Since writing about vacation time shares, I've received quite a bit of mail from time-share owners -- many of them unhappy that they can't sell them and others with good advice for newcomers to the time-share market.
Time-share ownership can be worthwhile, but it also can be very frustrating. Just take a look at some comments and questions from readers, along with my responses:
John Bredstrand from Vancouver, Wash., said: "You mentioned that a time share should not be looked at as an investment. That is an understatement. You are very likely to be very disappointed if you try to resell a time share with the idea of recovering even half of your investment. For the purpose of time-share research, a great resource is the Timeshare Users Group at www.tug2.net. This is a topic I think the public should definitely be informed about."
And I definitely agree. I also concur that the volunteer-run Timeshare Users Group is a useful Web site for potential time-share owners, current owners and those interested in selling their time shares. Most of the information the organization provides comes from time-share owners. TUG collects reviews and ratings on more than 2,000 time-share resorts. I suggest if you're interested in buying a time share, visit this Web site first.
It will cost you $15 for the first year of membership. The fee pays the expenses of running the Web site. For your money, you get access to the part of the site that provides resort reviews and ratings. The reviews include pictures, general information and a list of e-mail addresses of owners willing to answer questions. Members also are able to list their time shares for sale ($10 for a four-line ad).
If you want general information and advice about the time-share industry, you don't have to become a member. That information is free. Look for the heading in the bar on the left, "Timeshare News/Info." There you will find material on time-share scams along with tips on buying and selling.
Colleen Lohnes from Morrison, Colo., said in an e-mail: "I wonder if you have any ideas in the area of time-share resales? My experience has probably been typical and very frustrating and disappointing. The promises of the companies that say they can rent or sell your time-shares are overinflated and I wonder if they even try . . . or they do very little. Unfortunately, I paid almost $1,000 to two companies. Despite regular calls from me, they have never rented or sold either of the two time-shares we placed with them. Any suggestions that don't require up-front payments?"
As this reader found out, selling a time share can be very difficult. Here again, TUG has some great information. First, the group says you should never pay an upfront fee as a condition to buy, sell or rent your time share. Time-share owners desperate to sell often fall victim to time-share resale scams. TUG recommends that owners deal only with a licensed broker/agent who works on commission from proceeds of a sale.
It's important to note that time shares sell for 30 to 50 percent of what you originally paid (and that's if you're fortunate -- some owners can't give them away). You may do better on the resale market if you own a time share at a premium, brand-name resort developed by such companies as Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Disney, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt.
Certainly you can try to sell your time share yourself on any number of online auction sites, such as eBay. Also, contact the developer to see if the company has a resale program; many of the brand-name time-share sellers do. When selling, keep in mind that even if you don't get much for your time share, you could be freeing yourself from annual maintenance and exchange fees. In some cases that can amount to more than a $1,000 a year.
One time-share owner, who asked that he not be identified, wanted to reemphasize those high costs. He wrote: "Annual maintenance fees plus exchange fees, plus exchange company membership fees plus . . . add up quickly so that it is often as cheap to rent as to [buy] a time-share."
If you don't want to go the do-it-yourself route to sell your time share, try Timeshare Resales Worldwide (www.alltimeshare.com), which specializes in resales of vacation time-share ownership. If nothing else, visit the site for tips on selling your time share.
Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Her e-mail address is email@example.com. Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please also note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.