A physician on timeshares: Who are they right for?

Timeshares, for those who might not know, are a way to own the right to use a vacation resort. It comes in two forms, owning points or owning a specific room in a complex for a specific week. It’s like a partial ownership of a condo at a resort. These units can be traded for other timeshares all over the world. If you own a week, it can be traded for some other week elsewhere. If you own points, they can be used to “purchase” days in a resort. It is a form of pre-paid vacationing and not a real estate investment.

It seems that every article I read about timeshares is bashing them. It makes no sense to me as I have had a great experience with owning and using our timeshare for more than two decades. So why all the bashing? I suspect the real reason for the bashing is that the wrong people buy timeshares, are unhappy with their purchase, and then their anger overflows onto the rest of us.

Why would the wrong people buy a timeshare? Because timeshares are sold with very aggressive sales tactics. If a car salesman talked you into buying a car you really couldn’t afford, is it the car’s fault? If the realtor and banker got you into a house you should have never purchased, is it the house’s fault? People need to stop blaming the timeshare for their own mistake.

When the right people buy timeshares, in the right manner, and learn how to get the most out of them, they have a great experience and save a fortune on vacation costs. When the wrong people purchase timeshares, they have a bad experience, often lose a lot of money, and then they tell all their friends how bad a deal timeshares really are.

If you are fully convinced of the mistaken dogma that “timeshares are bad,” then don’t waste your time reading this article as I won’t be able to change a closed mind. Wait for my next topic. If you want to learn about ways to have great, high-end vacations at bargain prices, then read on.

When we bought our timeshare, I just went to listen to the sales pitch for the free gift. But after sitting through their spiel, my wife wanted to buy one. She knew I was a workaholic, and she felt that owning a timeshare was a way of guaranteeing that we would take at least one nice vacation every year. I’m grateful for all the wonderful memories we have made, and the money we have saved, from this one purchase.

Not everyone should consider owning a timeshare. Meeting the following criteria first is crucial to becoming a happy timeshare owner.  Those who do not meet these criteria, however, should not acquire a timeshare at any price, not even if it is free, because they will be unhappy.

You must have at least three weeks of available vacation time every year

Many unhappy timeshare owners fit into this category; they don’t have enough time off to use it.  If it is not used within the allotted timeframe, it will be lost, and that is a complete waste of money. Often the purchase was not thought through. It was made in haste at the hands of a pushy salesman. Later, after being unable to use their timeshare for a year or two, they realize they don’t have enough vacation time for a timeshare and start complaining about the cost of owning something they can’t use.

If you have a very limited amount of time available for vacationing, you should not own a timeshare. You will find yourself using that limited time in a very select manner, like visiting your parents, attending a family reunion, camping, or going on a cruise.

You must have enough vacation to be able to fit in those things each year that you want to attend, and still have time left for a pure vacation at a timeshare resort.

I took 8 to 12 weeks of vacation every year while I was a general surgeon, so I had enough space in my vacation schedule for timeshare weeks, cruises, motorhome travels and visiting relatives. If you own a recreational vehicle (RV), and only have three weeks of vacation each year, you will not have enough time off to enjoy both the RV and the timeshare unless your RV use is limited to weekends.  You will need to pick one; RV or timeshare, in order to be happy. Otherwise, you will have one sitting unused.

You must have enough disposable income to take an upscale vacation

Many people fall prey to the hard sell tactics of the timeshare sales force and buy without thinking through the costs. The salesman really doesn’t care if your family can afford a timeshare, they are only after the commission.

If you have three children, and you want to travel all over the world to timeshares with your family, you must also be able to afford five airline tickets each time you go. I have witnessed this limiting factor in many families. They just don’t have the money for upscale vacations.

If you cannot afford the airplane tickets, you will be limited to timeshare trades that are close enough to drive. Depending on where you live, that may not be to your liking.

Just like most things in life, if you can’t afford it, but you buy it anyway, you will not be a happy owner.

You must be able to afford to purchase it with cash

If you need to borrow the money, to pre-pay for future vacation accommodations, you don’t have the money to purchase a timeshare.

Most doctors have a  debt problem. Adding to their debt by purchasing an upscale vacation is a formula for disaster. Since a timeshare is a luxury item, and luxury items should only be purchased with money you have previously saved, those who are unable to pay cash for this purchase are not among the people who should buy a timeshare. Never take out a loan to buy a luxury item.

Many timeshare purchasers complain about the cost. But the cost should never be a factor when indulging in a timeshare purchase. Only buy luxury items with surplus funds. I suspect almost all of the disgruntled timeshare owners purchased their unit with borrowed money, at a time when hard-sell tactics are driving their purchasing decision. Often, this decision is regretted later. Don’t buy it if you can’t write a check for it.

Your vacation plans must be flexible

I have seen many people pick their vacations with great precision. They must go to one particular city, on one particular date. If they can’t make that exact arraignment, they are unhappy. If this describes your vacationing ideal, then the timeshare system is not for you.

When trading a timeshare week, you might not always find the exact time or location that you thought you wanted. To be successful, you must be flexible. For example, make your search for a beach vacation in a warm climate in January or February. With that criteria, you will find lots of timeshares available that match your desires. You can then choose the time and location that best meets your needs. But if you feel you must go to Lahaina, Hawaii on February 3rd, you are unlikely to find that exact time and location. These are the timeshare owners that complain about not being able to trade into their desired timeshare.

Since timeshares are not as plentiful as hotels, if you are going to be very picky as to when and where you go, use one of the other travel systems like hotels, Airbnb, VBO, or Bed and Breakfasts. Timeshares provide a great value to those who can be flexible with their travel plans.

You must be willing to take upscale vacations

Many people love to go camping, visit relatives or travel in their RV. If that is your preferred vacation style, upscale vacation resorts may not be the best fit for you, and therefore, you should not get a timeshare.

Most timeshare resort units have very nice accommodations, especially when sticking to the gold and silver crown units. They have fully equipped kitchens, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, a living room and a dining room. Our last timeshare unit even had a one car garage with extra storage for our bikes.  There are often organized activities for those who wish to participate, such as ice cream float socials, movie nights, craft activities for the kids, and group hikes.  Timeshares are situated in tourist destinations so you can choose to venture out and explore or stay on the property, relax and enjoy the amenities the resort offers. If you like that kind of vacation, timeshares will be an economical way to enjoy them.

This type of vacation is not usually done on a shoestring budget. We usually spent $4,000 to $6,000 a week on a vacation of this type. Most of our money was spent on airfare and on the activities at the destination. But we have also stayed at timeshares that we drove to and spent our time hiking, biking, swimming and enjoying the outdoors.

You must buy it for the long haul

Timeshares, contrary to what the salesman will tell you, are not real estate investments. They are pre-paid vacations. If the timeshare is used correctly, your “investment” will not only save money on your accommodations over the long haul, but you will have much nicer accommodations than you would get by staying at a nice hotel.

Since this is not a liquid investment, you can’t decide after two years that you would like to sell it and get your money back. You must be willing to commit to owning this for many years to get the economy of scale. We have no intention of ever selling our timeshare. We are having too much fun, staying in very nice accommodations, at a discounted price. I can’t imagine I will ever want to give that up.

As of today, we have taken 61 vacation weeks in our timeshare. Adding up the total cost of owning our timeshare, its purchase price and all associated expenses related to the timeshare over its life, it has cost just over $600 per week, and decreasing with every added vacation we take. That weekly cost is equivalent to the price of two days at a nice resort.

Those are just a few of the qualifications you must meet before considering a timeshare purchase. If you don’t meet the above qualifications, purchasing a timeshare will lead to regret and frustration. If you do meet the qualifications, then next week’s blog about how to get the most value and fun out of your timeshare will be important to your decision making.

I have had my timeshare for 25 years and have yet to stay in the one I own. We like to trade our unit for destinations all around the world. With 25 years of happy experiences, I think I can help you make it a happy experience also.

Cory Fawcett is a general surgeon and can be reached at his self-titled site, Dr. Cory S. Fawcett.  He is the author of The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice RightThe Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt, and The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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