Timeshares FAQ

How to avoid a timeshare nightmare, plus more answers to timeshare questions.

What does a timeshare sales pitch usually involve?

A new camera, a half-price parasail ride, a free day's rental car, a free gourmet meal -- you name it; timeshare salespeople have offered it. Many timeshare developers lure tourists to sales presentations by selling tours and activities at highly discounted prices, while providing only vague disclosure of what is required to qualify for the discount deal.

In the usual scenario, the catch for the gift is that you must sit through a presentation about a timeshare vacation property. The presentations vary, but most include high-pressure sales pitches that drone on for hours and leave visitors desperate to get out. Timeshare salespeople frequently go over the advertised time allotted for their presentation and are not responsive if you complain. They sometimes refuse to give the promised gift or discount if you don't buy. Although it may be illegal to not give you the gift or discount, few consumers complain -- they just want out.

I've been told that I shouldn't by a timeshare because it will be hard to sell it later. Is this true?

Very likely, yes. Timeshare owners face a few difficulties when they try to sell. The first hurdle is the lack of a strong resale market. Although statistics vary, all studies show that there are many more timeshare owners wanting to sell than there are people looking to buy a timeshare.

Another problem is the likelihood that you will lose money on the sale of a timeshare. The original price of a timeshare may have included premiums of up to 40% to cover sales costs. Also, timeshare properties age and can become less desirable. So your resale price may be anywhere from 20% to 60% of the original purchase price -- plus you will have to pay a commission to the broker (often as high as 20% of the resale price) who sells the property for you.

Is it possible to get out of a timeshare after signing a contract?

Maybe. Most states have "cooling-off" laws; these let you get out of a timeshare contract if you act within a few days after signing (usually within three to ten days, depending on the state). If there is no cooling-off period, or if you change your mind after the time has passed, your only recourse may be a formal lawsuit. Timeshare sellers are accustomed to handling claims from unhappy buyers and are unlikely to refund your money unless they're forced to do so. However, lawsuits can be expensive -- you may be out of pocket even if you win.

Can I sue the timeshare operator if I'm the victim of a timeshare scam?

There are several types of claims you might bring against a slippery timeshare seller. The first, breach of contract, involves promises explicitly made and set forth in the sales agreements. If the size, location, condition, or some other important fact about the timeshare is materially different from what you agreed to in the sales contract, you may have a basis for claiming breach of the contract. But beware: These contracts are carefully drawn up by the timeshare sellers' attorneys and are likely to cover almost any contingency -- scrutinize carefully before signing.

You may also bring claims based on tactics used and promises made before you agreed to purchase your timeshare. These claims may be covered under state laws prohibiting unfair business practices or those designed to prevent fraudulent inducement. In both cases, the idea is that the seller used unfair sales tactics -- or outright lies -- to get you to buy the timeshare. You will have to show:

  • what the seller said or did
  • why it was misleading
  • that you wouldn't have bought the timeshare if the seller hadn't used the misleading tactics or promises, and
  • that you suffered some monetary loss because of the purchase.

Timeshare sales contracts usually include clauses that disclaim any promises made during the sales pitch. The contract you sign will ask you to agree that you are making the purchase only on the basis of the representations in that contract. Prospective purchasers who notice differences between what is in the contract and what was promised by the salesperson are likely to be told that the contract is only legal jargon. This is not true. If a timeshare salesperson will not put a promise in writing, don't go through with the sale. You will be forced to argue afterwards that you relied on that promise, even though you signed a contract that explicitly says you did not rely on any promises.

If you do successfully prove in court that you are the victim of a timeshare scam, the court may do one of two things. First, it may rescind the contract. This would require the seller to return your money and retake title to the timeshare. Second, the court could award a money judgment to you. Usually the amount awarded is the difference between the amount you paid for the timeshare and its actual value.

We just returned from Hawaii, where we were constantly solicited to buy a timeshare. Are these deals as good as they sound?

Probably not. The great majority of all timeshare owners never intended to buy in the first place. Instead, they were swept away by high pressure sales pitches and cleverly disguised promotions.

The idea behind a timeshare is simple: for a one-time price plus an annual maintenance fee, you can buy the right to use a given vacation property for a certain amount of time (typically one week) each year. What you may not be told is the extent to which the annual maintenance fee will increase over time. For example, one timeshare owner in Hawaii saw her annual maintenance fees climb 76% in six years. Timeshare operators also may force owners to pay unexpected special assessment fees, sometimes as high as $1,000. And that's just for normal repairs.

Timeshares are not necessarily convenient, economical, or a good investment for you. Some require you to decide two years in advance which week you want to use it. Sometimes annual fees rise to equal the amount you would spend renting for a week -- so there's no savings. You're tied down to one location and one operating company, although many companies allow you to trade your week for a week at another facility. While a timeshare has the potential to be a satisfactory arrangement, it often yields a variety of pitfalls and frustrations for the unwary purchaser.

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