So you’re on a vacation – perhaps your honeymoon, even. You’re staying at a lovely resort and enjoying the amenities greatly when, one day, you’re approached by a marketer – maybe they make the pitch to you in person, maybe it’s given in the form of a glossy brochure.
What is this marketing material offering? It could be any number of things. Perhaps you’re being offered the chance to own a piece of the resort, or to somehow take ownership of your vacation time. Maybe the language is even more innocuous, and you’re being invited to a “vacation survey,” or simply an “informative resort overview.”
Shrewd consumer that you are, you know that what you’re being offered is a chance to sit through a timeshare sales presentation – a notoriously grueling hard sell that will likely eat up hours of your time and subject you to the pressures of multiple sales associates.
And while you don’t have any plans to purchase a timeshare, and all that they entail – including rising maintenance fees, a strangled aftermarket besotted with scammers, and an often-confounding system of points and exchanges – you’re still tempted to go to that presentation, for one reason: that free gift.
Offering a gift in order to lure consumers into a sales presentation is a tried-and-true tactic for resort developers and their salespeople, one of the most common and effective in their arsenal. Even seasoned shoppers suddenly become more willing to go with the flow, believing that there’s a free dinner, tickets to a show, cash money, or even a free vacation waiting on the other side.
Can you go to a sales pitch without making a purchase? Certainly. But, before you roll the dice on attending that meeting for the chance at that promised gift, it’s important to realize how thoroughly the deck is stacked against the consumer.
There’s a reason that our own Michael Finn has repeatedly called the timeshare the “mac daddy of all impulse buys.” The stories of extreme psychological pressure that so many consumers have relayed to us after enduring – and succumbing to – a timeshare pitch would make you shudder.
For instance, while many are pitched as 90-minute seminars, the reality is that it’s not uncommon for sales pitches to stretch out to three or even five hours in length. And, while you’re being held in limbo – still waiting for that gift – you will be subjected to any number of questionable tactics. It is quite common, as an example, for marketers to sell timeshares using the same language and rhetoric that one might see used to sell a house – despite the fact that points-based or right-to-use timeshares are not real estate investments, and have essentially no resale value, given the sorry state of the secondary market.
However, salespeople are still empowered to say whatever they need to in order to close the deal thanks to the prevalence of what Michael calls their “license to lie clause” – a clause in the purchase contract that, when executed by the buyers, negates all oral representations made prior to and during the presentation.
So now, let’s check back in with you, our hypothetical consumer only in it for the free gift.
It is often at this point – after nearly a full working day of sweet talk, mind games, and empty promises from a rotating cost of salespeople – that many consumers simply sign on the dotted line, eager to get out of the room by any means necessary. Most figure that they will simply be able to cancel or resell their timeshare without too much of a hassle.
While there are certainly are statutory protections in place for timeshare buyers, it is also easy to criticize these consumer protections as feeble or inadequate: Most rescission periods are quite short, for instance, and consumers are often left in the dark about what it takes to “cancel” their contract. Salespeople are notoriously unhelpful when it comes to these matters, and the prospectus that is given at closing is a long and unwieldy document, too dense for many consumers to ever really be expected to parse through – particularly when one remembers that many, many timeshare buyers are on vacation when they make their purchase!
And when the rescission period passes – as it so often does, in the blink of an eye – that consumer is left with an obligation that can be extremely difficult to cancel, exit, resell, rent out, or even give away, even as the price of fees and assessments climbs upward every single year.
Oh, and as for those amazing free gifts? Don’t be surprised if you end up disappointed in the reality of those, as well. Here’s what one ABC News report had to say about claiming a supposedly-free vacation following a vacation club pitch:
“Our producers eventually were given vouchers for a free trip, but in order to get the actual trip, the vouchers said they had to send in more money — two money orders of $75 each to get the free airline tickets — which we did.
After 15 days, we received a package, but it wasn’t tickets, it was more paperwork, asking us to pay a $79 activation fee per person, and a $158 fee to mail the club certificate back, along with a check or money order.
Today, we still don’t have the complimentary hotel stay or complimentary airline tickets we were promised, but we were offered a new deal — a letter offering a new opportunity to do more business with this company.”
The best way to avoid finding yourself enmeshed in an unwanted, lifelong obligation is to do your research ahead of time. Educate yourself on what to be on the lookout for, what questions to ask, and what routes you have available as a consumer looking for recourse.
When it comes to timeshares, the prevailing sentiment will always be caveat emptor, or “buyer beware” – even when it comes to “free” gifts!
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.