Stuck paying for a timeshare you want out of? You’re not alone: Some 85 percent of the nine million timeshare owners in the U.S. are looking to get out of a timeshare contract. This is according to a service that helps people get out of timeshares, called Timeshare Exit Team—which has mixed reviews online with success stories among them, and a favorable rating from the Better Business Bureau.
What is clear, though, is that getting out of an unwanted timeshare can be an incredible hassle involving lots of paperwork, money, and even legal battles. Success in getting out of them varies, so the best way to avoid timeshare problems is to make sure you never buy a bad deal in the first place.
Reasons to Get Out of a Timeshare
Timeshares are agreements that purport to establish joint ownership of a vacation home for shared use. No matter how attractive a timeshare might seem at first, though, a long list of problems can lead you to want out of a time share after just a short time. And in many cases, getting out isn’t easy.
The main problem with time shares is that you’re signing up for maintenance and service fees that go on whether or not you ever use the space. And those fees almost always increase every year, as unilaterally determined and imposed by the owner, developer, or manager.
Many timeshare contracts have no end date—they go “in perpetuity,” the dreaded biblical-sounding legal term. You can even leave such a timeshare to your descendants in a will, meaning the obligation to pay doesn’t go away. If you ignore the fees, the collection agencies will call.
How to Get Out of a Timeshare
You can sell most timeshare contracts without a problem—but only if you can find someone willing to buy it. Some timeshares do reasonably well on the resale market, but many do not: The combination of locations and fees may make it unattractive for someone else to buy.
You could even be unable to literally give them away: Ebay lists lots of timeshares for sale at a trivial price of $1 to $5. Some charities accept timeshare contracts as donations, but only ones they’ve vetted as having real value. If it’s worth zero on the market, it’s worth zero to a charity.
Getting out otherwise can be a surprisingly expensive legal battle, or could involve hiring a middle man to sell yours. Several services can sell unwanted timeshares, and the better ones promise not to charge you anything until they’ve actually made a deal. But the costs can give you sticker shock: Typical costs to get out through one of the large specialist agencies can range from $4,000 to $12,000. Timeshare Exit Team, which doesn’t sell timeshares but aims to dissolve your legal contract, is reported to cost thousands itself and can take years.
Avoiding the Need to Get Out of a Timeshare
Before you sign a contract, ask questions to determine whether you have a viable exit strategy: Will the seller or owner accept and cancel an unwanted timeshare contract? Do fees terminate after a certain period? Does the program have a genuine resale value? If you can’t see a reasonable way to one day get out, don’t get in.
One final caution: There are even travel scams out there that promise to sell unwanted timeshares but take a fee or deposit and never terminate the contract. If an agency asks for money in advance of a service, just say no.
Readers: Have you ever purchased or had to get out of a timeshare? Comment below.
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.