Paradise, slightly used

Any way you slice it, we’re getting a bargain. The week in Virginia will cost us just $380, or about $55 a night, in exchange fees and maintenance fees. The week in England will cost $430, or about $60 a night, as international exchange fees are a little higher than those for North America. (All figures are in Canadian dollars.) That’s far less than the cost of booking a single hotel room for all of us at either location. Yes, I know we had to buy the South African timeshare, but it cost so little that even if we give it away after 10 years, it would only add about $150 to each year’s vacation cost. Even with the cost of the original timeshare factored in, we calculate that we will save thousands over the next few years compared to what it would cost us to stay in hotels. And we will enjoy far more space than we would ever have in a typical hatbox of a hotel room. Most timeshare units feature one or more bedrooms, a living room, a good-sized bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen with its own washer and dryer. That’s convenience you won’t find at even a luxury hotel.

I know what you’re thinking: but don’t timeshares have a dodgy reputation? Yes, in some cases, they do. They’ve earned their reputation because of the hardball tactics employed by some developers. These developers employ sales teams that specialize in luring innocent vacationers into “information seminars” or similar innocent-sounding get-togethers, then pressuring them to sign on the dotted line. The prices are usually astronomical, in part to cover the costs of hiring all those high-pressure salespeople.

But the industry is improving. In the U.S. alone, two million people are now timeshare owners and the growing sector is no longer the sole province of fast-buck operators. Huge brand-name companies including Disney, Marriott and Four Seasons are now involved in the business. Their presence is slowly helping to bring order to the industry, although high-pressure sales tactics and big mark-ups still exist.

Smart shoppers give a cold shoulder to developers’ sales presentations and buy only on the resale market. According to Louis Courte, marketing representative for Century 21’s resale timeshare division, “a timeshare is like a shiny new Cadillac — once out of the lot, the car drops in value.” For example, Century 21’s many “hot deals” in resale sell at 30% to 60% off the developer’s price. Timeshares at the big name resorts, like Marriott, Intrawest and Disney, tend to hold more of their value, but appealing deals can be found even in those brand-name resorts. “Resale is where the bargains are,” confirms Bill Rogers, who nine years ago founded Timeshare Users Group (TUG), a volunteer organization of timeshare owners, renters and users.

What’s the difference between a resale timeshare and one that you buy directly from the developer? Other than price, nothing. In either case, you’re purchasing the right to a specific unit at a specific resort for a specific week or two of the year. You can vacation at that resort every year if you choose. Or you can swap your timeshare through an exchange organization for a timeshare somewhere else.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

From the February/March 2003 issue.

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