Greg Roberts

Greg Roberts

A timeshare is a type of ownership in which different persons own “pieces” of what is usually a vacation or resort property. The concept was introduced in Europe in 1963, and the idea was that vacationers would be able to enjoy rent-free vacations every year at the same location.

Today, the timeshare industry a $9.2 billion industry, according to the American Resort Development Association.

The first timeshare in the U.S. was built in Hawaii in the mid-’60s. Various innovations have been introduced in the intervening years, including floating weeks of availability which greatly enhanced the marketability of timeshares. For example, the timeshare that my wife and I own allows us to reserve our week anytime in April, May, August or September. Floating weeks in the summer months were more expensive to purchase.

This floating week idea is great, but an owner must reserve his week a year in advance and depending on demand, the week you want may not be available.

Most timeshares are sold when, typically, couples are on vacation, and the purchase is, sadly, an impulsive one. The sales pitch was to divide the purchase price by the number of years that you and/or your family will utilize the week (our unit has three bedrooms, three baths and sleeps 10 comfortably). On that basis, the purchase seemed reasonable. (I am a financial planner, after all.)

Other bells and whistles have been added to the industry over the years, and very profitable companies that enhance the marketability of timeshares have sprung up. One such company is Interval International which serves as a “trading post” for timeshare owners to swap their week or weeks for the use of a stay in other resort properties that belong to Interval International group. The timeshare owner is charged an annual membership fee to belong and then must pay a booking fee to select a week at a comparable resort.

Marriott was not the first U.S. company to market timeshares, but since the company is a huge player in the hospitality business, timeshare sales were a natural fit. In terms of worldwide market share, Wyndham Hotels is the largest at 17%, followed by Marriott at 15%.

These hotel companies have adopted Points Programs which, for a fee, allow timeshare owners to “bank” their weeks and rather than travel to another location, to use the points for other vacation options such as ocean cruises.

Over the years, I have learned many important truths about timeshares, and one such truth is that these incremental ownership interests are not unlike the purchase of new vehicle: the day you drive that vehicle off the lot, it is worth less than it was in the showroom.

A timeshare almost never increases in value, since the initial price includes hefty sales commissions, incentives and other promotional items. As a result, one should never view a timeshare as an investment asset.

Another fact is that the market for re-sales of timeshares is gigantic. I was fortunate to be able to sell one of my weeks several years ago, and I received about 2/3 of what I paid for, and I was glad to get it. Now it is worth far less.

Probably the very worst thing about timeshares is that fact that an owner has no say in the annual maintenance fee that is charged each year. Our annual fee at the time of the purchase was about $500, now it has skyrocketed to over $1,700.

Finally, the treatment that we received from Marriott in the past month has been nothing less than unconscionable. We had booked our week for May 1-8, but obviously, we had to change the date. Sadly, we were not permitted to rebook at Surf Watch later in the year or to bank our week to be used in another year.

Marriott stated that we must join Interval International (which Marriott owns) and pay a rebooking fee for the privilege. Naturally, a later week at Surf Watch in 2020 was not available. How is that for customer service?

I hope that my experience will give you pause before you purchase a timeshare from Marriott, or for that matter, any timeshare.

Greg Roberts is a certified financial planner with 35 years of financial and estate planning experience. Do you have a financial planning question for Greg? Email him at greg@lifesolutionsonline.net.