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Time-Share Shenanigans

I recently received a call from a representative of Vacation Property Services of St. Petersburg, Fla., saying they had a potential buyer for my time-share property. I was elated and listed my unit with them for a fee of $499. I was told I could cancel the agreement within seven days by certified mail. Almost as soon as I hung up the phone, I felt uneasy about the situation and decided I really shouldn’t go ahead with it. When I called them to get their address for the letter, I was told they could not give it to me for “security reasons.” They said to e-mail or fax my request; I did both within two days. However, a week later I received a certified letter from them containing an advertising confirmation. I called again to let them know I had cancelled, but was told they had no record of that and would not give me a refund. I hope that you can be of some help to me in this dilemma. –Elaine Schmidt, Aiken, S.C.

What are the two happiest days for a time-share owner? The day you buy it, and the day you sell it.

Surely there must be good things to say about time-share properties, but I’ve yet to hear any. A new time-share priced at $18,000 may be worth just $5,000 on the resale market, according to Howard Nusbaum, who heads the American Resort Development Association. Vacation magazines and the Web are full of companies offering to help people sell such albatrosses. Unfortunately, a number of these businesses find profit in your pain.

Elaine, it turns out that Vacation Property Services is not a realty company. It’s an advertising company, and as far as I can tell, the only advertising you get for your $499 is a simple database description on a Web site (www.soldmytime-share.com). You’re also not the only time-share owner with a beef against this company. The online Ripoff Report lists a half-dozen unhappy VPS customers with complaints similar to yours—promises of a quick sale, requests for the listing fee, and then...no sale comes through. Over the last three years, the Better Business Bureau has reported 95 complaints against the VPS location you encountered. Only 27 customers acknowledged a satisfactory outcome. In recent years, VPS has been the target of investigations by the Florida attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission.

The series of telephone calls I placed finally netted VPS executive Frank Perry. He was adamant about not giving you a refund, saying you had failed to contact VPS within the required seven-day cancellation period. In response, I forwarded a copy of the fax and e-mails you sent him just two days after speaking with his representative. Perry insisted they had not received either. I then sent him a copy of your e-mail and fax logs showing the date and time of the transmissions. Faced with such evidence, Perry admitted he could have misplaced the fax and reluctantly agreed to refund half your fee. I responded that it didn’t seem fair that you should have to pay anything for a service you had rightfully cancelled. I also reminded him that AARP’s membership includes a lot of time-share buyers and sellers. With a sudden gush of good will, or maybe just a belated burst of good business sense, Perry decided in favor of a full refund.

For time-share owners looking to safely resell their properties, Howard Nusbaum suggests the following tips:

   1. Check within your resort first. Time-share resorts often have resale programs of their own. Your time-share week may be more valuable to someone already within your resort than it would be to an outsider.

   2. List with a professional. Use a licensed real estate broker who does not charge an up-front fee, and get references. You’ll want an agent who handles resales in the area of your time-share, or for your specific resort.

   3. If you must do it yourself, use a major Web site with a lot of traffic. Time-share listings can even be found on eBay. Nusbaum also likes a site called RedWeek.com.

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