Whilst plenty of people across the world enjoy great holidays with their timeshare, there are many others for whom timeshare has become a burden, a nuisance, or worse. Unfortunately, even some of the biggest timeshare companies have been known to use underhand tactics, intimidation, and deception in the acquisition and maintaining of members. We have come across countless cases of this nature, from people being manipulated into contracts that are dubious at best or downright illegal at worst. Here you’ll find some of the most common kinds of timeshare malpractice, and what you should do if you are affected by them.
There are many reports of people being hounded by timeshare representatives whilst on holiday. The majority of these are by reps trying to get you to attend a timeshare presentation. The timeshare presentation is the age-old practice of making people attend a presentation that goes on for hours, in which they are persuaded that signing up for a timeshare is a great idea. A timeshare presentation is certainly not a pleasant way to spend a day of your holiday, so there are numerous tactics employed in order to get bottoms on seats.
The oldest and most well-known method is what is known, in the industry, as the ‘cold line’. This is where somebody approaches you on the street, in your hotel, the airport, or even on the beach, offering you a scratchcard. When you scratch the card, you always win some sort of prize, traditionally some sort of alcohol or box of cigarettes, but more recently a free iPad or holiday. All you have to do to claim your prize, the representative tells you, is to attend a ‘short’ presentation. These scratchcard sellers can be very persistent, creating a real nuisance. You must be very firm with these people, but do refrain from being aggressive. Often, their persistence is a sign of desperation to make money, as many will be working on a commission-only basis. If, however, the harassment persists, it may be necessary to find a member of local law enforcement to help you.
This type of tactic is so well-known now that it has become a bit of a joke. You can be sure that no large timeshare company, particularly the most reputable, will use this kind of method to attract presentation attendees.
More usually, the method used to get you into a timeshare presentation will happen within your resort. We have been told many times about people being hounded by cold-calling in their hotel room and by rude hotel staff. Looking on TripAdvisor, you’ll find numerous stories from people who have been repeatedly called in their hotel room by people trying to hound them into attending a presentation from the moment they arrive. In one instance, a couple were prevented from getting into their hotel room on arrival until they’d agreed to attend a timeshare presentation.
Another report, from a person visiting a resort in Orlando on a business trip, explains how he had been called in his hotel room to be told there was a welcome gift awaiting him at reception. On going to collect the gift, he was rudely hounded by a woman trying to get him to go on a ‘tour’ of the resort. The gentleman in question resisted the pressure, but learned that other guests had fallen prey to the salespeople after attending the tour, and found themselves signing up for a timeshare that turned out not to even be at the resort!
It is not only general holidaymakers that find themselves subject to timeshare selling tactics. Even those who already have a timeshare can be potential victims of a resort’s timeshare scheme. Whilst enjoying the timeshare holiday they had already bought and paid for, they are often approached with the promise of upgrades or additional timeshare products.
You would have thought that the resort in which you are staying would have rules to prevent this type of behaviour going on under their roof. However, in many cases, the timeshare is being run by the resort itself, though they may often not make that clear.
The reason that these timeshare presentations are such an effective method of driving new business is that they work on sophisticated psychological manipulation. Not only do they make the product very tempting, offer free gifts, and flatter and charm you, the fact that the presentations go on for hours is designed to wear you down. After being repeatedly told that you’re in for a great deal, shown confusing figures and charts, whilst sat in a darkened room on a sunny day with little in the way of sustenance, many people will agree to just about anything.
The mere fact that these presentations are taking place whilst you’re on holiday is a psychological tactic in itself. You are already in a great mood, enjoying your break from work and everyday life. This, of course, makes you think of future holidays and how you would love to have this wonderful experience again. The presentation aspect of the sale is often accompanied by an enthusiastic tour of the resort, in which you are shown luxury facilities and rooms that you would never usually afford. These ‘show rooms’ and luxury facilities, however, aren’t always what they seem. Some people have reported that they do not have access to the facilities they were shown, and that the room they saw on the tour was a far cry from the unit they actually got with their contract. Worst still, others found that the resort they toured was not, in fact, the one that their timeshare unit is situated in – and instead their home resort was another, in a less desirable location, or with inferior facilities.
Another reason that people find themselves signing up after attending the presentation is because of the sheer enthusiasm of the salespeople. The type of person to take this sort of sales position is typically charismatic, persuasive, positive, and seems trustworthy. They may try to persuade you that the offer they’re selling is a ‘one time only’ opportunity, and unless you sign up now, you’ll miss out on ‘great discounts and savings’. It may be hard to bear this in mind whilst they’re charming you with their presentation performance and the post-presentation one-to-one pitch, but you must remember that you are being manipulated. Until you have gone away and seriously looked over all the facts and figures with a fine-toothed comb, do not sign anything at all. There is a strong chance that they will continue to badger you until you either sign up or go home. Remember to stay strong.
It is not acceptable for somebody to spoil your holiday with constant nagging and harassment. In some cases, the level of harassment can be illegal. If you are persuaded to sign a timeshare contract that you don’t really want, it is important to speak to a timeshare legal expert. The harassment and sales tactics used can be grounds in itself for nullification of the contract, depending on the circumstances. It is best to get legal advice to find out whether you have a claim.
Mis-selling, Misrepresentation & Unfair Contract Terms
Was your timeshare contract sold to you on the basis of things you were told that later turned out not to be the case? If so, there’s a chance that it could be nullified in Court on the grounds of misrepresentation or misselling.
By their very nature, salespeople are driven to sell. This is likely to be incentivised by bonuses and rewards, as the salesperson seeks to further his own commission by closing a sale. A salesperson’s drive, when it comes to timeshare, can lead to them misrepresenting the facts. Unfair terms in a contract may be glossed over, and the consumer may find themselves placed under undue pressure to accept the terms at face value and sign an unfair timeshare contract.
All consumers have the right to rely on the representations they are given as part of the sales process, and to apply those representations as silent riders on the contract.
The difficulty, however, is proving that the product was misrepresented in the selling process. If the sales rep is no longer with the resort, they are not likely to be available to challenge the statements made against the sales tactics they employed on behalf of the resort. Even where the sales rep is available to dispute the claims against them, it is hard to offer anything beyond verbal evidence in Court. This can amount to little more than ‘he said, she said’ and thus be difficult to prove. If your case is raised along with other claimants who all felt they had been mis-sold timeshare, this is more likely to go in your favour.
If there are documents or correspondence related to your timeshare which contradict one another, this is evidence of misrepresentation and will prove valuable in Court.
Mis-selling can take several forms. A common example, however, is where the product sold differs from that which materialises.
You may have been sold a timeshare contract in which you are promised high quality holiday accommodation year after year. This is partly true, as you will, in legitimate cases, have holiday accommodation as part of your timeshare contract. But you may find that the quality you are sold differs from that which you had been led to expect. The resort or unit may not correspond to the quality seen in brochures or that displayed during a sales tour.
You may also find that, though the resort is great to begin with, over the years the quality deteriorates as it fails to be adequately maintained (despite the hefty annual maintenance fees you pay).
People who have bought a timeshare points style contract, where they accrue points that can be exchanged for timeshare holidays at, ostensibly, a wide range of quality resorts across the world, have often found that the availability of said holidays is almost nil. Even when trying to secure a booking a year or even two in advance yields no results, or they are forced to book a lower quality trip than they had expected or paid for.
You can dispute a timeshare contract where you didn’t receive the product or service you were sold. Taking photographs and videos, and submitting the resort brochures for comparison may support your case. If the accommodation started off okay but deteriorated in quality over time, or the amenities you were promised are not available, then you may have a case against the resort or timeshare company.
You may also have been told that your resort was ‘exclusive’ to members only, but when you visit you find that there are lots of non-members staying there. This can often be the reason that points-based members are unable to book at their chosen resort, as rooms are reserved for non-members. These non-members, who just book a general holiday at the resort, are seen as potential members who can be sold the product, and are thus sometimes given priority over members. If you were told that the resort was exclusively for members, then this counts as misrepresentation.
It can be hard to work out whether you’ve signed up to an unfair timeshare contract by looking at the documents alone. These are often put together in a way designed to deliberately obfuscate the true nature of the terms. Even when the contract is completely above-board, the language used in legal contracts can be utterly baffling to the untrained eye.
In most cases, the resorts write their own contracts, and do so in a way that they believe to be reasonable. But, as many are finding now, with so many timeshare compensation cases being awarded in favour of the claimants, those contracts are often not as reasonable as one might hope.
As a consumer, it is your right to dispute terms or clauses in any contract or, indeed, the sales process. When presenting the dispute to the Court, the Court will look into whether the terms of the contract or sale are ethical, fair and legal. The Court will analyse the contents of the terms and conditions within the contract to ascertain the purpose and consequences thereof.
If the Court finds any clauses to be unfair, unethical or erroneous, then these clauses will be excluded from the contract. The resort will therefore be prevented from raising any objection to the actions taken by the consumer in respect of those clauses.
Where a clause or series of clauses are found to be unfair, and a judgement is recorded against them, this paves the way for future claimants to dispute their own contracts which contain those clauses. This is a ‘legal precedent’. As such, a raft of other successful claims can be made against a resort based on the ruling of one case, putting a timeshare company’s entire business in jeopardy.
The words ‘timeshare’ and ‘investment’ should never be seen in the same sentence, unless that sentence is ‘timeshare is not an investment’. Nonetheless, many people have been sold timeshare on that very premise.
You may have been told something similar when you signed up for your timeshare. If so, that could be grounds for nullifying the contract on the grounds of misrepresentation.
If you were told that your timeshare would ‘increase in value’, or any words to that effect, then you were, to be frank, lied to. All investments must be covered by a specific, official regulatory body. In the UK, it is the FCA, but it is different in every country. Look for the official logo on your timeshare documents – the chances are you will not find it.
The difficulty lies in proving that you were sold the timeshare on the basis of it being an investment. The first thing you’ll do, on reading this, is to go through the contract, website, and any brochures you may have to see if it is mentioned anywhere in writing. This is, however, unlikely. Timeshare companies know all too well that they are not allowed to sell timeshare as an investment. So, most of the time, it will come down to what you were told during the presentation or sales pitch.
This clearly creates problems, as there is no way of proving what was actually said during a verbal conversation or timeshare presentation. Unless you have reliable independent witnesses or a recording, proving that you were promised an investment can be hard. However, it’s not insurmountable.
As an example, in a high profile case against global timeshare brand, Silverpoint, in 2017, a couple earned justice after nine years of stress and worry.
The couple took a free holiday in exchange for attending a sixty-minute timeshare presentation. The presentation, in fact, lasted for hours on end. Along with several other couples – and even families with children – they were bombarded with hard-sell tactics until they were finally convinced that it was a great offer.
They were sold seven apartments for £25,000 on the promise that they would be resold within two years for a profit.
After 12 months, however, they were told that, due to ‘the current economic situation across Europe’, the resale market was poor and thus their apartments were unsellable. Hot on the heels of this disappointing news, the couple were convinced to attend another sales presentation, after which, for an additional cost, they were ‘upgraded’ from a one- to two-bedroom apartment. With this, they were told, they would be able to join RCI’s points exchange system (something they would already have been entitled to, but which is sold externally to any timeshare for an additional cost).
Soon after signing up for this additional timeshare product, the couple realised they had been duped into digging themselves an even deeper financial hole.
After five years since they first met Silverpoint, a judge ruled in favour of the couple. Silverpoint, however, appealed the ruling in the High Court, and it was subsequently ruled that what the couple had bought was an investment and therefore did not fall under the jurisdiction of Spanish timeshare law.
The couple’s legal team responded with yet another appeal. Finally, in 2016, the Spanish Supreme Court looked at the case. In January 2017, it was ruled that the contract was null and void, and Silverpoint were forced to pay back over £10,000.
Despite the time it took for the couple to achieve a satisfactory outcome, and the fact that they did not have the full sum returned to them, the case set a legal precedent. If your timeshare situation sounds in any way similar to this, then there are grounds to sue.
New Timeshare Contracts
If you hold a timeshare membership, then you should be very suspicious if you are presented with a new, updated contract to sign by your timeshare company.
In light of new legislation that renders any contract that exceeds a legal maximum of fifty years in duration, as well as other unfair contract terms being ruled illegal, many timeshare companies and resorts are issuing new contracts for their existing members to sign. These new contracts are designed to override the previous, illegal contract. Once the new contract is signed, any entitlement to nullification or compensation on the grounds of the illegality of the contract is voided and you no longer have a case against them.
Your resort may inform you that they are upgrading your timeshare unit to either a larger unit or one in a better location. They may also say that they are changing the resort weeks to a points-based system, promising that this is a great opportunity to use your timeshare at any time of the year and at a range of high quality resorts. As we know, these points-based systems can lead to a lack of availability and members having to settle for an inferior resort, unit or time of year. These offers may be smokescreens for hiding the true reason for wishing you to sign a new contract, as somewhere in the small print, it will mean that the illegal old contract is void and thus you are not eligible to claim compensation.
If you have already signed a new contract and your resort is claiming that your rights to your previous contract have been waived, you can request a copy of the documents you have signed in order to check whether you’ve been given the correct information. It must be stated explicitly within the documents you’ve signed for it to be true.
If you are happy with the change or upgrade that the resort is offering, and there is nothing within the new contract that will affect any future claims you may wish to pursue, then signing a new contract may not be a problem for you. However, as with any contract, it is very important to read it thoroughly or to exercise your right to have a legal expert review it before you sign.
In any situation where you feel that there is something not quite right with your timeshare, it is important to get legal advice. Often, your instincts will be correct. There is always something that can be done to set things straight, whether that be compensation, nullification of the contract, or both. It is a good idea in any event to get a timeshare legal expert’s advice on what your rights are and what you should do next. Contrary to what many timeshare resorts and companies would have you believe, there is absolutely no reason for you to be bound into a timeshare contract for life.