Q: We are interested in purchasing a time-share condominium in Florida, but have some reservations because we do not know enough about this area. Can you give us some advice about time-sharing?

A: Time-sharing should be entered into carefully, cautiously, and with no real expectation of profit.

Over-simplified, time-sharing is a new way of making money for developers. Where they used to sell condominiums "fee simple," they are now selling ownership of the same condominium for parts of the year--and are making a lot more money in the process.

Many time-share operations permit the buyer to purchase a week or two or a season, the spring or summer, for example. In effect, you own that time period and other purchasers will own subsequent time periods.

Usually, these time-share condominium are fully furnished; in effect you are moving into a hotel for a period of time that you have purchased.

My concern with time-sharing is that people do not fully understand what they are purchasing. The documents are vague, written in complex legalese, and high-pressure sales techniques are often used.

If you are considering purchasing a time-share unit, do not jump right in without giving the matter serious thought. Don't be persuaded by the sales rhetoric that you must buy now or the deal is off. There will always be another time-share unit, if you still remain interested.

Here are some questions to ask before signing up to purchase:

What kind of title will you receive? Are you getting fee-simple ownership of your time interval, or are you merely getting a long-term lease?

What kind of mortgage financing is available, and how much will you have to pay? Don't forget that you will have to pay your mortgage each and every month, even though you may only have the use of your apartment for one or two weeks.

Who controls the condominium association? Do you have a vote in the association or are you delegating your responsibilites to the developer--who in reality becomes the new manager?

What are the costs over and above the mortgage payments? Often, you will have to pay for such items as condominium maintenance, weekly cleaning, use of the swimming pool and other amenities, and these fees may also continue on a monthly basis.

Are there any tax benefits available to you? Are the real estate taxes allocated so that you can deduct your share every year?

You must ask these questions of the real estate sales agent, and make sure any representations by the agent are in writing.

One of the interesting developments in time-share operations is the exchange program. Under this plan, you can call a central location and swamp your time-share unit with that of another owner at some other location.

With the more modern arrangements you are permitted to swap all over the world. But what restrictions does this program impose on you? What fee is charged to participate? Are you eligible to participate in only one such program, or can you join any other exchange operations? Will you be able to swap an off-season week for that Christmas vacation down South next year?

In the final analysis, the decision to purchase a time-share unit depends on your life style. Many people want to take a vacation at the same place every year; others like to travel around. If you enter into a time-share with the idea that you like the location, can afford the monthly payment, but recognize that it is not necessarily a profit-making investment, then a time-share arrangement may be all right.

However, don't be misled by visions of a quick profit. Afterall, if you want to sell your unit--at least until the developer sells out all of the time-share apartments in the project--you are competing against the house. And the house always has the better odds