Marriages conclude in divorce; dream cars break down; beloved TV shows draw to a close after just twelve or thirteen episodes… Whether we like it or not, everything ends.
Endings are a natural part of life. And yet, when it comes to the timeshare industry, they’re also rendered extremely difficult, due to an actively-suppressed resale market and a preponderance of scams, among other factors.
It’s worth asking why terminating one’s timeshare contract is so daunting of a task, particularly when comparable “big ticket” purchases are relatively easy to resell, donate, or otherwise “dispose of” when they’re no longer useful – cars and RV-campers spring to mind as useful examples.
The reality is that there are countless valid reasons why a consumer with a timeshare interest may no longer wish, or be able, to use their cache of points or take advantage of their designated week. A few that our colleagues and clients commonly cite include…
Changes in Lifestyle
Many timeshare owners buy into the pitch of a lifetime of vacations in a sunny tropical paradise… only to find that, in reality, timeshare ownership isn’t compatible, in the long-term, with their lifestyle.
As would-be travelers age, families drift apart, or an owner’s health needs change with time, it can grow harder and harder to find time to take advantage of that so-called “guaranteed vacation” every year – leading to a disillusionment with the entire timeshare model.
In fact, according to a 2016 study of timeshare owners by ARDA, 76% of total timeshare owners surveyed for that study report experiencing some kind of buyer’s remorse.
Purchasing a timeshare is a lifelong commitment, with long-term financial obligations that only tend to mount and grow with time.
In fact, annual maintenance fees – which a timeshare owner is obligated to pay, even if they never take advantage of their “home” resort – tend to rise year-to-year, regardless of the rate of inflation; and, given the complex relationships that exist between resort management companies and property owners associations, there are also, practically speaking, no major avenues in place for consumers to contest their maintenance fees.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that, per findings from the AIF Owner’s Study 2016, maintenance fees being “too high” accounted for 66% of consumers’ reasons for wanting to exit their timeshare commitment, and 46% of surveyed owners listed it as their “most important” reason. Among timeshare owners with plans to sell, 50% cited a desire to no longer pay maintenance fees as their reason for selling; 30%, similarly, could “no longer afford the maintenance fees” at all, necessitating action on the part of the owner.
And, as we’ve noted before, ongoing timeshare costs go beyond standard maintenance fees. In addition to covering their typical fees, many timeshare consumers often find themselves in a position where they need to spend on more points in order to accomplish a specific travel goal or maintain their current plans; others may be on the hook for increased assessments, particularly following major weather events or other disasters, which can cause damage to resorts that standard maintenance fee payments alone won’t be sufficient to cover.
To return to that same ARDA study, a significant portion of timeshare consumers also cited “booking issues” – related to not finding an acceptable location, time, or ability to travel – as a reason for wanting to exit their timeshare commitment; so, too, did “a lack of communication” from developers/brands (17%) and “a breakdown in trust” with their timeshare company (19%).
As our own Michael Finn has noted before, major timeshare resort reservation systems are, in many ways, completely “off the reservation;” as he explained:
“The reality is that there is virtually zero certainty you will obtain your resort of choice, particularly if you seek to take advantage of a last-minute vacation opportunity. The very best that can be said about booking your timeshare is that the further out you book, the better your chances are. However, in almost no event can you be certain of success, even if you attempt to reserve your resort and unit of choice up to one full year in advance.”
Why the uncertainty? Much of it comes down to major resort developers’ definition of “availability” – the application of which is left to the sole discretion of resort management and which may or may not actually favor non-owners over current timeshare owners!
It bears remembering that disenchantment doesn’t just crop up overnight. According to a study from one industry analyst, 41% of buyers never thought they would regret their purchase, but ended up doing so; 30% were neutral prior to buying, but came to regret their decision with time.
With all of these valid reasons for wanting to get out from under a timeshare obligation taken into account, one must wonder, again, why the industry makes contract cancellation such an onerous process for owners.
Surely, a more consumer-friendly approach to contract cancellation and resales would actually benefit the resort developers in the long run?
Ultimately, one can’t help but think that approaching these matters with a fresh, more owner-oriented perspective could help major resort developers remove the stigma around the timeshare product and its many real benefits, encouraging new buyer interest; minimize the appeal of the timeshare aftermarket as a target for fraudsters and con artists; and actually allow the industry to make inroads with millennial consumers, who largely prefer flexibility and choice when it comes to their vacation options.
But, until that new day dawns, the many, many owners who find themselves falling out of love with their timeshare interests will largely be left in the dark – with limited avenues for getting out from under their costly, unsustainable obligations.
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.