How to escape a US timeshare
Relinquishing a US timeshare is not easy
Kathie Asaro, a retired sales manager from California, decided she no longer wanted her Rancho Mirage timeshare. It just didn't fit her lifestyle
Unfortunately her timeshare contract was 'in perpetuity' (forever to you and me).
When Kathie called Rancho Mirage to ask if she could give it back they refused point blank. The timeshare had been paid for years ago, there was no outstanding finance. If it had been a car that she bought and paid for, the dealership would have been overjoyed to be gifted it back, so why would a resort not gratefully accept your timeshare back for free?
The difference is that US timeshare resorts view their owners as a vital income source, paying an average $1000 a year in management fees.
Timeshare resorts are reluctant to let unhappy owners free from their obligation to pay annual management fees because they are a major revenue stream
Kathie Asaro was told, matter of factly, that she was not going to be released from her commitment for the rest of her life.
A University of Central Florida (UCF) study showed that 85 percent of timeshare buyers regret their purchase. It doesn't take long for the salesperson's patter to be forgotten, and the reality to sink in that the same condos are generally available from regular bookings sites for around the same cost as the members' management fees.
So, are members stuck forever in a vacation system they may no longer want?
Escape is possible
"Ridding yourself of an unwanted timeshare commitment is tough," explains Suzanne Stojanovic of American Consumer Claims. "But there are ways to do it."
"The timeshare industry doesn't actually want unhappy owners. It's not great for business to have angry or disenchanted members making their voices heard online."
The American Resort Development Association (ARDA) states that, "we want to ensure that timeshare owners have the option to exit their timeshare in a safe and transparent way."
ARDA's surveys show the inverse of the UCF study. EG, that 85 percent of all timeshare owners are happy with their purchases.
Suzanne Stojanovic advises that, "anyone among the unhappy 15% (or 85% depending on which report you believe - the industry report or the UCF report) can either ask their resort to let them go, they can try and sell their timeshare, or they can retain professional help."
Ask your resort to let you leave
Kathie Asaro phoned Rancho Mirage timeshare every single month, from 2017 onwards asking to be allowed to leave. The resort told her 'no' every time. It was repeatedly expounded to Kathie that she was going to be kept as a member for the rest of her life, and she would be liable for the accompanying annual fees.
Kathie insisted that she would never pay her fees again. Why should she? She wasn't going to use the timeshare. Her idea was that if she didn't pay the fees, sooner or later Rancho Mirage would have to foreclose and incur the cost of a lawyer by doing this. Surely it would be more cost effective for the resort to just take it back for free?
Rancho Mirage told Kathie that her credit rating would be ruined if she went down this path. Kathie stuck to her guns, and eventually the timeshare company backed down. They released Kathie from her contract.
"It is great that Kathie was able to escape her timeshare in this manner," agrees Stojanovic. "However this method of escape is not guaranteed. Many resorts will refuse to allow the member to leave, the law is on their side because the contracts are written that way. A less amenable company would pass the unpaid management fees to debt collectors and the member would be facing legal enforcement processes."
Try to sell your membership
ARDA’s Resort Owners’ Coalition claims they can connect you with a list of licensed real estate brokers who specialize in second hand timeshare sales.
There are also countless websites that offer to sell your timeshares on the second hand market.
"Be very careful using these sites," warns Suzanne Stojanovic. "Most of them are only interested in getting you to pay an upfront fee. In fact the timeshares listed almost never sell. People don't want them, for the same reason you don't want yours. The annual fees are a burden, and it's often possible to stay in the same resorts without paying for a membership.
"The cost of booking is often around the same as a member would pay in annual fees, so it's difficult to see any value in buying a timeshare.
"You can see timeshares listed on EBay for one dollar. People still don't buy them. The reality is that not only are timeshares difficult to sell, but in fact professional help is usually necessary to relinquish them at all.
"You could get a buyer by advertising, but you would be extremely lucky to do so."
Get a professional help
Peggy Bendel hired a lawyer when timeshare company wouldn't let her out of the contract even though she contacted the company within the cooling-off period.
The timeshare company fended Peggy off for 3 months, trying to get her to accept different products, or to downsize. Eventually a her lawyer forced the company to accept Peggy's cancellation request, although it could take another 10 months for Peggy to get her money back
Suzanne Stojanovic further clarifies, "Peggy's case should have been straightforward because she was inside the cooling off period. When people want to cancel after that period is when it gets difficult.
"Resorts can't afford to lose members, for the reasons already stated. Even regular lawyers are no match for the timeshare industry. It takes experience in this specialist area.
Beware of fraudsters
"Be careful who you do retain for this type of work," warns Stojanovic. "Sadly a huge amount of the firms claiming they will help you escape your timeshare are fraudsters. They will sign you up and take your money, but then disappear without providing the service.
"If you need further advice, get in touch with American Consumer Claims for a free, no obligation consultation"