Far and away the most common questions received by Timeshare Consumer Group are related to getting rid of one’s timeshare. Most individuals describe stories of purchasing their vacation property on impulse and as a result of high pressure sales tactics. The buyers learn later that the timeshare wasn’t what they expected…especially in regards to rising maintenance fees and surprising « special assessment » fees. The buyers attempt to resell their timeshare through various means but all of them prove fruitless.
We’ve found that when faced with a timeshare that becomes a liability, most consumers turn to one of two types of companies – the first are listing services, which place your timeshare on the resale market for a fee and do little else. The second type of company offers what is called a « title transfer » – you pay a fee, and the company takes the timeshare off your hands. Since we have gotten several inquiries about specific title transfer companies over the last few months, we thought we’d take a look into the seldom-plumbed depths of this industry.
What title transfer companies claim to do is arrange to transfer ownership of your vacation property to a business entity that can manage it better than an individual. Unfortunately nine times out of ten this premise is too good to be true. In many cases these companies are no better equipped to handle a worthless timeshare than the average consumer.
In our research, however, we have discovered that a handful of these companies actually do help timeshare owners disentangle themselves from ensnaring contracts. Other companies are essentially scams, no better than the timeshare resort representatives who sell the properties in the first place. But distinguishing between the two can be risky business.
For those of you who might be researching one of these companies, we offer this test. The following are 5 questions that you can ask a representative of a company offering to take your timeshare for a fee – the better the answers you get, the more likely that the company is worthy of your business.
Why do I have to pay an upfront fee?
Some companies may not refer to their upfront fees as actual « upfront fees, » and distinguishing a worthwhile price from a scam is critical. In timeshare resale a common fraud tactic is for an agency to charge timeshare owners an upfront fee without the promise that their timeshare will actually be sold – leaving the owner with both resale costs and the timeshare fees they had to begin with! Many of the listing companies we spoke of earlier fall into this category.
Other companies charge a fee and immediately upon receiving it begin transferring ownership of the timeshare out of the customer’s hands (the « title transfer »). Obviously the latter is a satisfactory explanation for these fees, although caution should be taken – read the contract to ensure that the company in question is prepared to legally transfer the timeshare. You also might still be responsible for maintenance fees on your timeshare while the transfer is taking place; however, a good title transfer service will make accommodations to reimburse these fees.
In any case, we have found that there is a difference between an « upfront fee » and a genuine title transfer service cost; with the latter you are paying another entity to relinquish the burden of an unwanted timeshare.
What are you going to do with my timeshare? If you can sell it, why can’t I?
This is a very important question, and we have discovered that most debate over the title transfer industry concerns how a company handles this.
The best of these businesses work with a legitimate title transfer service that has copious industry connections. Assuming the company is not a scam, what the timeshare owner is paying for is the security of jettisoning their timeshare immediately without having to worry about the difficulties of the resale market.
A legitimate title transfer company – ideally, the first stop on your timeshare’s journey after signing a contract – will deal with timeshares in bulk. Very often they cut deals with resorts and can return a timeshare to its original corporate owner since they handle dozens of properties at a time. Other title transfer representatives we spoke to claimed that these properties can be sold to large companies for corporate events, or to travel agencies as « resort stock ».
Occasionally timeshares such as these wind up on Ebay with no reserve, leading to controversy; however, it’s important to remember that these properties are rarely sold at a profit, and a resale option such as ebay is only one in a long list that a title transfer company might employ (Ebay is also something of a listing company itself, since users are charged for their placed items).
Much is made of the fact that even legitimate title transfer companies might sell your timeshare. What is not as often discussed is that most of the resale options they utilize are unapproachable by average consumers.
Will I have to continue paying maintenance fees, etc until the timeshare is sold?
This is easy. The answer should be an emphatic no. If you are in any way expected to continue paying for your timeshare after ownership is transferred, the deal is likely a complete scam. Sometimes transferring ownership can take time – 3-6 months, our contacts say – but this should be stipulated clearly in the contract.
Less-than-legitimate companies will not have the industry connections mentioned above and simply cannot manage your timeshare any better than you can. In some of these cases the timeshare owner pays an upfront fee and the title transfer company moves their property into a kind of ownership limbo – where, unfortunately, the original owner is still responsible for maintenance fees, etc. These situations are common and can be difficult to predict if a title transfer company embellishes their true ability to manage hard-to-sell vacation properties.
Can you take any timeshare, regardless of the quality or circumstances?
This is another tricky question. The fact of the matter is that some timeshares cannot be taken by title transfer companies for any number of reasons – maybe the timeshare resort won’t let the original buyer out of their contract. Maybe the timeshare resort is embroiled in some kind of legal difficulty and all the contracts are frozen. There are a number of potential situations.
But if you ask a title transfer company representative this question, the answer should be « no, BUT… ». He or she might then explain why your particular timeshare can be transferred. You should be assured in writing that a title transfer is possible on your timeshare before signing a contract or paying any amount of money – many companies say they can take any timeshare, when in fact they cannot.
Can you provide testimony from satisfied customers?
The easiest question of all! As with any company, you should always check their rating with the BBB before committing any sum of money. The BBB will also list any outstanding complaints that have been registered: most companies have complaints on file, but only the most upstanding resolve these issues in a timely manner. The best timeshare title transfer companies – as with the best timeshare resorts – also have a long list of satisfied customers that have given positive feedback over the years. You might ask the company for a video or hand-written testimony.
Finally, it is challenging to hold one’s own in any sales environment – as most timeshare owners know, after sitting through resort presentations. Many company representatives are trained to evade difficult questions and get you to sign contracts as quickly as possible. But when looking to escape from a timeshare contract the consumer should have a very different experience – if you feel you are being « sold » something, as you were when you originally purchased the timeshare, that is probably a good indication that the company is not worth your time or money. Companies that are honest, however, and offer you realistic options to getting out of your contract are probably going to make good on their claims. Staying clear on your objectives and knowing the accurate information ahead of time will help you to stay intelligent and safe.
Copyright 2008, Timeshare Consumer Group. Originally printed here.