Q&A: Here’s why timeshares are a bad investment

Dear Liz: About two years ago, I lost my timeshare because of financial hardship. I paid off the mortgage but after my divorce I missed paying the annual fees. Is there any way I can regain it, or can the company just take it like they did? Also, is it worth it to try to get it back? I think so because it is the only thing I own.

Answer: Please consider investing your money in an asset that can gain value over time. Timeshares don’t.

Timeshares give you the right to use a vacation property for one week each year. They aren’t an investment. In most cases, timeshare owners are lucky to get 10 cents on the dollar when they try to sell their interests.

Sites such as Timeshare Users Group and RedWeek are filled with ads from people trying to sell their timeshares for $1, and some will even pay others to take timeshares off their hands, perhaps by prepaying a year or two of maintenance fees. Those fees average about $900 a year but can top $3,000 on high-end properties. Resorts damaged by natural disasters or older properties that are being improved also may charge “special assessments” that can be hundreds or thousands of dollars more.

As you discovered, timeshare resorts can take back your interest if you don’t keep up with those fees. You also could have lost your timeshare if you hadn’t been able to pay the mortgage. (In general, it’s not a good idea to borrow money to pay for vacations or other luxuries, and that includes timeshares. The high interest rates charged by most timeshare resort developers make borrowing an even worse idea.)

In addition to taking your timeshare, the developers may have sold your delinquent account to a collection agency that reports to the credit bureaus. Those collections could damage your credit scores.

You could ask the resort developer if you can get the timeshare back, but you could just face the same problem again down the road. One of the biggest problems with timeshares is that there typically is no easy exit. Those annual fees and special assessments are due as long as you own the timeshare. You may not be able to find a buyer if money is tight or you’re no longer able to use it.

If you really loved vacationing at that particular resort, you probably still can. Owners who can’t use or trade their timeshare weeks often rent them out on the sites mentioned above, sometimes for less than the annual maintenance fee. Renting could be a much better deal than tying yourself to a timeshare that could become unaffordable.