Perspectives from the office & beyond: A Doctor's View on Timeshares

Physician's Money Digest, May 2007, Volume 14, Issue 5

Physician's Money Digest

In a past issue of , theContinuing Money Education feature was ontimeshares. I would probably have termed it"Timeshares 101," because it only scratchedthe surface. It is my notion that medical professionalscomprise a much smaller portion of the moneyedtraveler and recreational real estate holderthan a generation ago, and I predict that proportionwill shrivel further in coming decades. Therefore,timeshares may allow physicians to recreate andtravel in a manner that would suggest more disposableincome than they possess. At least, that hasbeen my experience.

Enjoying the Options

More than 10 years ago, I purchased a fixed-weekunit from a divorcing coworker. Never in that timehave we stayed in it. Well, we did stay at the resortonce, and I drove by my unit, but its greater use hasbeen in exchanges at resorts with medical meetings,for our son's honeymoon in St. Thomas, another tripof his to Indonesia, as well as family jaunts to LasVegas, Kauai, Hilton Head, Destin, and Flagstaff, toname a few.

My wife and I did believe there was some merit inthe conversion of our fixed-week ownership into afloating "points" system, but that has had drawbacks.If used within the company's own units, a portionof the points package may be used (eg, of130,000 points in my 2-bedroom unit for an annualweek, we might expend half for a studio or one-bedroom,and do that twice in the year to double ourtime allotment). However, exchanging those pointsinto a larger clearinghouse (eg, Resort CondominiumsInternational or Interval International)necessitates a sacrifice of the entire amount, or awhole week-for-week exchange, even if only a half-weekis needed.

Surviving the Sales Pitch

Recently, the greatest eye-opener, and somewhat adiscouragement to me, has been the change in emphasisto try to sell just points to members. Timesharestaff are salespersons skilled at convincing the ownerthat what they have is inferior, especially if bought onthe secondary market (absent their 100% or highermark-up); they will be only too happy to come to therescue, to help the owner "improve" their property'sworth if they would but (surprise!) pay some moremoney to convert the property into points, options, orsome other non-real estate entity.

The "owner's update," offered to each arrivingguest, would imply a simple review with the ownerabout what changes may have occurred at that particularresort or within the resort's parent corporationsince their last stay. Too often, it is just another pressuredsales pitch and, thus, dilutes the integrity of thecompany, in my opinion. Of course, it is only a matterof time before the property depreciates, requiringmore and more points to enjoy the same time andexperience as what existed in years past. Somehow, Ihad hoped that sales pressures would dwindle in aresort once it was sold out. Finding a quality timeshareon the secondary market need not be difficult, if one ispatient. There are plenty of Web sites available, as wellas local realtors, to acquire good properties on the secondarymarket without being subject to the incrediblemark-ups inherent in the resort staff spiels.

Trouble in Paradise

On attempting to book our biennial, odd-yearweek in Arizona, we have learned that the resortwhere we expected to use it—the one in which wethought we had bought the week—was totallybooked up for this, our odd-year use. We have beentold that we did not, in fact, buy an odd-year week atthis particular timeshare, but rather odd-year participationin the resort's vacation club, which includesaround a dozen other properties scattered around thecountry and even into Mexico. If all the resorts wereof equal quality, this in itself could be acceptable, butthe fact is that the resort we thought we bought intois clearly the crown jewel of the vacation club. Thereis a major sales effort in that particular community. Itis clear to me that prospective buyers receive emphasisabout the crown jewel, with nary a mention of theother properties—that is, until it's time to use theowned week.

While we were in Arizona last year, we took thetime to visit another of the vacation club's resorts afew hours away. There was absolutely no sales effortgoing on there. This is clearly a bait-and-switchscheme, since the lesser resorts could never hope toachieve the interest that the crown jewel enjoys.What I am trying to determine at this point is if thevacation club is selling weeks in excess of its comparable(ie, location, luxury, amenities, and activities)available units. It may take a letter to the ArizonaBetter Business Bureau or the state's AttorneyGeneral to begin to get an answer.

The conventional description of the popularity oftimeshare weeks is: Red is prime time; blue is slowseason; and white is somewhere in between. This allvaries, of course, by geography, climate, and localactivities and attractions. At this time, my wife and Iown an annual week in Colorado, another annual inMaui, and a biennial in Arizona. We learned from ourColorado week that it is next to impossible to find aweek in a popular destination while having only anaverage property to trade. The Maui week has givenus a much greater trade value. At that, the fatigue andtravel expense to Hawaii can be such that a statesideproperty is easier to access, if also in a popular location.Hence, the Arizona site. With three grown andmarried children, the possibility of their using ourweek, perhaps received as a holiday or birthday gift,grows ever more attractive.

Traveling with a Purpose

One pleasant benefit in my medical group has beenthe ability to use the timeshare exchange for medicalmeetings. An annual expense allowance for CME canbe consumed quickly with resort room prices $300 aday or higher. My group agrees to pay my annualdues in the timeshare whose exchange I am using,which varies from $580 at the Colorado site to $1040in Maui. That taxes my expense account much less,leaving funds available for other meetings, or perhapsto include additional family members, take in additionalsight-seeing, or extend the trip a few days, all atmy expense, of course.

One Web resource worth mentioning is TripAdvisor.com. Visitors to this site can read reviews fromthose who have stayed at the resort, to assess commoncomplaints or trends, or, hopefully, positiveexperiences. It can aid considerably in screening theresorts, which otherwise may be only known by thewrite-up and photos in the resort directory. Ofcourse, posting one's own review just increases theknowledge base for future guests.

I believe timeshare ownership can be valuable to aphysician, but not without paying attention to thedetails. In my family, the Mrs. does that duty. It isimperative that an owner's multiple properties becompatible in exchanges, to avoid duplication ofmembership or exchange expenses in separate programs.This is doubly true where point values are ineffect. For instance, while the major hotel chains, suchas Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt, all offer their own systems,they seldom honor each other's owners, or thoseof lesser-known chains.

Being a member of a timeshare company that allowsuse of a much larger inventory of vacation destinations,both in number and location, will ensure that thedoctor's travel experience, for which has been workedso hard, is rewarding, memorable, and repeatable.

This special feature serves as a forum for our physician-readers to share theirstories. We welcome tales from your practice, financial planning, personal life,and adventures. Please limit articles to 1000 words and send photos if possible.Send submissions to Attn: Lisa A. Tomaszewski, Ascend Media Healthcare,103 College Road East, 3rd Floor, Princeton, NJ 08540 or ltomaszewski@ascendmedia.com.