From Time Share Paradise to Time Share Hell

I recently received a question about selling a time share that had become a financial burden, and rather than respond to just the one reader, I think this topic deserves more attention.

Several years ago, following a bankruptcy attorney conference where I was an exhibitor (I’m not an attorney), I shared a cab back to the airport with a gentleman who was an attorney. During our conversation, I asked him about the “minimum” consumer debt attorneys usually look for before counseling a consumer to file for bankruptcy. His response was apropos: 1) $15,000 or more in credit card debt, 2) a home loan, 3) probably a car loan, and… oh yeah, 4) a time share.

These numbers obviously vary from attorney to attorney and case to case, but his wry remark about the headaches of owning a time share has made my wife and me think twice about pursuing new time share and vacation club opportunities ourselves.

AirplaneIn basic terms, Time Shares are real estate ownership agreements that give the buyer(s) a specified number of days or weeks at the time share resort each year. There are purchase fees and annual maintenance fees. Deeded timeshares (actual property ownership) do not expire and require the owner to pay annual fees in perpetuity. Non-deeded timeshares may eventually expire but still give the owner the right to use the resort for the specified amount of time each year.

Here’s the problem: unlike most real estate ownership, time share values decrease over time, since demand is usually higher for newer, bigger and better resorts. And while the time share value drops, maintenance fees do not.

What this means is that if you’re in the market for a time share, look for “used” time shares. There are thousands available essentially for “free” (yes, the owners are wanting to give away their ownership). Take this as a warning, though. Such resorts may not have the clean, fresh and new feel most people look for on their vacations.

For those wanting to sell their ownership, there are sites such as sharket.com, RedWeek and time share user groups. Sales usually involve contracting with a realtor who specializes in time share and with closing companies, though it’s possible to effect a sale-by-owner through eBay or craigslist. However, personally, I’d be hesitant to send money to anyone selling “time” on such sites, as there are plenty of scams looking to take money from would-be vacationers in exchange for a promise of a little bit of paradise.

Besides not being a bankruptcy attorney, I also not a time share aficionado. But my advice to anyone considering buying a time share would be this: be patient and do some research. NEVER buy while on vacation. Those “exclusive” deals the resorts offer to their current guests are often over priced to begin with. Also, think long term. If your vacation habits are likely to change in the coming five to ten to twenty years (more children, less children, health considerations, etc.), locking yourself into a permanent “deeded” time share may not be your best option.

For those looking to sell, be aggressive in your strategy. Contact the resort for any assistance they may provide. Find a professional realtor. Do your research. And don’t wait. The longer you take to sell it, the more likely you are to pay more annual fees.

Good luck, and safe travels!

Todd

Todd Christensen-Author of Everyday Money for Everyday People, Todd ChristensenTodd Christensen
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3 thoughts on “From Time Share Paradise to Time Share Hell

  1. Thank you for your in-depth response. I just wanted to relay that I am very sympathetic to those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, job loss, or medical issues, where I have experienced two out of three of these myself.

    I do appreciate the work you do helping others. – Madison

  2. I have always been afraid of time shares and know many people who have found themselves in a nightmare for getting one.

    Regarding your conversation with the attorney on the bankruptcy threshold, I was surprised to see that 15k in credit card debt, a mortgage, a car note, and possible a time share is qualification for bankruptcy. Most of America has that! I personally paid off $50k in credit card debt and recently paid off my car loan. I do still have a mortgage but I am working on paying off. I didn’t have help from a lawyer!

    • That’s quite an accomplishment to pay off $50k. I appreciate you sharing that. It obviously took a lot of discipline and persistence,. and I’m sure it feels awesome. Having achieved it yourself, I’d be surprised if you didn’t recommend and encourage others to pursue similar paths. Congratulations!

      The amounts the attorney referred to (which constituted the opinion of one attorney) were the minimums in his own view. There is actually no minimum debt qualification written into the law, other than maximum limitations on those who want to file Chapter 13 (repayment).

      We’ve been counseling bankruptcy-seeking individuals and couples now for over a decade, and we’ve seen debt amounts from as little as $5k to over a million. There may be themes among our clients’ various financial scenarios (excessive medical debts, uncontrolled spending, job loss, no habit of savings, etc.), but we’ve also found that each client is experiencing a unique situation. What might appear minor to one person can seem an impossibility to another.

      For example, $15k of debt to a widow – who is on a fixed income, incurs ongoing medical expenses and who is facing foreclosure – can be financially and emotionally (and literally physically) overwhelming. Most of our clients with smaller amounts of consumer debts typically are either unemployed due to long-term disabilities or are on fixed incomes. For about a quarter of bankruptcy filers, $15k represents more than their gross annual income.

      All that said, our average client who is getting ready to go through bankruptcy has nearly $80k of debt, with the median debt being closer to $40k.

      Thanks again for the comment, and keep up the great progress!

      -Todd

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