MINNEAPOLIS — Timeshares are tough to sell, even in the best of times. Now a perfect storm of trouble has turned some of those slices of paradise into albatrosses, making the shared vacation properties and their hefty annual fees nearly impossible to unload and breeding a horde of scam artists preying on motivated sellers.
Nearly 8 million people — about 7 percent of U.S. households — own a timeshare, which is basically a vacation property owned by many people who take turns using it. While it’s unclear how many are owned by Minnesotans, experts say it’s likely even a larger percentage given that people in colder climes, eager to escape nasty winter weather, are more likely to own timeshares. The down economy and the fact that the first generation to buy timeshares 35 years ago has been retiring means many people are looking to sell. Craigslist, eBay and specialized listing service Redweek are chock-full of offerings. But how much they’re worth is a different issue. One Florida listing service estimates that most timeshares are selling for no more than 10 percent of the original price. Some owners are lucky to get pennies. “We’ve never seen the resale market where it is now,” said Brian Rogers, head of the Timeshare Users Group, a consumer advocacy group in Jacksonville, Fla., that runs the listing service. Most owners “huff away mad” when told their timeshare has depreciated like a Yugo, he said. Then there are the scams. Resale scammers feeding on desperation have run so rampant that the Better Business Bureau last month named timeshare resale swindles one of the top rip-offs of 2010. The Minnesota attorney general’s office last week issued its own consumer warning, saying it has been fielding complaints over the past few months.