We seek to provide timeshare members a way to proactively address membership concerns; to advocate for timeshare reform; to obtain greater disclosure from the company; to advocate for a viable secondary market; and to educate prospective buyers.
These words represent our mission statement, written February 2017 by an economics professor. Our small group of volunteers vowed to provide straight answers to timeshare members and owners, members voicing concerns about dissolution, deception and predatory lending.
Since then, over a thousand timeshare members and owners have reached out to us. Thousands more reach out to timeshare exit providers each month, seeking release from an unwanted timeshare. Some just can’t afford the timeshare, or can’t use the timeshare due to age-related concerns, or a change in life’s circumstances.
Due to the lack of a secondary market, seniors in their 60, 70s and 80s face the demeaning foreclosure process, if the timeshare developer is not willing to take back a fully paid-for timeshare. Senior timeshare members typically have a high credit score. Rarely has there been a bill they didn’t pay, and foreclosure is a word never before uttered. Some report having to file for bankruptcy, or have been driven into a reverse mortgage, just to make timeshare mortgage payments. One state representative shared at a legislative workshop shared that he had to declare bankruptcy in 1995 to get out of his timeshare.
Millennials face a different financial obstacle. Millennial buyers report that they had no idea the contract they signed was perpetual or that likely there is no secondary market. Even with shorter term products, false promises about availability, or the ability to easily refinance at a lower interest rate, force an inability to honor the contract and ultimately, foreclosure. Buyers in their 30s have reported their credit ruined, told they could refinance at a lower rate, only to learn banks don’t finance timeshare. Credit cards carrying a 24% interest rate after six months are used to finance down payments.
Approximately 20 percent of members reaching out are veterans. While extra disclosures are required when a veteran buys a house, there are no additional disclosures required when buying a timeshare. In the case of active duty service members, who may move frequently, or may be deployed overseas, the lack of a secondary market becomes even more perilous.
Some companies have instituted voluntary surrender programs, but for the buyer who learned shortly after purchase, that what they bought did not meet what was presented, being allowed to deed the timeshare back, paying for the privilege, creates a hamster wheel of recycled points. Many report not being allowed onto the booking site until after the recession period has passed.
About 20 percent of those reaching out to us are veterans or active duty service members. An active duty service member can lose their security clearance and possibly their career over a timeshare foreclosure. One Marine lost his air unit command over a timeshare foreclosure. Efforts have been made to have timeshare sales presentations made off-limits in some areas of our country populated by active duty service members.
The lack of a viable secondary market makes timeshares particularly dangerous for active service members, as they are subject to sudden and unexpected moves. One military family of six, moving from Washington State to Virginia, bought timeshare points sold as an investment. Given there is virtually no secondary market for timeshare points, and down to their last $3,000 in savings, the $1,200 down payment was financed. Greater disclosure is needed so that active duty service members know that the timeshare they just spent thousands of dollars for, likely has no secondary market.
Veterans are also at risk. Leo Gomez contacted us with 30 days left to live, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer having been exposed to Agent Orange. Leo did not even call to complain. He was worried about leaving behind a $37,000 timeshare loan. When I asked Leo why he switched from one program to another, Leo said he was told he had to because the resort he originally bought went bankrupt. In no way was that true. Leo’s last words to our volunteer, were, “I want my story told.” Sadly, this is only one story. There are many more.
Millions use and enjoy their timeshare. The industry boasted $10 billion in sales in 2018. Our volunteers have received reports from timeshare sales agents, managers and employees as alarmed by unfair and deceptive practices as the members who have been harmed. One former employee was awarded $20 million by a jury in a case against a major developer. We know there are sales agents selling the product honestly. We hope more will join our effort to bring more transparency and accountability.