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Trading spaces: buying a time share for travel

Planning to buy a time share and see the world? If you're purchasing a time share for trade and travel, make sure you get your money's worth.

Even if your goal is travel, "buy a particular property because you plan to vacation there," says Howard Glassroth, vice president of communications for the American Resort Development Association, the time share trade organization. "You will wind up there once or twice."

Dick McElyea, a resort and travel executive and time-share owner, agrees. Besides, "if it's not a popular or very nice place, you may have trouble trading," he says.

For the most part, trade value is "a formula-type thing," says Glassroth. "Location, time of year, amenities and size of unit are the four key items," he says.

Do they make it easy?
If you have travel on your agenda when you buy, be certain that you're buying into a deal that will make trade and travel easy.

"I think trading is a great advantage, and I think you ought to find out what the restrictions are," says McElyea, who is trading his Monterey-area unit for time in Scotland and Cornwall this year.

Most time-share properties belong to at least one of the two big exchange companies, RCI or Interval International. If a property isn't affiliated with either, that will make trading difficult.

You also want to figure the extra costs into the price of time-share travel. Membership in one of the exchange organizations averages $100 a year, says Glassroth. Trade fees usually range from $100 to $150. With RCI, membership runs $89 to $99, says David Bansmer, vice president of business development for RCI. Domestic trades are $139 and international trades are $179, he says.

And no matter how nice your potential property, time-share traveling often means planning ahead. If you want to visit popular vacation spots, have a couple of alternates lined up (or alternate times or properties, if you have your heart set on one location) and try to make your reservations at least a year in advance.

Talk to the property management before you buy and ask what they can do for you in terms of travel, says McElyea. In addition to the two major exchange clubs, many developers or property management companies also encourage trading within their own network of properties by offering special deals. If you are buying a resale, find out if you would be eligible.

And speak with other owners, says Glassroth. "You want to see how flexible the exchange is," he says.

If you're buying a resale, you also want to know what, if anything, you're giving up when it comes to travel and exchange privileges. Some developers have deals for buyers that involve travel privileges, frequent flier points or access to special services. If you buy resale, the deals may not transfer, so you want to know you are paying only for what you actually get.

"I would contact the original seller and say, 'Look, I'm thinking of doing this, what are the ground rules?'" says Glassroth. Get the answer in writing.

Next: "What constitutes trading power?"
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