Note to readers: For such large financial decisions, it is always a good idea to step away, run the numbers and truly think about your decision. Being pressured to buy on the spot is no way to make a purchase. For purposes of anonymity, I am not going to release the name of this particular timeshare.
One of the things that I love about blogging is that it gives me a great excuse to try out new things that I have always wanted to, but have never quite had the gumption to do…such as Timeshares.
A few weeks ago, an invitation to a timeshare presentation came in the mail, and I accepted it. I used to work in marketing, and one of my last projects was for a hotel chain with timeshares as one of its competitors, so I got to briefly delve into the world of them but have not ever visited one. Also, the prizes they were offering seemed way too good to be true and I wanted to test it out for both my readers’ and my own sake and see if I can actually walk away with something more than I came with (instead of walking away with something less…like a pocketful of my money).
My appointment was set for 10:30 a.m. on a Friday and was to last for 1.5 hours. It was an hour away from where I lived, but with the promise of walking away with a $40 American Express card, a trip for two to Las Vegas for 3 days and 2 nights, airfare and hotel included or a trip for two to a cruise leaving a nearby port, plus either a $49,000 BMW, $1500 shopping spree, $500 cash, or a romantic getaway for 5 days and 4 nights for two, the drive did not bother me at all. According to the flyer, you were guaranteed to walk away with at minimum $1295 in gifts, with no purchase necessary. (Frugal decadence at its best).
I walked into a room of probably 50 other people. We all filled out a sheet of paperwork for identification (turns out you cannot get your prize without two forms of ID). On the television screen in the corner was playing America’s Funniest Home Videos, and against the wall was a table with some juice and cookies. One by one our names were called by a representative, who then took us into another room and individually spoke to us. After twenty minutes I was greeted by a very enthusiastic college student clad in a suit. His major was business.
In the building next door he gathered some market research about me. It turns out that by our approximations, Paul and I spend around $2100 per year on travelling (one large trip, and two small weekend getaways) or $200 per month (although honestly it’s $175 if you do the math). Over the course of the next 9 years, this salesman showed me that that would add up to $18,000. But wait—that didn’t include inflation; he opened up a notebook with a paper in plastic sheeting showing the inflationary values of a coca-cola and a movie rental from 1960 until today. The prices had gone up by nearly 536%! (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that salaries had also risen since then). He wanted to be conservative, so he told me that I would be looking at an inflation of at least 100%. So I was truly looking at $36,000 for our one week and two weekend getaways per year.
Next came the tour in his F-150. We saw a cabin on the property, the activities area, as well as the condominium-type buildings. I thought the grounds were sufficient, but not as extravagant as I had imagined them to be. At each location that we toured, he left me with the benefits in mind (you can have your own guests, come and stay with us for a week and if you want to stay longer, the cost is just $75 per night, etc.). He kept quizzing me, the questions rolling off his tongue with assurance that he would get the answer he was leading to. Honestly, I just couldn’t produce all of the answers he wanted; sometimes I was confused by the question, or I had to detail to him that once I had taken a trip to Maryland for a long weekend for $7 in total (frequent flyer miles for the airfare, free lodging at a beautiful cottage on my college campus for a special dinner I was invited to attend courtesy of my old department head, borrowed a car from my aunt who lives in Washington D.C. and had a gas gift card to fill the tank up afterwards, etc.).
After the tour we headed back to the building, where it was finally going to be revealed to me the cost of the timeshare. The college student reminded me how much I was looking at spending in the next 9 years for my traveling, and as he continued speaking, that huge $36,000 number glared at me from the page.
Here’s how it broke down: The promotion for the day was that I would get a one week vacation each year, plus membership into RCI (meaning I can stay at various timeshare locations all around the world for an extra $189 per week), plus stay extra nights for $75, plus have as many guests as I want coming over, plus have the option of staying in 7 different locations around the U.S. (I have to admit, none were particularly to my liking, and I let him know that)…all for the price of $15,500, plus $65 per month maintenance fee. And by the way, this was $20,500 less that what I was going to spend on travel in the next 9 years anyway, so how could I refuse? Besides, I had said myself that currently we spend around $200 per month on travel. For just $289 more per month, $489 per month for 360 months, I can actually own something and rise above all of the other people who rent every year.
I said that I would have to think about it, which was exactly what I intended on doing. As per usual, I wanted to run some numbers at home, talk it over with Paul, and see if it was truly worth it.
Repeatedly, the salesman asked me what was holding me back. I was completely honest with him; my fiancée and I were closing on a home during that week, and I didn’t want to jeopardize our credit history by taking on a rather large loan during the process, (as well as take on a loan of this size when we are about to take on a huge loan otherwise)! The salesman respected that, and waited for his manager to come over so that I could receive my gifts. In reality, the next man who came was the second man on the 3-salesman approach to pressure me into buying.
For fifteen minutes I spoke with this second gentleman. He was noticeably upset that I had not brought my fiancée, as if I had broken some unwritten rule; when I told him that “we” are buying a home soon, he looked puzzled at my sheet, and said “we…who is we?” I said “oh, my fiancée”. He said “why isn’t he here” and looked at me as if I had committed a crime. My phone started ringing at that moment, and was unfortunately on the chair beside us all because the second salesman saw Paul’s name pop-up.
“Oh—go ahead and answer that and talk it over. I’ll go speak with my manager about this”, he said.
I said “I don’t want to talk with him about this over the phone, and especially while he is at work.”
He replied, “Well, he wants to talk to you; look, he’s calling you.” He then stood up, and demanded that I call my fiancée while he went to talk to his manager. As anyone would, I simply sat there and refused to do so (I do not take commands from complete strangers). When he returned with a better offer from his manager, he asked if I had done as he told me to. I said “no”.
In just fifteen minutes, the price of owning a timeshare went from $15,500 to $8,880. The salesman explained that something happened that never happens. Someone reneged on their deal, but had already paid down their deed by $6,620. This would be a savings to me. I could just pick up their deed where they left it off. I still politely declined, shook hands with the person, and he left.
Then came the third salesman in the guise of another manager to give me my gifts. He asked how everyone had treated me, and I said “fine”, and put in a great word for the first salesman because he had really done a great job of representing the place. This salesman came with another type of deal. “I heard that you are buying a home and that the price is what is holding you back. I am here to tell you that we will accept $150 down, and $100 per month for the next ten months to hold these prices for you. At the end of ten months, we will put that money towards your purchasing price. How does that sound?” I thought it sounded like they were willing to work with me, which was nice. Still, I was not ready to take on that debt and sign on the dotted line on the spot. Honestly, I had every intention of thinking it over and running the numbers at home.
The third man gave up with an air of utter frustration. He escorted me out the back door and told me which building to go to for the gifts. He walked away, and I put my hand out to shake his. He shook it, but without even looking at me and shaking his head with utter disdain. Wow. I had gone from being a rockstar to being the mistress in a back alley in a matter of an hour.
They delivered on their prize promise; it was a lottery card that you scratched off to see if you won the BMW or shopping spree, or cash, or the romantic getaway (which is the token prize that most everyone wins, and the first salesman explained that to me). I walked away with my $40 American Express Giftcard, a trip for two to Las Vegas for 3 days and 2 nights with roundtrip airfare and the hotel included, and a trip for two for 5 days/4 nights to a choice of several Caribbean locations with hotel included (you supply your own airfare).
Three and a half hours from when I had first arrived, and with my prizes in hand, I drove away to the symbolic tunes of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling”, feeling entirely relieved from the pressure of buying something that had been building incrementally stronger with each of the three salesman.
Timeshares may be for you. Honestly, the ability to use my week in foreign countries truly sold me on the concept because it is ultimate flexibility. Also, the idea that I can ‘will’ this deed to another generation appeals to me (I know, I am only 26, but I have really long-term thinking). What didn’t sell me is the fact that on top of paying the $15,500, each year I would be paying $780 in “maintenance fees” to upkeep my property, which, let’s face it, is the cost of my two smaller weekend getaways combined. I also did not buy into the 100% inflation over the next 20 years (even though this could happen, I am confident in my abilities to find ways around price hikes). Besides that, the property I saw was only sufficient in my eyes and not the type of luxurious I would be looking for to fork out $489 per month for the next 30 years of my life.
Has anyone else ever had experience with timeshares, or owns one? I’d be curious to hear some stories.