The Truth About Timeshare : Part One

The much anticipated post.

I’m not writing this as an exposé on the industry. I’m not here to lay out all the sales tactics or reveal profit margins. I’m not here to bash anybody. I can’t stress enough–I fully believe in the concept of timeshare. Timeshare itself is a great product.

It’s not the product that’s the problem. It’s the lack of proper information.

There are SO MANY THINGS people should know, especially the ones who already own timeshare, that are not available to the general public. So many misconceptions. So many outright lies. The word “timeshare” itself has become a dirty one, and our one goal when Chris and I started a consulting company was to change that. But we were a blip on the radar of an industry wrought with corporate greed, misinformation, and an unwillingness to try  to change its stripes. We felt like superheroes, proud to have the abilities and resources to help whoever we came in contact with, but constantly disheartened that we couldn’t reach everybody.

I’m in the process of writing a book, mainly because I can’t believe one doesn’t exist already. My goal is to get it in the hands of everyone thinking about buying, those who just bought, or owners who have no idea what to do next. If you are reading this and don’t know me or my credibility, here’s a brief summary: Right out of college I worked as a sales rep for a huge developer. I did very well and was even crowned “Rookie of the Year” for helping so many families get into a timeshare program. After about a year, I left this company with my now fiancé and we started our own company consulting with people who already owned timeshare. We were able to do many things for these people: help get them into a different program than what they already had, help them get completely out of the deed if they wanted, help them use what they had, set them up with a travel club, be their punching bags, give them hugs, etc. During the three years I spent traveling to different cities every week, I learned everything there is to know about the industry. I know the ins and outs of every program, every resort, every point system. I heard great vacation stories but I also heard hundreds of horror stories about this industry that I loved. Two truths became very apparent over the years:

No resort/developer REALLY knows about its competition.

All the big mistruths come from high up the ladder, and the employees are most often trained to lie.

This is important because it tells you that most people who work in the industry are almost as naïve as the potential buyer, blindly following scripts they are taught and parroting answers they’ve heard from someone else. It’s unlike any other industry; if you are a car salesman you can drive all your products, touch and feel them. If you are a real estate agent you can visit different houses and become very familiar with the region you choose to specialize in. In this industry, we are selling time at vacation destinations. Most salespeople will never visit 99% of the resorts they talk about every day. When would they? They all work weekends and no industry is more stingy about granting vacation time than the vacation industry. So they just say everything they are taught to say, never questioning anything because the money is good and the people are happy for the moment. Only mass industry education could start to fix the stain on the name of timeshare, only getting everyone on the same page would really start to bring some trust back. Unfortunately, there’s only so much I can do to solve this problem. I know that if I go spouting off about the difference in Bluegreen’s point system vs. Wyndham’s point system vs. Silverleaf’s week-based system, etc., I’ll probably be sued in a heartbeat or maybe even taken out (kidding, but who knows, there’s billions at stake). What I can do, at the very least, is dispel some common myths and reveal a few truths about the industry:

Myth #1: Your timeshare has resale value.

I don’t care if you bought a Marriot deed for 2 weeks in the four-bedroom penthouse over 4th of July weekend and you spent $100,000. When you sign that contract and are out of recession, that deed is worth -$5000. Why not zero? Because you’ll have to pay a title transfer company or mortgage relief company if you want out of it. Some of you may be balking at this point, but think about all the people who told you it was worth something and ask yourself this question: did you give them money?

Listen, I know it’s tempting to hope that maybe one day you could at least get back a fraction of what you invested. Just stop, you won’t. They are possible to sell, yes, if YOU sell them. Like, if you accost your neighbor or “friend” and do the whole song and dance for them that your resort did for you, and they want it, then SURE, they can stroke you a check for whatever you want and you can fill out the transfer paperwork and then you sold your timeshare. But I can also tell you that you can go to Ebay right now and see that penthouse for $1.00. Sure, there are higher prices listed but those people are the hopefuls like you who still believe in Myth #1.

But it’s real estate, you say, and real estate is always a good investment! Wrong. It’s a deed, yes, but you “own” only a fraction of a time period at that resort. If you don’t go one year, let’s say you own a week, do you think it just sits empty? No, it doesn’t. They rent it out for more cash anyway. That’s why you can’t just show up on your week, you still have to make a reservation. Remember when you were sitting that office going over your new contract and the contract lady jokingly informed you that you couldn’t change the furniture or paint the walls in your resort?  The resale value is all in their hands.

Now a handful of you might be thinking, ‘Wow, I’d like the penthouse at Marriott, maybe I’ll just go buy it for $1.00!’ And you can! But all these developers load you up with incentives when you buy from the resort, and those won’t transfer. Depending on who you are and what you want, the savings could very possibly be worth it. But even with this knowledge most people don’t buy resale timeshares, partly because timeshare salesman are just so darn good and partly because it’s just not the same feeling. That ownership sensation is gone. It’s the same reason people still buy new cars, everyone knows they lose half the value the second you drive them off the lot, but they don’t care because a new car feels so good.

I like the thought of people having all the information, though.

If you are reading this and wringing your hands because you now understand your timeshare is worth no money, pause for a second. Because it’s still possible you made a good investment, on one condition: You actually use the damn thing. If you and your family take a trip together nearly every year, get to stay in a nice place, and that’s something you probably would not have planned if you weren’t already paying for it, then this investment was priceless. At the end of the day, our savings accounts won’t really mean a freaking thing when we are laying on our deathbeds, but our memories will. That’s why I can easily say that nearly every person I met over the last few years who used their ownership was happy, and nearly every person who didn’t thought it was the worst decision they ever made.

Your timeshare may not have resale value, but YOU determine its value.

Myth #2: “The last salesman screwed you, but I’ll fix it.”

I might make some enemies from this one.

I don’t care, because it’s wrong.

This is best explained by a story of something that happened to me when I worked for the big developer. I had just sold a modest package to a family of four, and I felt really good about it. They didn’t opt to do our VIP level because they really couldn’t afford it, but with the package I sold them they would be able to take a really nice trip about a week a year, and finally get to take their kids to Disney World. One of the incentives we offered at the time were a set of bonus points, good for two years, that allowed them to get a taste for the bigger package. They hugged me with tears of joy in their eyes as they talked about the amazing Disney experience they would have the next summer. We were all very happy, and they promised to send me postcards.

About a month later, the husband called me, furious. “You lied to us! You told us we were VIP for two years! We needed that for Disney!”, he yelled at me. When I was finally able to break in I assured him that he was, that I never lied to him, and that everything I said was reflected in the contract. He calmed down and explained what had happened. He and his wife ended up staying for a night at the resort where I had met him, and as soon as they arrived they were met by the “staff” who frantically informed them there was a problem with their account. They got them into a small room and told them that when they had purchased from ME, I had promised an incentive that wasn’t real and they would never get their bonus points. However, thank God they were at this resort, because now they had the chance to become permanent VIP for a fraction of the price.

I was mortified. Did you do it?! “No”, he told me, “we couldn’t afford to do any more than what we had done with you! So I told the guy I needed to make a phone call, and I came down here to call you. Something didn’t feel right. But Elizabeth, he even said your name.”

I told him emphatically NOT to do anything, that I would meet him personally and show him in the contract where his points were. He told me that wasn’t necessary, that he believed me, but I should know that this happened. I felt sick to my stomach. This was the in-house (upgrades) division of MY company. They knew me, when we passed by each other at the resort we’d wave to each other, but they had no problem lying and throwing my name under the bus for a sale. I called my manager so upset I was nearly in tears and she told me she’d “look into it” but the look on her face let me know it was just part of the game.

At that point I could hardly stay mad at the in-house rep. This upgrade tactic went WAY up, it was part of the training. Of course corporate would deny any knowledge of it. But an in-house rep once told me, when you get to in-house on your first day they hold up a rule book and say, “You can follow this and quit because you’re broke, or listen to us and make a lot of money and eventually get shopped and fired.”

If you don’t originally buy a good enough week, or enough points, then the best thing to do is upgrade your ownership. Do it on your terms. The more money you spend, the better quality vacations you will have. Reward the sales rep who genuinely walks you through the different levels, and helps you determine the best package for your family. There are plenty of decent salespeople out there who dare to think for themselves. Don’t ever let anyone scare you into thinking someone ripped you off the first time, and the only way to fix it is to spend more money.

We’ll stop at two myths for today, but I hope this helped someone. That is my sole intention. To be continued…



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