In this week’s Letter from America, we welcome Lisa Ann Schreier to our pages, she is the author of two books the most well known being Timeshare Vacations for Dummies. In this article Lisa gives a very good insight into the timeshare industry and how it is weighed in favour of the developers and not the consumer. But first a quick look at Europe.
This week has been rather quiet, although we have received several enquiries on companies contacting our readers, these are still being researched, but all are offering something similar, claiming your money back with a relinquishment or that your resort has already been found guilty and there is a substantial amount of money waiting for you at in the Spanish Courts. All you need to do is pay the tax!
Obviously this does set the alarm bells ringing, as unless you have actually employed a lawyer, given authorisation for them to act on your behalf, had all documents translated and the case filed on your behalf at court, then none of the above is true. We will be publishing when the research is done.
Some news from mainland Spain came in this week, the Court of First Instance in Fuengirola has declared a contract with Heritage Resorts null and void. The UK clients have also been awarded their purchase price back which amounts to over £8,000, also a return of maintenance fees paid amounting to over 8,000€, plus legal fees and legal interest, then to cap it all the judge ordered that the deposit paid within the cooling off period be returned back double, this comes to over £12,000!!!
Now on with our first article from Lisa.
Timeshares have long suffered from a negative image, brought on for the most part by the outdated and heavy handed marketing and sales practices that are still in use, despite what those in charge of ‘spin’ in the industry would like us to believe.
However, as 2018 dawns, it’s becoming clear that the developers and the national association that protects those developers have carefully crafted an environment where they reign and consumer protections are dangerously close to non-existent.
We’re not just talking one concerning developer practice here, but rather a carefully orchestrated business model that puts consumers at a clear and some would say, illegal disadvantage.
—At least one major developer, has a clause buried in their contract that bans any owner from starting or joining any class action lawsuit, forcing them instead into arbitration which in their case, they pre-selected the exclusive filing location or venue, making it costly and inefficient for the consumer and is so knowledgeable about the pool of available arbitrators from experience in using them, that they can in part control the outcome by striking any proposed arbitrator that hasn’t previously ruled in favor of the developer. The one shot that a consumer can’t compete in that game.
To protect themselves, within that clause the developer states that a consumer may ‘opt out’ of that restriction if they notify the developer within 30 days of purchase. Talk to 100 of their owners, and 99 of them are unaware of this.
Another developer, now exiting the industry themselves and formerly based in New York City, wrote their contracts in such a way that unsuspecting owners literally gave the developer the right to change the Offering Plan several times annually without owners’ knowledge or advisement. Changes were made with the New York State’s Attorney General’s office as well as with New York City Real Property Records to change the type of deeds the owners held. You guessed it; the changes that were made inevitably favored the developer and put the owners at a disadvantage.
—Then there is the inability to access or use what you purchased until well after the rescission period. In the United States, there is a legal rescission or cooling off period which ranges from 3-10 days. On the surface, that sounds like adequate consumer protection. But dig a little deeper as I did in this article I wrote for Senior.com
and you’ll see that while almost all developers pressure you to purchase within the scope of a 2-5 hour sales presentation; promising you the price is for ‘today only’, they are under no obligation, legal or moral, to process the paperwork giving you access to what you purchased within that same legally mandated rescission period. Additionally, developers are getting ‘creative’ in how they give you the legal paperwork concerning the purchase and the rules concerning rescission. Several developers now routinely use a CD ROM or a tablet of some sort, both of which are difficult at best to access while on vacation.
—Check any timeshare contract and you’ll find the ‘oral representation clause’. This nifty clause, also known as ‘the salesperson can lie all they want during the sales pitch’ clause allows salespeople working on behalf of timeshare developers to say whatever is necessary to obtain the sale during the course of the 2-5 hour sales pitch and be under no obligation to live up to any of it. To wit; one major developer is telling unsuspecting consumers that they’ll be able to ‘cash in their timeshare points’ at $.30 per. When the owner attempts to cash those points out, they are of course told that no such program exists.
—Most salespeople extol the many virtues of timeshare ownership, among them being the ‘full bundle of rights’ that being the ability to use, exchange, rent, sell or will their interest. Ah yes, the ability to sell. What they don’t mention is that in the majority of cases, the resale timeshare market is so depressed that there are hundreds of thousands of owners who are listing their timeshare for sale for less than $1,000 and in many cases for nothing after spending upwards of $20,000 for their ‘piece of paradise.’ (In 2016, the average price of a timeshare was over $21,000)
However, several high ranking members of ARDA including at least one serving on the Ethics Committee, have been copied on at least 80 and as many as 100 detailed complaints from one consumer advocate on behalf of owners. ARDA’s response? They have ignored every single complaint. What, I ask you is a Code of Ethics good for if it’s not enforced? The answer of course is ‘window dressing.’ It looks good but is in fact empty.
Skeptics of the premise that the consumer is clearly at serious disadvantage in timeshare matters will fall back on the old adage ‘caveat emptor’ or buyer beware. Defenders of the timeshare industry will point out that more than 7 million people own timeshare. However, even a cursory look behind the numbers will reveal an industry that consistently struggles against a negative image and furthermore, steadfastly refuses to do anything to change that, relying on the fact that consumers can not possibly read, understand and agree to language contained within mounds of paperwork signed while on vacation.
The timeshare industry has cleverly written their own rules. I’ve yet to find another product that has been able to do that and whose rules of governance so clearly disregard common legal and moral obligations to the consumer.
For timeshare and the vacation ownership industry to survive, some drastic steps must be undertaken, including sales and marketing methods of attracting new owners along with creating sustainable owner programs that show consumers that they are indeed a real stakeholder.
Lisa Ann Schreier has been involved in the timeshare community since 1998. After cutting her teeth as a timeshare salesperson and manager at a number of Orlando area resorts, she grew increasingly frustrated with the antiquated marketing and high pressure sales techniques that were (and sadly still are) the norm in the industry. Seeking to be a catalyst for positive change, she wrote ‘Surviving A Timeshare Presentation…Confessions From The Sales Table’ and ‘Timeshare Vacations For Dummies’. She is a frequent contributor to major media outlets and a sought after speaker at consumer advocacy groups. In addition to her articles at Senior.com, she is the lead timeshare advocate at Elliott.org. Her ‘tell it like it is’ blog about timeshare issues is a source of solid information and continues to alert consumers to the myriad of less than reputable companies and practices.
Lisa’s blog can be accessed at:
Twitter users can follow her at @LisaLooksAt
Questions? Looking for assistance? Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Lisa, we hope to publish more of your insights in the future.
If you have any question or need any advice about any article published or about any company that has contacted you but don’t know where to start, contact Inside Timeshare and we will be pleased to help. Remember, doing your checks before hand will save you a money and a lot of stress!
Have a good weekend.