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Considering a Timeshare?

Basic information can help you decide if a timeshare is right for you


Couple at the beach talking in cell
Martin Botvidsson/Maskot/Getty Images
For some people, the word “timeshare” brings up images of high pressure sales and bad vacations. But for others, timeshare can be a cost-effective way to vacation. The American Resort Development Association says that more than 3.9 million U.S. households own timeshares.

To help you learn about timeshare, Dave Lucas Lucas, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Sunterra, a timeshare sales company, answers these basic timeshare questions:

1) Are timeshare vacation ownerships all the same?
There are two basic types of timeshare ownership. Traditional ownership offers a single timeshare property with the option to use it for a specific week during the year, and changes add to the cost. If you are sure that there is one vacation destination you want to visit, year after year, then traditional timeshare ownership is best for you. With points-based timeshare ownership you are purchasing points or “currency” to redeem for access to a variety of resort locations and accommodations, so you can choose when to travel and for how long.

2) What do you see as the benefits of timeshare ownership?
Everyone wants a vacation, at least once a year. Some timeshare vacation plans allow you to visit a variety of destinations and choose when you want to travel and the type of accommodations that best fit your needs. The quality can rival top-rated resorts, and amenities may include golf, children’s activities, exercise facilities and restaurants. But ask about amenities before you go there, because specific timeshare benefits vary by company. Also, your timeshare stake can be willed to your heirs.

3) Am I stuck going to the same timeshare resort for the same week every year?
Traditional timeshare ownership typically ties the buyer to a specific resort at a specified time interval, and many timeshare companies offer exchange programs allowing owners to trade their weeks. Travelers who want to visit a variety of destinations may want to consider a points-based ownership system. [Note: Check your plan to see what costs are involved in changing your arrangements.]

4) How can I determine if timeshare is worth the expense?
Calculate what you spent on vacations over the last five years, and calculate for the future. Include the time and effort you spend researching and making arrangements. Then compare your calculations with a timeshare option to see if timeshare is a sensible alternative.

5) What costs are involved in the initial purchase of timeshare vacation ownership?
Typically, timeshare owners make a one-time purchase in either a traditional ownership plan or a points-based vacation club at a fraction of whole ownership costs.

With traditional timeshare ownership, the initial sales price is based on factors including resort location, unit type and season usage. With points-based ownership the initial sales price is based on the number of points purchased and the resort location. In both options, timeshare owners pay an annual maintenance fee for use and upkeep of the property and unit.

6) Why are timeshares so often criticized?
When timeshare first gained popularity in the United States some 30 years ago, “timeshare” became a catch-all phrase to describe a wide variety of condo-type units of questionable quality being sold more as a real estate investment than a commitment to vacation and relaxation.

In addition, many timeshare offers required consumers to purchase a deed to a particular property. Trading for different resorts at different times of the year was difficult and complex.

With recent government regulations and an influx of brand name hotels into the timeshare industry, there are now more timeshare options.

7) Do I have to sit through a long timeshare sales presentation?
I recommend that timeshare buyers be wary of anyone willing to sell a timeshare property with anything less than a full explanation. Reputable sales presentations range between 60 and 90 minutes, during which you’ll be educated about timeshare vacation ownership and find out what your rights are.

Note: I know people who love their timeshares, and many more who feel they made a costly and impulsive mistake. If you are considering timeshare, do your homework:

  • Research timeshare options and contact companies with packages that fit your needs. Attend a presentation because you are definitely interested, not just to collect a free gift.
  • Be sure the company you are considering is reputable. Check with the Better Business Bureau in the city where the company is based, ask for references from other timeshare owners, and check timeshare owner blogs to learn from the experiences of other timeshare buyers.
  • Attend the timeshare sales presentation with a list of questions; make sure all of them are answered to your satisfaction.
  • Consider carefully what the company is offering, and don't let yourself be pressured into buying unless you are sure that is what you want. Ask if there's an after-purchase grace period so you can cancel if you change your mind.
  • Find out how difficult it might be to sell your timeshare in the future.
  • Look into timeshare resales to save money.

For cautionary advice from a former timeshare salesperson, see 7 Timeshare Tips Every Consumer Should Know.

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