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Dear Real Estate Adviser,
I bought a time share in 2005 and have always paid the maintenance fees on time. Part of the sales pitch was that our time share unit could be resold easily, but I know now that’s a lie! Meanwhile, my budget is shrinking; my wife had cancer surgery and my health is getting worse. I just stopped paying the fees last month and now the collection nastiness has started. Should I just let them foreclose?
— DHS

Dear DHS,
I hear these types of stories frequently. When you bought your time share at its list price, you probably didn’t realize how much of that money subsidized those vacations, TVs and other marketing enticements, not to mention the commissions for the salespeople and presenters. Now that it’s time to sell, you’ve likely realized that all that overhead comes off the top and your unit’s real value is about half of what you paid. Bummer.

So sorry to hear of your health issues. But don’t give up and imperil your credit with a foreclosure unless you absolutely must. There are other options to explore.

Use a resell site

First off, there are loads of resell sites out there — I stopped counting at a dozen. A few of the higher Better Business Bureau-rated ones are Redweek.com, MyResortNetwork.com and TimeShareBrokerSales.com. Make sure you check the resellers’ BBB ratings and online reviews. If they ask for upfront fees, they probably aren’t legit. If your time share is in a desirable vacation area during peak season, it will be considerably more marketable. Alternatively, many owners have found success renting out their weeks in eBay’s travel section, or even Craigslist.

Watch for cheats

But beware of unsolicited offers. Some fraudsters contact time-share owners after seeing their resales or rentals advertised online, promising a quick sale if you sign up. Then they’ll call back soon, claiming you’ve already got a buyer on the hook; all you need to do now is send an upfront fee of several hundred (or sometimes several thousand) dollars to cover marketing and closing fees. As time goes by and you receive no response to your calls or emails, you realize there never was a buyer, and that criminals now have your money, credit-card digits, etc. There have even been cases where “time-share fraud recovery” companies offer to get your fee back for a price and — surprise! — they, too, disappear with the loot.

Donate to charity

If your loan is paid off, which I presume it is, you can try donating the time share to a charity and write off a percentage of its value, which would get it off your books and eliminates the resale hassle. But many charities that were accepting them a few years ago no longer do, as the time-share market further softens. If you claim the donated week is worth more than $5,000, you may have to get a formal appraisal.

File a complaint

As for complaining about a sales-pitch deception, the BBB suggests contacting the state attorney general’s office to determine if it or another regulatory office accepts such disputes. To settle a complaint, time-share owners will sometimes accept the deed with a legal promise that the property go out of your name with no more negative credit reporting or continuing obligations like those maintenance fees.

Give back the property

Failing all that, you can offer a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, where you essentially give back the time share to the ownership group, which would likely relieve you of your obligation but still inflict a credit hit, albeit not as bad as a foreclosure.

Until you determine a strategy, I suggest you get current on the maintenance fees or you’ll soon be foreclosed. Meanwhile, readers, read those contracts carefully if you really want to buy a new time share. Better yet, rent or buy one on the secondary market.

Good luck!

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