Time Out

Time Out

In 1988, Marcia Elam-Moore responded to an offer by a marketing agency for a week’s vacation at Disney World and Vero Beach, Florida. After she investigated the offer and found it to be legitimate, she purchased a time-share. “My family and I have traveled the entire eastern seaboard and [to the] Caribbean, Arizona, [and] California,” says the 52-year-old paralegal from Teaneck, New Jersey. “For me and my family, the [advantage] of owning a time-share is being able to travel and stay in five-star resorts. We could not afford the luxury that the time-share resorts offer otherwise.”

The time-share concept, which originated in the French Alps in the late 1960s, became a popular U.S. vacation option in the 1980s. A time-share, also called vacation ownership, offers its owners lodging in furnished condominiums or resort units, usually three star or better, for a specific amount of time each year (usually a week). In the United States, time-shares sell for an average of $14,500, which can be paid off with mortgage-like monthly payments. The yearly maintenance fee covers property costs, insurance, refurbishing, and taxes for approximately $370 per week of annual use. Many consumers find this a more attractive option than paying varying hotel fees each time they travel.

But not all offers are legitimate. Collette Williams, an accounting manager from Brooklyn, New York, who visited a time-share last summer after responding to an offer for a “free weekend” in Atlantic City, was disappointed to learn her lodging was not a time-share by the beach, but a motel that was 15 minutes away. She also felt pressured to make a commitment on the spot.

“You were only given that day to make a decision [and] couldn’t change your mind,” she says. However, a small paragraph in the contract stated that the prospective buyer had three business days to cancel and would receive 100% of the down payment. “This was a sign to me of how dishonest these people [were], so I cancelled,” she says.

Yet statistics show that many people, after being subjected to aggressive sales pitches, do purchase time-shares. Despite recent economic woes, time-share resorts have sprung up across the United States at a growth rate of more than 5% per year since 1997. They grew in double digits during the 1990s and by 7% in 2001. According to a recent survey by the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), as many as 85% of U.S. time-share owners indicate satisfaction with their purchase.

“Vacation ownership products (including time-shares) are a great vehicle to get more experiences for your dollar,” says Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of ARDA, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing the time-share industry. “Some time-share resorts offer clubs and point programs that allow you to stay in different resorts and different-sized units each year. [They] allow you to trade your time-share interest for a cruise or airplane tickets—even hotel stays,” says Nusbaum.

Purchasing a time-share should not be a hasty decision. ARDA offers some tips for consumers interested in making a purchase.

Do your homework. Before