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Assessing CBS’ "7 Tips for Avoiding a Timeshare Disaster"

Assessing CBS' "7 Tips for Avoiding a Timeshare Disaster" (Source: - used as royalty free image)

What consumer advice is being passed around the internet this week – and what new information does it offer to consumers wary of getting roped into a timeshare interest?

Let’s break down some of the keen insights of Kathy Kristof’s “7 Tips for Avoiding a Timeshare Disaster,” published over at CBS News.

“…if it can happen to a girl with a calculator and an eye for fine print, it can happen to you.”

Throughout her piece, Ms. Kristof does an excellent job of illuminating the numerous “hard sell” tactics that accompany the timeshare sales presentation –  tactics so effective that they can even lure in a consumer protection expert.


Namely, Ms. Kristof highlights the prevalent tactic of offering a gift – in her case, “a three-night trip to Hawaii for two” – that can only be collected after a “travel presentation”, which is, as she writes, “ code for timeshare.”

The article also does a great job of warning consumers of the multiple deals and angles that are likely to be offered over the course of the high pressure sales pitch, including reduced prices and “trial memberships,” which timeshare authority Lisa Ann Schreier describes as little more than a ploy to “get the consumer back to the resort within a 1 or 2 year time frame in an attempt to sell them a timeshare again.”

And Ms. Kristof’s excellent account also highlights the prevalence of the “anything for a sale” mentality that defines timeshare marketing. Check out this anecdote:

The saleswoman took my credit card and gave me a raft of documents, including one that mentioned “points.”

“Points,” I asked? She brushed off the question. “That is how our vacations are booked. It’s nothing to worry about. You still get everything in the contract.”

I went home with a binder full of documents, including an inch-thick “disclosure guide” that had further references to points and that all reservations were subject to availability. It sounded like boilerplate until I did a search on the vacation club and found out that it wasn’t.”

Our firm has long sought to draw attention to what Michael likes to call the salesman’s “license to lie” clause – a fine print clause, signed by the buyer, that says the new buyer did not rely on oral representations to make their decision to purchase. This hand-waving away of important, nuanced concerns is a prime, albeit soft, example of a salesperson saying whatever it takes to close a same day sale.

“Fortunately, you can get out of a timeshare if you act fast.”

Ms. Kristof does an excellent job of laying out the basics of timeshare rescission periods:

“State laws provide a “rescission” period for timeshare contracts. You get five to 10 calendar days from signing to change your mind and get your money back. The rescission method is often spelled out in the contract itself. In this case, there was a form to fax or send by mail.”

However, her tale doesn’t get to the full story. While she encourages consumers to read their contract’s fine print and to act quickly, this advice fails to acknowledge the reality of many same day “see and sign” timeshare transactions. On both practical and psychological levels, it is quite difficult for many consumers to accurately read and understand the required documentation for a timeshare sale, which is almost always given right at the time of closing.

Indeed, the system almost seems set up to make reading and acting on the “fine print” as difficult as possible. Tacitly encouraged to sign quickly, and eager to get out of the room themselves, how many new owners will really take the time to wade into the required Public Offering Statement or Prospectus, along with their purchase contract, acknowledgements, disclaimers, exhibits and attendant schedules?

And with so many interests bought while already on vacation, the option for canceling becomes even more difficult, for a variety of reasons. First, many consumers don’t want to spend their precious time off sifting through a mammoth packet of POS or Prospectus documents. Then, by the time this new timeshare owner returns home or takes the time to go through the dense legalese, it is likely that their window for rescission will have already passed.

Long story (relatively) short? The timing between the receipt of the POS and the relatively minimal time allowed for rescission make for a dicey timeline for consumers. In many, many cases, it ends up as Ms. Kristof describes: By the time you’re able to do your due diligence, “the company has cashed your check and good luck getting your money back.”

“To bring yourself back to earth after a dreamy presentation, plug ‘complaints’ and the name of the timeshare operator into your web browser and see what happens.”

One last aspect of the timeshare buying process that Ms. Kristof nails? The all-important need for research, research, and more research.

Instead of waiting until after the transaction, however, do your homework upfront, with the help of the BBB, consumer protection agencies for your state, and the complaints lodged on sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and ConsumerAffairs.

In need of a place to start? We have a fairly lengthy survey of administrative remedies for timeshare consumers seeking relief available here.

Led by Attorney Michael D. Finn with 50 years of experience, the Finn Law Group is a consumer protection firm specializing in timeshare law. Our lawyers understand vacation ownership as well as the many pitfalls of the secondary market of timeshare resales. If you feel you have been victimized by a timeshare company, contact our offices for a free consultation. Know your rights as a consumer and don’t hesitate to drop us a line with any questions or concerns. 

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