Timeshares, while tricky, sometimes are a good ticket
How’s this for annoying? You’re on vacation, perhaps on a Caribbean cruise or even on a land-based island vacation. You’re in port and have decided to stroll down the main street of an enchanting waterfront village, perhaps stopping for some fresh fish and a Corona. But before you’ve gone a hundred feet, you’re accosted by a hawker offering “free” stuff if you just listen to a short spiel on his incredible once-in-a-lifetime timeshare offer. What do you do?
The hook: The hawkers are usually paid a commission for each “qualified” visit they book – meaning husband and wife together. They are trained to engage you with small talk and usually begin with a friendly welcome and a direct question. “Are you enjoying your vacation? . . . Where are you from? . . . Is this your first visit?” The questions are designed to make you feel impolite or rude if you don’t answer. And just like with an encounter with any aggressive beggars or hawkers, a first line of defense is not to answer or make eye contact. It’s a strategy that Bud and I often use – though we always smile and usually shake our heads.
If the hawker gets your attention, he works on setting the hook – offering you something nifty. It might be a day at his beach with free drinks. It could be lunch with maragaritas, a Jeep rental for a couple of hours, $50 or $100 of free play at the resort casino . . . like that. Hawkers will say that all you have to do is take a tour of the resort and spend a quick half-hour or so listening to the sales people present their offer. Truthfully, in the old days, Bud and I would sometimes take the bait. We figured, how bad could it be? We’re smart. We won’t get into something we don’t want. Why not take advantage of the free offer?
The pitch: Let’s say you’ve decided to take the day at the resort – poolside, lovely surf, even a palapa with loungers. Oftentimes they’ll want you to do the tour and sales at the end of the day. Reasoning goes like so: You’ve already enjoyed your day and will feel at least somewhat obligated to listen and consider. Once they have your attention, they go into a professional, persistent and extremely persuasive pitch. They ask questions about your vacation habits and dreams, whip out a calculator and do some math showing how you can have lovely vacations for years, all while spending less than you ever thought possible. They have answers to every objection on the planet. Strapped for money? No problem, they’ll finance. Aren’t sure you like that particular resort or island? No worries; most timeshares belong to worldwide exchange programs like RCI or Interval International and you can trade your unit for one of thousands available in world-famous vacation spots. They often wrap up with a sense of urgency – there are only a few units left, you can’t buy once you leave the island, the special offer is only good for the day, and so on. The sales people are good – really good, and they won’t let you go without a fight! Does this mean you shouldn’t buy a timeshare and that all timeshares are bad? Not necessarily.
The options: If it sounds like Bud and I hate timeshares – we don’t. We started with one week on St. Maarten back in 1995 and have added two more weeks in recent years. But the timeshare landscape has changed mightily since 1995. Hurricanes and bankruptcies have wiped out some resorts altogether, while others have expanded. The legal vagaries and terms of ownership have been evolving island by island and country by country – some offer ownership outright, some offer long-term leases of 40 or more years. Some contracts guarantee a specific unit for a specific week (this is what we have), others just guarantee a category of unit somewhere in the resort – tricky, especially if the resort is very spread out. The Federal Trade Commission has an excellent review and analysis (consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0073), which you can probably access right from your tablet or smart phone while you are on-property. We’ve done very well at redweek.com, where you can buy resale timeshares – just do all your research and know exactly what you are getting before signing on the dotted line. A timeshare might be just the thing for you . . . or not. Just don’t let the sales people bully you into an impulse buy!
(Columnist Chase Binder lives in Bow.)