Timeshare realities: Don’t get trapped
Friday, October 27, 2017
I am sure we have all heard some version of "when something looks too good to be true, it is." But coming from my 12-year-old, it felt profound.
A chance visit to the mall and the lure of a free night's stay drove us to waste a recent Sunday on timeshare spiels. The whole experience was claustrophobic — not because they were selling, but for the way in which they were selling.
The entire process was heavy-handed and forceful, with little scope to escape. The sneaky way they undermine your confidence and then wear you down with hours of battering is exhausting. Even if you are quick to say no, they make you go through several more managers before you can leave. And every single one of them tries to sell.
At the end of seven hours, I was still saying no, and they were furious. I am not sure whether the rest of the people in the room were as good at resisting, but they did look like me — a hard-working American who cannot afford these schemes. They almost make you feel guilty for not buying into the timeshare. Almost.
I came across some news articles recently that made me so happy that I didn't give in to all that bullying. In one, Associated Press writer Marjorie Miller detailed a similar experience in Atlantic City. The same eerie process of laying out the golden future of travels and no mention of price until the very end.
When that price is revealed, though, it falls flat of all the lofty promises that have been made to you all day. It's too steep.
In this case, Miller was offered a one-bedroom condo in a timeshare for $23,000, and she would get to use it for one week a year. Say no, and a manager will materialize with a discounted deal. This will go on until you give in after hours of negotiations and discounts. Statistics from the American Resort Development Association show that 9.2 million U.S. households own timeshares. While 80 percent are happy, about 20 percent want out.
But those who want out cannot do so quite so easily. Several mentioned the word "trap" when it came to their timeshare ownership and the nightmare that follows. Fed up with repeated attempts to exit their contracts or sell their timeshares, they often look to companies that promise to buy them out only to fall into a deeper financial trap.
Wayne Bell, California real estate commissioner, has warned timeshare owners to be careful of disreputable companies that promise to expedite the exit process. The Timeshare Industry Trade Association advises owners to work with the company they have direct contracts with to get out of their contracts. They warn against dealing with third parties that are not licensed, who charge money up front and make bold promises.
The reality is that there is little resale value for timeshare properties, and one can end up in deeper debts through these players. For the millions of desperate timeshare owners who want out of their agreements, things are not going to look up anytime soon. Lofty promises and intentionally vague language are disguised with clever marketing spiels.
However, recent events show how timeshare owners have pushed back once they realized they had been duped. What once looked like a lucrative investment turned out to be a scam that could turn them penniless.
In a true David vs. Goliath manner, one Canadian couple managed to walk out of their timeshare nightmare without going broke. They outlined the typical MO where hours of smooth and relentless sales pitches tore down their resistance and made them sign over $25,000 for a timeshare contract.
Once they realized their mistake, they immediately wanted to back out of it, but that wasn't as easy as handing over the money. It was an uphill battle, but fortunately their plight was highlighted by the media, which forced Wyndham to cancel the "pushy" timeshare deal. There are plenty of other victims who are not as lucky.
Wyndham, the biggest name in the industry, also lost a $20 million verdict in California when whistleblower employees accused them of false marketing, fraudulent practices and deceptive claims. Now with scam companies claiming to help people cancel their timeshare, these companies are facing a bigger legitimacy battle ahead.
Other such cases include the Florida-based vacation company, Bluegreen Corp., whose tactics, the plaintiffs said, violated Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
What was once dominated by private developers is now a lucrative business for many major hotel brands. But it is now time to take a closer look at the industry that helped many hospitality brands bounce back from the recession.
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