Beaufort News

Buyers find bargains on time share purchases

Annie Benson knew it was time to part with her mother's Hilton Head Island time share.

After about three months of research, the 45-year-old resident of Durham, N.C., recently went online and listed the unit, which her parents bought for about $6,000 in 1994.

The new asking price? $1.

Benson, who included this year's maintenance fees in the deal, found a buyer within days for the unit in Marriott's Harbour Point at Shelter Cove. Although Benson's parents had enjoyed their annual trips to the Lowcountry, the sale thrilled her mother.

"She's delighted to be rid of it," Benson said.

The virtual giveaway is one of hundreds on the Internet these days, many of them involving units that once sold for thousands of dollars. Some owners, desperate to sell time shares that have become financial burdens as a result of the housing slump or recession, are willing to pay closing costs and future maintenance fees.

The online forum for the Time Share User's Group at tugbbs.com has more than a dozen pages of "bargain deals" in or near locations such as Hilton Head; Orlando, Fla.; and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

On the user's group and eBay, some Hilton Head time shares are selling for $1 or less.

Representatives of some of Hilton Head's major time-share companies, however, say such rock-bottom sales are not as common here as elsewhere and can prove more complicated than buyers expect.

Ed Kinney, vice president of corporate affairs for Marriott Vacation Club International, said Hilton Head attracts relatively affluent buyers who are less likely than some to wind up in financial distress.

Those owners are usually satisfied with their purchases, he said, in part because many of the island's time-share properties have been built and maintained by established companies.

Marriott's eight time-share resorts account for about half of Hilton Head's approximately 2,000 time-share units. Before Marriott switched to a points-based ownership system in June, the company's weekly units sold for an average of about $29,000, Kinney said.

About 2 percent of the company's units are available for resale at a given time, and that number hasn't noticeably escalated during the recession, Kinney said.

"It's not as epidemic as some of the other companies in our industry," Kinney said. "The brand names have a much lower propensity for people to just bail out of their stuff."

He warned deal-hunters that the benefits of Marriott's rewards program transfer only if a new owner buys from the company's in-house resale program.

David Webster, a senior sales manager at Spinnaker Resorts, said buyers should be wary when considering buying a timeshare for a pittance. The seller's unit could allow its owner to visit only during the offseason, for example, or could be located in an undesirable area, he said.

Buyers who make such purchases can wind up paying far more to get what they really wanted, Webster said.

He encouraged buyers to stick with well-known developers such as Spinnaker, which has eight Hilton Head resorts ranging from 40 to 200 units that typically sell for $10,000 to $60,000.

"You might pay a little bit more, but you're definitely going to get what you're promised," Webster said.

For Ginger Brownlow, a sales executive at King's Creek Plantation, a luxury time share in Williamsburg, Va., the challenge is competing with her own product when it's selling for half price online. Though her price includes the cost of marketing the resort and driving consumer demand, resellers are capturing some of that demand with prices that are much lower.

"I'm selling it for 35 (thousand), the people on the Internet are selling it for 15 (thousand). How do I compete with that?" Brownlow said.

But even as she looks for solutions -- Brownlow favors restricting resale owners' access to certain ownership benefits -- she also knows the resale market is essential because it allows existing time-share owners elsewhere to trade in their current units and upgrade to her resort.

"It's one of those catch-22s," she said.

Sara K. Clarke of The Orlando Sentinel contributed to this story.

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