How Do Timeshares Really Work?

Timeshares often get a bad rap, but there’s more to these things than the hour-long presentation. Here’s what you need to know about these often misunderstood properties.


If you’ve ever been to a resort in Mexico, California or some other hot locale, it’s likely you’ve been asked to attend a one-hour “meeting” at some point during your stay. You know what it’s about even before going: they want to sell you a timeshare.

Most people skip that meeting – why pull yourself away from the pool to sit through some slides? – but it might be a good idea to go next time. Why? Because a lot of people swear by these properties and even prefer them over owning a condo in a warm climate.

Why should you buy?

Jim Stoffman, a Winnipeg-based lawyer is one snowbird who enjoys the timeshare life. He has owned a timeshare in Palm Springs for 24 years and says you don’t have to sit through a presentation if you don’t want to.

However, these meetings can be a useful source of information. He sat through a number of presentations when he first wanted to buy because he wanted to learn more about the timeshare market, he says. However, he bought his first from a private seller, and not from the resort itself.

What attracted him to this idea was that it essentially allowed him to buy into a resort that he can use year after year.

“It’s like owning a hotel room for a much lower cost. You don’t have to do any maintenance and you don’t worry about things breaking. When you are there, you are able to enjoy and do what you want to.”

“It’s like owning a hotel room for a much lower cost,” he says. “You don’t have to do any maintenance and you don’t worry about things breaking. When you are there, you are able to enjoy and do what you want to.”

Many timeshare locales have the kinds of amenities you’d expect from a high-end resort, including swimming pools, tennis courts, gyms and game rooms.

The other advantage? You can easily let others use the timeshare condo. Stoffman, who owns nearly five months of time, gives some of his weeks to his children and grandchildren to use, he says.

What to consider before purchasing

There are two ways to purchase a timeshare: From a resort or from a private seller – someone who wants to sell the title of their timeshare to someone else. The price may be negotiable when purchasing from the former, but you generally find better deals from the latter.

Unlike real estate that you own, timeshares almost never sell for more than the purchase price. So, if you do want to sell, expect to take a loss, but if you want to buy then you can usually find good deals.

“There are many opportunities to pick up timeshares at 5 to 10 per cent of the cost of what they are sold for at the resort companies,” says Stoffman, adding that you can often find them on eBay or through tax and estate sales.

However you buy, though, make sure you do your due diligence. Find out if the timeshare is highly ranked and make sure it’s in a location that you actually want to spend time in, says Stoffman.

As well, many places allow you to use your time at another resort somewhere else in the world. If that’s something you want to do, look into it early, says Stoffman.

“It’s not always easy to get the ideal time in another ideal location,” he says.

Don’t rush the purchase

The aggressive pitch happens in part because sales people can get paid up to 50 per cent of timeshare’s purchase price, says Douglas Gray, author of The Canadian Guide to Buying and Owning Recreational Property in Canada. So, naturally, they want to push you to hand over the cheque. However, don’t buy until you’re ready.

“While they have incentive to close the deal quickly, it’s important that you don’t make a decision you soon regret,” he says.

Before signing on the dotted line, read the fine print, says Gray. Find out whether there is a rescission period – an amount of time where you can get out of the contract – and if you can actually exchange your week for a timeshare in a different location.

Also ask about the annual maintenance fees as this isn’t usually discussed by sale staff, says Gray. These fees can be between $200 and $1,000 US for each week you own.

It depends on your lifestyle

Although you aren’t likely to build equity through the purchase of a timeshare, it can be a sweet retreat. Look at your lifestyle and decide what you want out of a vacation property – many of these places are easier to maintain and have more amenities than a condo down south.

So the next time you get asked to go to a meeting, you may not want to say no right away. In fact, you might just find a place that you can come back to time and time again.

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