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May Not Give Whole Picture : Salesmen Use Hard Sell at Time-Share Resorts

Associated Press

The hard sell begins on the beach, or on the street, or in a shopping mall. A potential customer is approached with the offer of a free clock radio, or a television, or tickets to Disney World.

What’s the catch? To get a gift, the customer has to tour a time-share resort, “a new concept in vacationing.”

It sounds like an easy way to get free merchandise. But as millions have discovered, the tour can be a distinctly distasteful experience.

5 Million Visits

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The National TimeShare Council estimates that 16% of people who visit time-share resorts wind up buying a yearly week. With about 800,000 people now owning time-share intervals, that means there have been 5 million visits to time-share resorts.

To find out what salespeople were saying, this reporter visited seven time-share resorts in Orlando and Panama City Beach, two Florida resort cities, where he was treated as a potential customer.

Here are some of the things he learned:

1. It will take at least 1 1/2 hours to get the gift.

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“They figure it takes at least 90 minutes to thoroughly explain the program, answer all the questions,” said Paul Waycaster, a salesman at Club Sevilla in Orlando, who nevertheless spent half that time talking about his family, his social life, local nightspots and travel.

At another resort, a new saleswoman finished her presentation in 30 minutes. “They want me to keep you out for 90 minutes. They’d kill me if I brought you back now,” she said. “Would you like to go sit on the beach?”

Consult Other Sources

2. Read your contract and consult outside sources. The salesman may not give you the whole picture.

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At the Westgate Vacation Villas, salesman Richard Siegel responded to a request for time to take a sales contract to an accountant with a demand for a signature first.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’ll put a note in the contract that says if your accountant doesn’t approve of it, you can cancel.” The offer sounded like a favor. What Siegel didn’t say was that everyone who buys a time-share in Florida has 10 days to cancel. It’s the law.

3. If you ask a direct question and get an indirect answer, check further.

For example, is a time-share a good financial investment?

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“Everyone knows that real estate in a resort community is the best investment,” Siegel told his customer.

Location a Factor

“Location is what determines if it’s a good investment or not, and this is the No. 1 location,” he explained in a telephone call later. “I mean, I can’t sit here and say, ‘These prices are going to go up'--I can get my real estate license yanked for that. . . . I can tell you what we’re doing here and what Disney’s doing and you can make the decision for yourself.”

Three other salespeople, when asked if time-shares were good investments, prefaced their remarks by saying, in identical words, “We don’t have a crystal ball,” and then went on to tell tales of people making spectacular profits.

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But ask elsewhere.

“It’s a horrible investment,” said Hugh Owen of Florida’s Bureau of Time-Share. That’s because the purchase price is so inflated it would take years for the property’s value to increase to the price you paid.

And the National TimeSharing Council, an industry group, explicitly tells consumers: “Do not expect to receive the same amount that you originally paid for your time-share. . . . A time-share is a vacation investment, not a financial or real estate investment.”

4. The purchase price will almost always be inflated. Hold out for a better deal and see what happens.

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$10,400 Base Price

This was the deal at Westgate Vacation Villas: $10,400 for a yearly week in a two-bedroom, furnished condominium, $2,600 down payment, with the rest financed at 17.75% for five years. The cost: $14,421.20, plus closing costs, yearly maintenance fees, taxes and a fee to make exchanges with other resorts.

But when the deal was refused, the base price went down to $8,200. “The higher price is for the other people we get in here,” one salesman said, nodding at other potential customers who had come for free tickets and were listening to similar presentations from separate salespeople.

At Club Sevilla, the price dropped from $10,600 to $8,000, and Waycaster threw in free vacations, including air fare, to Las Vegas, Orlando and the Bahamas.

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All he wanted was $100 down. “Put it on your MasterCard,” he said. “You won’t even miss it.”

5. You will be asked to sign the contract on your first visit.

Salespeople know that once you leave and your enthusiasm diminishes, you won’t be coming back. So they say things to get your signature.

Promise of $1,000 Off

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“We give you $1,000 off for buying on the first visit,” said the salesman at Westgate.

“I can’t make this offer again,” said Waycaster. “They pay me too much to tour you through here, I can’t give you another tour.”

Later, in a follow-up telephone conversation, Waycaster added: “We want to do business today because, once you leave here, you kind of put it out of your mind. Nobody really ever comes back.”

Think hard before signing a contract under these circumstances. You will be overwhelmed with facts and figures. Despite what they say, it’s unlikely they’ll turn you away if you come back later.

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6. The salesmen will have reassurances for all your doubts. They will leave you with no excuses.

At the Vistana Resort in Orlando, this reporter said he would never sign a contract without consulting an accountant.

Concerned About Noise

“Do you talk to your accountant when you buy a car?” the salesman said.

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