During these traditional vacation months, many consumers turn their thoughts to exotic locales for their recreational getaways. Whether it’s the mountains or the sea shore, options abound. One of those options that seems to be rife with pitfalls is the timeshare.
You don’t look have to look far to find disgruntled customers of timeshares, many of whom are out of thousands of dollars. Recently there have been spates of disagreements reported to Better Business Bureaus in different areas of the country, especially in Missouri and Washington State. Here is some information and advice from your Better Business Bureau about what’s going on and how you can avoid sharing in the unhappy timeshare victimizations that sometimes go on.
Problems for buyers and those wanting to sell
Interest in timeshares blossomed during the 1970s and 1980s. Many who bought in at that time are now at the stage of life when their fixed, retirement incomes are making it a bit harder to continue with the maintenance costs of those units. (The maintenance costs themselves have risen significantly in some cases.) Consequently, some are looking to get out of their contracts.
This has led to the creation of “exit companies.” These entities claim to be able to help those trying to get out of their contracts. They do it, of course, for a fee and those fees can be hefty. Furthermore the “help” provided can be nonexistent. One couple reported paying $18,000 to an exit company in an attempt to be released from their contract. In return they received nothing.
Springfield, Mo. has been a hotbed for exit businesses. Owners from 46 states have been taken in by 10 companies in that area, drawing from people who had contracts in the Branson tourist area. Just two of those companies alone are allegedly responsible for over $670,000 in reported losses.
At the other end of timeshare transactions, those looking to buy have been scammed by bogus companies that advertise fictional or badly misrepresented properties. Many such reports have come from the Pacific Northwest area.
BBB’s timeshare buying advice
For those looking to buy a timeshare, these tips should be followed:
• Talk to the owner. Negotiating solely by email is not a good idea. Conversations with owners are more revealing. Ask lots of questions and get detailed answers. Vagueness can indicate a scam.
• Use Internet searches for valuable information. Look up the address and use “street view” to verify that it looks as it does in the ad. Verify distances to beaches, attractions and airports as well.
• Check bbb.org for online reviews of the company. Also check other review sources by entering the company name along with words like “complaints” and “reviews.”
• Ask for references and follow through by checking them out.
• Sound too good to be true? It’s probably a scam.
• Read, read, read. Sign nothing without thoroughly reading a contract – fine print and all.
Advice for getting out of a contract
Do this when trying to get out of your timeshare contract:
• First check with the timeshare operator who manages the property. Ask if there’s an exit program. If not, consider talking to a lawyer.
• BBB discourages using a third-party company to negotiate your exit. If you do it, be extremely cautious about their contract. Beware of upfront payments. Ask if an escrow account is possible until you are satisfied with the exit.
• Beware of offers to trade out your timeshare for vacation clubs or points programs for low-cost travel services.
Timeshares are not considered a tightly regulated area of the marketplace in general. It is a buyer (and exit-er) beware environment. Tread cautiously when getting into it and when trying to get out of it. For more questions or concerns about timeshares, contact your BBB at (800) 856-2417, or visit our website at bbb.org.