Got a Timeshare? The Government's Got Your Back

Earlier this month, Governor Rick Scott signed Florida's new Timeshare Resale Accountability Act into law. Although the law regulates only sales in Florida and doesn't cover all possible scams, it's a good start. It will go into effect on July 1. Key provisions of the act provide penalties for resellers who:

  • Misrepresent that some buyer has an interest in buying a timeshare resale
  • Collect payments from sellers before the seller signs a written agreement to the terms of the resale
  • Do not honor a seller's cancellation request made within seven days of a signed agreement or fail to provide a refund within 20 days of cancellation

For some time, we consumer advocates have been warning about scams targeting you if you want to get out from under a timeshare you no longer want. This new law will protect you from at least some, but not all of the misrepresentations ... and only in Florida.

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Probably the most important part of this act is the penalty for trying to lull you into an unsound deal by claiming "we have buyers waiting" for your timeshare. In general, few, if any, timeshare intervals enjoy a list of potential buyers "waiting" for availability: Overall, the numbers of owners hoping to resell at a decent price far outnumber potential buyers. Enforcing a "cooling off" period and strict time limits for refunds is also an important gain.

But the act does nothing to rein in some scamsters. Chief among them are agencies that charge a big fee upfront (often of several hundred dollars) to handle your resale. They may even "guarantee" to sell your timeshare, but they usually don't. Instead, the typical result is that once you pay, the seller stalls you along indefinitely and neither sells your timeshare nor returns your fee.

The act also fails to address the question of unlicensed timeshare resellers, who are typically the most active in misrepresenting what they can accomplish. And it doesn't regulate high-pressure sales techniques, either, such as offering "free" or heavily discounted vacations that obligate you to attend a hard-sell sales pitch. The pitch can also be one of those "you have been specially selected" types to receive some great deal.

For now, this specific act applies only to Florida. However, that state is important because so many of the nation's timeshares are located there. Moreover, Florida initiatives can sometimes help discourage scams across the nation, as did the crackdown on false cruise advertising that artificially carved out fictitious "port charges" from true prices. Facing the need to advertise prices honestly in Florida, the big lines adopted conforming pricing policies nationwide.

The next steps are clearly for consumers to advocate for the closure of the loopholes in the Florida legislation and secondly, similar legislation in other important timeshare locations, especially California and Hawaii.

The good corporate citizens in the timeshare business are solidly behind the Florida law. Among others, Wyndham, the country's largest operator, has already issued a statement in support, as have RCI, the leading exchange, the American Resort Development Association (ARDA) and such large resellers as Selling Timeshares, Inc.

But if you want to sell a timeshare, you still have to be vigilant, especially if you live outside Florida. Agencies that appear to offer the best prices are often the least honest. The unfortunate truth is that some intervals at ordinary locations and off-season times may not be salable at all; in fact, you might even have to pay something to give it away to a charity just to get out from under the monthly payments. If you're looking to sell, the first place you should check is the Timeshare Users Group (TUG, 904-298-3185). Ditto if you're new to the idea. Look before you leap.

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Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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