There seems to be no end to the problems that beset the timeshare industry, the latest is the news of a $20 Million award by a San Francisco jury to a former timeshare sales representative. She brought her case for unfair dismissal, after she complained about the way she was made to sell the product.
We all remember the old days, when reps would say anything to get the sale, the high pressure tactics and in some instances the intimidating placing of “security” at the exit doors. This may sound a little far fetched but it is well documented, fortunately in Europe this practice is in demise.
Most sales teams now operate in a more professional manner, although this does depend on the company involved. We have highlighted in many articles how timeshare has been sold, including the practice of financing consumers who would not have been eligible for a loan, had the normal credit checks been made.
Also it must be remembered that in the past there was no basic pay, everything was commission based, no sale no pay. This particular method will always lead to sales staff using heavy handed, pressure tactics and lies. It was also a very transient business, especially in Europe, where reps would travel from one company to the next, believing that the grass was always greener on the other side.
Now to the main story from Irene Parker.
Wyndham’s $20 Million Woes
Is Hyatt Next?
By Irene Parker December 1, 2016 –
November 18, 2016 Dolan Law Firm Press Release
A San Francisco jury awarded $20 million to Trish Williams, a former Wyndham timeshare sales representative, who was wrongfully terminated for reporting timeshare fraud on the elderly (San Francisco Superior Court Case No. CGC-12-526187). The verdict, read late on Thursday, November 17, 2016, followed a one-month trial in which Williams was represented by Chris Dolan of The Dolan Law Firm and Anne Costin of Costin Law Inc.
“Evidence presented at trial revealed that Wyndham employees engaged in “pitching heat,” high pressure sales tactics involving deliberate lies and misrepresentations to get people to buy more timeshare “points.”
Franz Hanning, head of Wyndham Worldwide Corporation’s timeshare division, has submitted his resignation.
Timeshare sales agents targeting the elderly to sign perpetual contracts, with little or no secondary market, in a same day “impulse” buy are nothing new. There are good timeshare companies and honest timeshare agents, but the overwhelming number of complaints voiced on the internet and on angry owner timeshare Facebook pages and websites are disturbing.
It’s a worldwide problem. The Canarian Legal Alliance in Spain has over 2000 timeshare cases pending. The selling tactics, resale scams, problems with limited availability and rising maintenance fees are pandemic.
Many timeshare victims struggle under the weight of rising maintenance fees. They cannot afford the cost of a legal defense or wait out a lengthy and costly trial. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman halted sales at The Manhattan Club in 2014 due to problems with availability. “The investigation is proceeding, and the motion to dismiss a currently pending class action suit has been adjourned to January 5, 2017 for now,” said Douglas Wasser, an attorney representing a number of Manhattan Club owners.
Two former timeshare sales agents talk about their experiences working at Hyatt. Whistle blower is a legal term, but I dislike using this term to describe those who come forward only to benefit others in order to stop harmful business practices. Both the former agents I spoke with would like to see the industry improved. They are in year five of a three whistleblower class action against Hyatt. Hyatt did not respond to my request for comment.
“I worked in the timeshare sales industry for approximately 2.5 years. What happened to Trish Williams at Wyndham is very similar to what I experienced at Hyatt.”
If you are a Hyatt timeshare owner who feels that you have not been dealt with honestly and fairly, Candace would like to hear your story.
You can contact Candace at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Former Hyatt timeshare sales agents have testified that they were instructed by Hyatt to make certain false statements and omit certain facts when communicating to Hyatt owners and potential clientele in order to make more sales.
Specifically, they were told to tell owners that they had previously signed a document (a document that didn’t exist) that waived their right to upgrade.
Furthermore, (one or all) sales agents were instructed by Hyatt to make the following false or misleading statements:
- If you do not purchase today, the purchase incentives being offered that day would no longer be available.
- If you do not purchase today, you will lose your right to upgrade to a higher value timeshare in the future.
- If you do not purchase today, you will not be able to purchase a one-week timeshare in the future. You can only purchase a two-week timeshare.
- If you do not upgrade your existing timeshare today, you will not be able to upgrade it later.
- Phase I property was not available for purchase – only the more expensive Phase II property was available.
Second Whistleblower asked not to be identified:
Like Candace, a second agent worked as a sales agent for Hyatt and Diamond Resorts:
“With the outcome of the Wyndham Whistleblower trial, there is a real possibility people will finally hear us. Former timeshare agents coming forward could be the vehicle needed to bring predatory timeshare sales into the light of day.
The Arizona Attorney General was provided with sheer volumes of information concerning my claims of fraud, but there was a lack of discernible enforcement or investigative efforts.
(As reported in a prior article, the Florida timeshare division only acted on 110 out of 2,360 complaints filed between April 2012 and April 2014)
The Arizona Department of Economic Security, ADES ruled that my constructive discharge for refusing to commit fraud was justified. My attorney stated he had never seen a favorable ruling of that kind in Arizona before.
The Arizona Department of Real Estate refused to investigate fraud allegations unless I went to trial and won. At that time they committed (in writing) to take action against the timeshare company provided I won a trial. I was not able to withstand the demands of a prolonged trial and an army of timeshare attorneys.
Fraudulent misrepresentation is often where the cycle begins. Once the purchaser is locked into buying a non-real estate based product, laws already in place perpetuate a vicious and predatory environment. Consumers waive their right to legal recourse. The protections that consumers are told exist (that the agent is a licensed real estate agent), misleads the buyer into believing oversight exists. Some timeshare companies openly flaunt non-compliance, saying statute is on their side. Although the elderly can suffer special circumstances, young couples deserve equal protection.”
I asked timeshare Attorney Mike Finn if he feels a $20 million whistleblower award is enough to make timeshare developers take off the blinders and face the fact that predatory sales could ultimately weaken or destroy the timeshare industry.
“Much like the recent Overton case against Westgate in Tennessee, the exposure of the timeshare industry’s abuses is a welcome sight in the consumer protection community. It’s difficult to assess its impact but, like Westgate, I don’t believe it will have an immediate impact on Wyndham’s business practices for several reasons;
Wyndham will undoubtedly appeal and my educated guess is that the punitive damage award will be drastically reduced,
Even if the punitive aspect of the verdict withstands appeal it’s still a small drop in the bucket for this very large publicly traded company, and
There’s a lot of money to be made in continuing these alleged practices as usual.
As you point out, much of the blame lies with the weak regulatory agencies. Until the public puts political pressure on the regulatory agencies, there isn’t enough incentive to change.”
I’m told Hyatt is one of the better timeshare companies. There are a minuscule number of complaints found on the internet about Hyatt compared to other timeshare companies, but the entire industry is probably guilty of some deceptive and fraudulent sales.
It is clear from the stories here, that a major shake up of how timeshare / vacation ownership is sold is needed, not only to safeguard the consumer but also the personal integrity of the sales representative.
It is also many of these practices that have brought about the current situation in Spain, one case in point is the selling of timeshare as an investment. It has been known for sometime this was illegal, yet sales staff had to use this in their pitch, in many cases to ensure they kept their jobs. This is not fair for them or for the consumer, it also leaves the door open for more litigation.
We would like to thank Irene and those who helped with this article, it is through your experiences that we can inform others of what is happening in the world of timeshare, the good, the bad and the ugly.
If you have any information or views on this subject or any other article, Inside Timeshare would like to hear from you. If you have any experience on this matter and would like to share this, contact Inside Timeshare, if you want to remain anonymous, we will respect your wishes.