Exterior shot of condominium's balcony | Tim Graham/Getty Images

Dear Real Estate Adviser,

My friend entered into a contract to buy a time share. Since he’s not proficient in English, he realized after signing that he had been intentionally misled, so he decided to cancel. He informed the company of his intent by email within the required 3 days. Is he still obligated to honor the transaction? If so, is there anything he can do to void it? He hasn’t made a payment yet.

— Judy S.

Dear Judy,

It won’t be easy to get out of a time share, but your friend may be able to get out of this deal, though he’ll likely require assistance from a kindly person such as you who can help him communicate with the appropriate parties. Although it may not be in your friend’s budget, a real estate attorney may be his greatest and best hope if his cancellation was not considered “official.”

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It’s pretty easy for anyone to get roped into making such a “vacation investment,” especially someone who has a limited understanding of the language, given all the hard selling and misrepresentation that these sales pitches often contain.

How to get out of a time share

First, your friend will need to determine if he’s still on the hook. A call to the sales manager or other appointed contact person at the firm should accomplish this. An email may technically qualify as a written notification in your state, but the company may try to claim the email was never received, or at least not within the 3-day to 15-day rescission, or “cooling off,” period, the duration of which varies from state to state.

Or more likely, it may say your friend didn’t follow the very specific procedures written into the small print in the contract. Most contracts say the rescinding party must send a note via certified mail with their personal and purchase information and a request to cancel the transaction in order to make it official. That may not jibe with state law, mind you.

Don’t send money

Fortunately, in your friend’s case, there is no deposit money at stake. And tell him not to send any in the interim. In the meantime, make sure he keeps records of the contract and all communications with the company, and that he does not delete the “sent” version of that email.

A lawyer, ideally experienced in time-share cases, might be able to find a loophole or determine if your friend’s rights have been violated — or at least recommend another course of action. Realize that many time-share firms won’t willingly take back a time share and will say they are non-cancelable. But when faced with potential or actual litigation, time-share companies have tended lately to release time-share owners from future liability.

Was fraud involved?

Recent lawsuits have proven successful if the following fraudulent or deceptive claims were made:

  • The unit will appreciate over time.
  • The time share can be freely and easily exchanged or sold.
  • The purchase is a sound financial investment and the purchaser will be given priority bookings.

But thoroughly research that attorney. Some of them may have a habit of making promises they can’t keep regarding time-share contracts.

Another way to get out of a time share

If your friend wants to proceed without counsel, he can try filing a complaint against the time-share company himself, ideally with the aid of someone who can assist him with the language. He’ll first need to contact the state attorney general’s office to determine the filing jurisdiction. He should then create a narrative of his complaint and file a copy of his contract and the cancellation email. The agency will let him know if it has found a violation of a real estate or banking statute, especially in the deceptive-sales-practices area.

If your friend gets stuck with the time share, be sure to warn him not to succumb to the many predatory “sell your time share” rip-offs that will ask him to send money upfront.

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I’m sorry to hear your friend was apparently taken advantage of. Good luck to you both and plaudits for being a good friend.

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