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New York Times – TIME-SHARE RESORT INDUSTRY EXPERIENCING GROWTH PAINS


TIME-SHARE RESORT INDUSTRY EXPERIENCING GROWTH PAINS

Published: September 27, 1981

Time-sharing, the new rage in vacation real estate, has attracted thousands of satisfied customers across the country. But left strand ed on the beaches and slopes are some unhappy buyers, who in the worst cases, lost all their money.

Some 300,000 families, mostly middle and upper income people, have bought time-shares since the concept of purchasing rights to a hotel or apartment unit at a resort for a specific week or two each year was introduced in this country in the late 1960’s. After a slow start, the industry began to expand dramatically in the mid-1970’s.

In the last six years, the number of time-share resorts in the United States has grown from 45 to about 550, according to Carl Burlingame, author of a magazine on time-shares and a book on the subject.

Industry surveys show a high satisfaction rate among time-share owners – 82 percent. A major attraction is the inflation protection that comes from locking in a portion of the family’s vacation costs for the next 20, 30, 40 or more years.

Moreover, as the industry has grown in size and sophistication, it has attracted major institutional lenders as well as first-class developers.

The industry’s success, however, has not been accomplished without charges of fraud and deception. The most well-known incident in the industry involved the old Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo., where 2,100 people bought time-shares before the developers went bankrupt in 1979. At an average price of $5,000, the purchasers were buying rights to new, luxurious condominium units around the old hotel. The units were never built. however. A court appointed trustee has tried to find another developer to take over the project.

In July, New York Attorney General Robert Abrams sought to bar sales in New York of time-shares from Tree Tops, Inc. in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania because of the company’s failure to register in New York. As part of the consent judgment in the case, about 550 New Yorkers who bought time-shares at Tree Tops will have the opportunity to get their money back. Units at the resort sold at prices ranging from $3,500 to more than $8,200.

Harry F. Lee, Tree Tops’ Pennsylvania attorney, said the company plans to properly register in New York. He said Tree Tops had written to Mr. Abrams’s office asking about requirements in New York, but never received an answer.

After consulting with New York lawyers, Tree Tops took the position that it was not selling real estate, but pre-paid vacations and it need not register in New York. Like some other time-shares, Tree Tops owners do not take title to a deed.

Mr. Lee said Tree Tops decided against time-consuming litigation and chose instead to agree to stop sales to New Yorkers and offer refunds.

Earlier this year Mr. Abrams’s office got the court to bar the sale of time-shares on the cruise ship ”Romance.” The attorney general contended that Little Cruise Ship Ltd., based in San Diego, and the company’s agent, Carlino & Phillips Advertising Inc, of Plainview, N.Y., misled buyers about the size and capabilities of the ship and failed to register properly.

Robert S. Robbin, assistant attorney general in charge of the Bureau of Real Estate Finance, said that complaints about time-shares are growing, reflecting in part the recent change in law allowing time-share sales in New York.

”The sales procedures are aggressive and that’s going to generate complaints,” he said. Time-sharing is ”still in the early stages and we’re trying to avoid problems by stopping problem practices early.”

Last month, a Federal judge in South Carolina sentenced John G. Mitchell, a Nashville lawyer, and Harry Morgan, a Tennessee businessman, to 15 years in prison for their roles in a time-share scheme. The men are appealing their convictions on conspiracy and mail fraud charges stemming from the sale of time-shares for a resort in Myrtle Beach that was never built.

John Clifford Ryan, an assistant U.S. Attorney in South Carolina, said investigators found about 127 people who had purchased timeshares in the promised project, which was called Resort Club Vacation Inc. Units sold for about $4,600.

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