Millions of Americans have purchased a timeshare. Nine million households to be exact, according to the American Resort Development Association and Consumer Reports magazine.
With an estimated 1,500 timeshare resorts operating in the U.S. and some 121,000 vacation properties worldwide, there is a lot to choose when searching for that piece of paradise.
The good news is that the industry has come a long way from the 1970s when timeshare properties were marketed with shady come-ons and high-pressure and misleading sales tactics.
Consumer Reports says, the "industry has become more consumer friendly and transparent."
That's because major hospitality chains — Disney, Four Seasons, Hilton and Marriott — now are among the big players and have made the business more attractive and reputable.
These days you can shop online or chat live with a property representative to get detailed information about the costs of ownership including the buy-in fee and ongoing annual maintenance costs.
For many, the timeshare concept makes sense: Multiple individuals share rights to use a property, each with his or her own allotted time frame…usually a fixed week each year. Often now called, "vacation ownership" or "interval travel" programs, the idea is to get an affordable vacation at a luxury location.
In 2014, consumers bought almost $8 billion worth of timeshare properties in the U.S. The average sales price was $20,020 with an average annual maintenance fee of $880.
Median age of timeshare owners is 51. However, the median age of recent buyers is 39, half have children younger than 18. The newer owners are younger, more affluent, more diverse and better educated.
Questions to ask yourself when buying a timeshare contract:
Are you committed to vacationing every year? Will the resort you are considering stand the test of time? How much will you be spending on vacations in the next 10 years?
The experts recommend that you consider this a lifestyle investment, not a financial investment. It is best not to expect your money back.
Average out your annual vacation expenses. If you're paying $100 a night in annual timeshare maintenance fees for a week's stay and you already paid $20,000 for that week's stay upfront, it doesn't make sense to pay full retail price for a timeshare.
The reality is that there are many timeshare properties for sale at a fraction of their original cost. The Internet offers lots tips for how to get a good deal by buying a resale.
When buying new or a resale make sure the written contract contains all the promises made during the pitch. You could run the contract by a timeshare attorney. Know what the cancellation policy is in case you change your mind. Talk to other owners in the timeshare you are considering. What is their level of satisfaction with the property?
Buy-in with a flat upfront fee, don't buy over time, the experts say. And be prepared to manage your contract going forward, along with the program's "point system," changes in ownership and tiered memberships.
As for resale value, a timeshare is more like a car than a house, it depreciates. There is no shortage of websites including eBay, RedWeek, and Timeshare Resale Vacations that advertise timeshares for $1, put up for sale by owners who want out.
But reselling a timeshare is where the industry still wallows in potential scams. A reseller may offer to unload your timeshare for an upfront fee. Then ask for more money for marketing. You finally realize that they are not selling your timeshare, but just taking your money. Lots of consumer complaints about this. Legitimate fees are typically paid after a sale is concluded.
Julia Anderson writes for women about money and retirement at sixtyandsingle.com.