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SMART MONEY’S ARTICLE – Escape from Timeshare Hell "

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Escape From Timeshare Hell

Updated on November 5, 2007.

DESPITE THEIR UNWILLINGNESS to travel just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Dowell Multer and his wife made the trip to their mid-October timeshare at the LaCabana Beach and Racquet Club in Aruba. “Things had changed a lot,” Multer says. “It was a much quieter place.” The couple vacationed there for two more years before deciding they did not want to return.

But after three years on the market, Multer, who is now 73 years old, still hasn’t found a buyer. Granted, there was interest from companies that specialize in timeshare resales, but they all demanded hefty upfront fees. “One person wanted $1,500 upfront and swore up and down it’s a great market,” Multer says. Another asked for $599, promising to advertise the property world-wide. A third wanted $300. Multer politely declined. Yet, with the $900 maintenance fee due each year, he’s desperate to sell. “Right now, we would be very happy if we could just give it away to somebody,” he says.

The Multers aren’t alone. While there are no official statistics on the number of timeshare owners looking to unload their investment, the sheer size of the marketplace suggests there are thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of unhappy timeshare owners looking to get out.

With timeshares, you typically buy the right to stay at a resort for a week each year, as long as you live. (And because this is a deeded property, your timeshare will be passed over to your heirs after you die.) That may sound great at the developer’s presentation: Buying a timeshare from the developer directly usually comes with incentives like discounted weeks at the resort or free lunches, and is often something of an impulse purchase. But it also means you’ve bound yourself to an annual maintenance fee, which can run as high as $1,500 and can increase if the timeshare management decides to do improvements upgrades on the property.

Needless to say, life doesn’t always agree with such arrangements. People’s circumstances change and, for one reason or another, they can no longer use their timeshares. That’s where reality kicks in: Selling the timeshare is tough. Unfortunately, recouping your original costs — especially if purchased from the developer — is next to impossible.

Successfully unloading your property is a matter of adjusting your expectations and knowing what your options are when it comes to the sale. Here’s some advice:

Start with your resort
When trying to sell your timeshare, going to your resort is a logical first step: Some resorts have buy-back programs, where they will offer to buy your timeshare week or points at a certain price. The practice, known as “right to first refusal,” is meant to help preserve the value of timeshare properties, explains George Marine, a real-estate investor and timeshare owner from Long Island, N.Y. What it basically means is that if you want to sell your timeshare, the resort will offer to buy it back at a certain price, typically lower than the purchase price but still higher than what the owner may get at the resale market. While most brand-name resorts — such as Disney and Marriott Vacation Clubs — have right of first refusal clauses in their contracts, how often they exercise it will vary by resort.

If your resort doesn’t have a right of first refusal or any other resale program, they may at least refer a reputable broker or resale agent.

Find the right marketplace
However you approach the resale of your timeshare, one thing’s for sure: Never pay an upfront fee to a broker. “This is a wide-scale scam,” says Caroline Lindholm, president of the Greater New York Timeshare Owners’ Group (GNYTOG). “There are so many agencies out there that will take $395 or so, and promise you the moon. And the prices [they say you can get for your listing] are totally unrealistic.”

Pat Teal, a 72-year-old timeshare owner from Myrtle Beach, S.C., learned that the hard way. Back in 2003, she contacted several resale companies about selling her timeshare at the Fairfield Beach Ocean Ridge in South Carolina. She was quoted a $300 upfront fee, which she paid using a credit card, and a $200 commission after the sale was complete. But two months later she called to inquire about any interest in her property, and the company had disappeared. “I kept calling and calling, but I couldn’t get a hold of them,” she says. (According to Better Business Bureau records, the company — Freedom Resorts International in Hudson, Fla. — has gone out of business.) Teal figured out her $300 fee was a lost cause, but imagine her dismay when her credit card was charged another $200. She appealed the charge with the credit-card company and her $200 was refunded, but still, the experience was sobering. “I would be more than happy to pay a commission, once the timeshare sold, but I hesitate to pay money upfront again,” she says.