars to more than $1,000 a year, depending on the resort's amenities. The more extensive and more upscale the resort, the higher the fees. These fees can and do rise over time.

Will Your Timeshare Continue To Meet Your Needs?

Maybe you want a three-bedroom condo on the golf course with busy nightlife just 12 floors down. But is that what you'll enjoy every year? Is that what you'll want in 10 years? Some timeshare clubs have timeshares in multiple locations, and you can exchange your unit for one in another place with enough notice.

There are different types of timeshare ownership: deeded timeshares and non-deeded timeshares. Non-deeded timeshares are also known as "right-to-use" timeshares if the developer remains the current owner. It's important to understand the difference and what exactly you're buying. Are you purchasing a fixed time (fixed week), a fixed unit, or a floating time arrangement?

A timeshare is a purchase contract that typically makes no provisions for changing situations like poor health or a job loss. How long of a commitment are you willing to make?

Investment Potential

The matter of investment potential is one way a timeshare is different from a vacation home. Timeshares tend to be challenging to sell. When a buyer is ready to sell, they may have to sell at a loss. Renting can also be difficult. Many timeshare owners pay fees to a rental agency to help them find a renter for a given timeframe.

Timeshares aren't generally considered a good investment vehicle.

How To Get Rid of a Timeshare

If you've decided the perks of having a timeshare are no longer worth it, there are various avenues for getting out of a timeshare arrangement. You can take advantage of the rescission period if you've only recently signed a timeshare agreement. If it's too late to consider that option, you can ask the resort or developer to take the property back.

Your next option is to sell the timeshare. You can use a licensed real estate broker or agent if you're considering that route. Look for an agent with timeshare sale experience. Alternatively, you can list the property on resale market sites. Depending on your situation, you may consider involving an attorney to help determine your options.

Foreign Properties

Timeshares and vacation club memberships in foreign countries are subject to the laws of the country where the timeshare is located. Consumer and contractual protections provided under U.S. federal and state real estate contract laws may not apply in that nation.

Consider researching the experiences of other timeshare owners in the area where you're considering buying a property. How have property disputes been resolved?

Buying an As-Yet Unbuilt Property

Getting in on the ground floor of a new vacation property can be exciting, but it comes with additional risks. While many reputable builders exist, it's critical to research the seller, developer, and management company.

  • Are they trustworthy and financially responsible?
  • Do they do good work?
  • Do they meet deadlines?

Check out their track record with the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), if possible. Local real estate agents and the Better Business Bureau or a similar agency may be able to provide information.

One way a purchaser can protect themselves is to hold money in an escrow account in case the developer defaults. The commitment from the seller that the facilities will be finished as promised should be written into the purchase contract with a set date.

Check All Documents Before You Buy

Purchase documents for any real estate transaction are binding contracts. That means they're legally enforceable. A real estate contract in the U.S. may provide for (and some states require) a "cooling-off" period. This is also known as a rescission period. During this time, a timeshare purchaser can cancel the contract and obtain a refund. This is usually just a few days.

The timeshare contract may include a nondisturbance clause. This ensures the buyer's continued use of the unit if the resort defaults and a third party brings a claim against the developer or management firm.

The contract may include a nonperformance protection clause that allows the purchaser to retain ownership rights, even if a third party is required to buy out the developer's contract.

All promises made by the salesperson should be written into the contract. If not, such provisions will almost certainly be unenforceable in a court of law unless the promise is implied by state law.

Contact an Attorney

If you have additional questions about the legal implications of owning a timeshare property, contact a local real estate attorney. An attorney can review purchase contracts and help ensure you're working with a legitimate developer or timeshare company, not a scam artist. Having an attorney on your side can be beneficial when navigating the timeshare industry.

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