Posts filed under 'Orlando'

Orlando Timeshare Scams Explode!

During the last month alone, 3 high-profile timeshare scams have been raided by police in Orlando, Florida. In at least twenty news pieces on these developments, the public has been treated to images of SWAT teams busting down doors, police confiscating computers and printers, and the ubiquitous ‘deal board’ being dragged from a shady office by regulators. Taken at face value, these images may be reassuring; certainly, scandalous Florida-based timeshare resale companies give the industry a bad name. But, it takes a timeshare industry insider to recognize these stories are not good news – not at all. Behind the headlines are regulatory follies that threaten the very existence of a secondary timeshare market.

Exactly one year ago, this blog warned of a timeshare scam designed to convince owners that their properties were ‘already sold.’ Of course, to complete the deal required payment of an enormous up-front fee. Despite our best efforts (and those of numerous other legitimate timeshare companies) to warn timeshare owners, some continue to fall for this obvious fraud. The effects of the ‘It’s Already Sold’ scam have been devastating to real timeshare resale companies: forcing them to become apologists for their now-tarnished industry.

Making matters worse for the industry, reporting on timeshare scams rarely draws a distinction between real timeshare resale companies and criminal fronts. A notable exception is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who warns of “scammers posing as timeshare resellers,” describing them as “fake.” All too often, descriptions of timeshare-related crimes are so vague and subjective they border on misleading: The Orlando Sentinel quoted police Sgt. Amy Ameye, stating victims “were told If you send money… we will get the paperwork going, we will get your timeshare sold for you” – a statement that could conceivably apply to any timeshare resale company, legitimate or otherwise.

In a press release from July 2010, the Florida Attorney General describes “actively pursuing timeshare resellers as part of a statewide initiative” – a blanket statement that presumably includes all timeshare resale companies. Given Florida’s prejudices, should it really surprise anyone that timeshare scams there have exploded? The State’s witch-hunt regulatory environment leaves no room for legitimate timeshare resale companies.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

The ‘It’s Already Sold’ timeshare scam is clearly a crime that should be prosecuted. Possible Federal and State charges include Grand Theft, Organized Fraud, Intentional False Advertising, Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, and that’s just for starters. So what crimes were the Orlando timeshare scammers charged with? Unlicensed Telemarketing, a third degree felony in Florida.

In Florida, timeshare resellers fall under the authority of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DOACS), where they are regulated as telemarketing companies. According to DOACS investigator Sasha Velez the problem of timeshare resale scams in Orlando is “huge… We have over 40 to 50 cases unlicensed right now that we are looking into.” Of course, no one asked Ms. Velez the obvious questions:

What if these Orlando timeshare scams had telemarketing licenses? Would you have allowed them to continue defrauding consumers across the country? What if they scammed people in person, or via email?

This is the down-side of excessive regulation; the need for regulators. Folks that may be well-meaning, but just don’t get it. Solutions put forth by the DOACS, and others in Florida, have sought to criminalize the entire timeshare resale industry. The problem in Florida is not timeshare resale companies, it is criminals. If your State has criminals committing wide-scale fraud, the solution is not issuing telemarketing licenses, it is criminal prosecution.

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12 comments February 16th, 2011

Marriott’s Grande Vista: An Orlando Timeshare That’s Easy to Love

In a competitive resort market like Orlando, it seems there’s always a new timeshare resort advertising its ‘Grand Opening.’ While some of these properties become landmarks, many simply fade from view; eclipsed by the next newer, larger, or more luxurious developments. At present, there are over eighty Orlando timeshare resorts, and counting… There are, however, a very select few resorts that transcend Orlando’s timeshare cacophony; your stable neighbor in a sea of constant change. Resorts like Marriott’s Grande Vista, just off I-4 near SeaWorld.

Located on 164 acres of prime Central Florida real estate, Marriott’s Grande Vista opened in 1997. Development continued through the 2000’s, and is now completed. The resort became the first Marriott Vacation Club property to offer the Faldo Golf Institute, which features personalized golf instruction inspired by 6-time major winner Sir Nick Faldo. The on-site Grande Vista Golf Club is a 9-hole, par 32 course, set amongst preserved Florida wetlands. Other Grande Vista resort amenities include a full-service spa, a fitness center, and numerous pools and spas located throughout.

Owners and guests at Marriott’s Grande Vista have a choice of luxurious studio, one, two, and three-bedroom villas, all with private balconies and free WIFI. Larger units come totally loaded, with full-kitchen, washer/dryer, flat screen TV, and whirlpool tub. Marriott is known for its superior maintenance and upkeep, and accommodations at Grande Vista are no exception: TripAdvisor reports 80% of its users describe the resort as either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good.’

Marriott’s Grande Vista is currently the largest Marriott Vacation Club resort, with a total of 1,616 units in a total of 24 buildings. Given the sheer size of the property, and thus the number of timeshares that have been sold there, the resort has managed to keep a fairly low profile. In the course of writing this article, I spoke to a few frequent Orlando visitors (self-described ‘timeshare junkies’), most of whom had no idea Grande Vista was one of the city’s largest resorts. Part of this is marketing strategy: Rather than using street-level OPCs, operating out of Orlando’s ubiquitous ticket booths, Marriott schedules timeshare tours through its existing hotel clientele and owner referrals. The sales strategy at Grande Vista is also an innovative one: Little to no pressure. Simply put, this is a resort people want to own. Marriott salespeople are there to explain the product, not to create desire for it.

While you probably won’t find brightly colored hot air balloons marking the entrance, Marriott Grande Vista timeshare offers unrivaled amenities, quality accommodations, beautiful grounds, and a solid, stable ownership experience!

Browse available Marriott timeshare resales at low for sale by owner prices, or view all Orlando timeshares.

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1 comment February 15th, 2011

Diamond Resorts Quietly Expanding Empire: A Look at the Timeshare Club/Trust Concept

Las Vegas based Diamond Resorts International® has been quietly expanding its timeshare holdings; continuing a trend of buying assets of bankrupt developers. Having established itself as a leader in the timeshare industry, with several successful Las Vegas timeshares including the popular Polo Towers, Diamond Resorts made headlines in 2007 with their purchase of  the Sunterra Corporation, a developer with a long history of financial woes. By most accounts, the Sunterra acquisition was a successful one – providing stability for Sunterra’s 326,000 timeshare owners. In recent months, Diamond Resorts has set its sights on two more troubled developers: ILX Resorts and Tempus Resorts.

ILX Resorts is the Arizona based developer of ten resorts, including the Premiere Vacation Club at Los Abrigados Resort & Spa in Sedona. Tempus Resorts, headquartered in Orlando, Florida, is the developer of the Mystic Dunes Resort & Golf Club, located just 3 miles from the Walt Disney World® complex. Diamond Resorts’ plans have owners at both resorts wondering what to expect from the new management. If the Sunterra acquisition is to serve as an example, then Tempus and ILX owners should find themselves in good hands, but there will be changes…

Ownerships sold by both Tempus and ILX are “deeded” weeks, while Diamond Resorts’ vacation ownership product is a Club/Trust arrangement. Deeded owners will, or course, be able to retain their deeded weeks – but there will be enticements for Tempus/ILX owners to upgrade to the Club/Trust, and over time many likely will. This scenario highlights one of the paradigm shifts occurring throughout the timeshare industry: the move from deeded owner-managed resorts to Club/Trust developer-managed resorts. We’ve seen this trend with Blugreen, Festiva, Welk Resorts, and others, but what are the implications for the individual owner?

Real Estate Investment vs. Use Product

We’ve touched on this issue in previous posts: how should timeshare be perceived, as an investment or a use product. In the case of a deeded timeshare, owners are wise to acknowledge they have made a real estate investment. Once developer sales have ceased, the owners (through the HOA/POA) will be largely responsible for decisions regarding upkeep and amenities at their resort. This can be a double-edged sword, as resorts with an active owner base have been able to keep maintenance fees low and timeshare resale values stable, but resorts with unengaged owners often suffer from soaring costs and abysmal resale values. Ultimately, owning a deeded timeshare is a responsibility – one that few developers explain fully at the time of sale.

The Timeshare Club/Trust Concept

With a Club/Trust timeshare product, owners receive a true “use product.” While specifics vary from brand to brand, in a Club/Trust arrangement the timeshare is deeded to either the developer, or more often to a non-profit Trust created by the developer. Decisions about upkeep and maintenance at the resort are made by the developer or trustee. Since individual ownerships are not directly tied to real property, maintenance fees are calculated as a fraction of the aggregate upkeep costs of all resorts in the Club/Trust. In theory, this arrangement puts the entity with the most knowledge of resort operations (the developer) in complete control, and as long as the developer continues selling Club/Trust timeshares they have an incentive to manage costs carefully in order to attract new buyers. In practice, the results have been mixed; with some owners happy to have less responsibility, and others complaining of excessive maintenance fees.

Choosing The Right Form of Ownership for You

Owning timeshare, in any of its variants, is a smart choice for regular travelers – a means to save money, and a hedge against inflation (During the height of the recession timeshares remained over 80% occupied.) Both deeded and Club/Trust ownerships have advantages and drawbacks, and each family is different. If you’re considering buying timeshare, consider the level of involvement you want to have with your resort. A Club/Trust ownership represents a sharp departure from the ideal of timeshare – owning a fraction of the vacation home that would otherwise be unaffordable – but delivers on the promise of timeshare as a use product. For those ready to make the departure from deeded property, Diamond Resorts timeshare stands out as the clear choice!

6 comments January 5th, 2011

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