Take my timeshare, please! People have joked for years that timeshares are horrible investments, and yet some people have just kept on paying good money for them. Given the abundance of timeshares now offered for sale for just $1—or nothing whatsoever—perhaps the message will finally sink in.
To someone stuck paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars in annual maintenance fees on a timeshare that’s rarely or never used, this is no joke, of course. But not long after a high-pressured sales sessions convinced buyers that owning a timeshare was a sensible alternative to throwing away money on hotels, many owners have found out that the most sensible move would have been to storm out of the timeshare salesperson’s office.
Nowadays, it’s easy to find timeshares available for sale for next to nothing—or nothing at all. Timeshare Resale Vacations has a web page devoted to timeshares with asking prices of $1, while Redweek.com’s Bargain Resales section consists of timeshares with list prices of $0. Dozens of free and nearly free timeshares are listed at SellMyTimeShareNow as well.
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SmartMoney recently reported on the proliferation of giveaway timeshares, explaining that owners want to unload because they can’t or don’t want to keep up with the maintenance fees, which were averaging an all-time high of $731 annually in 2010. That’s on top of the price paid for the timeshare itself, which may have been a few thousand bucks, or perhaps tens of thousands of dollars.
Timeshare owners often buy with the assumption that they’ll be able to resell at a price equal to or over what they originally paid. But over the last few years, timeshare values have plummeted, and many have gotten to the point that they just want to make the maintenance fees stop, even if they have to eat a loss.
Would-be buyers, on the other hand, should beware that even the price of $0 may not be much of a bargain. A 2010 story about $1 timeshares (yes, some were selling for a buck back then too) noted that in addition to the hefty maintenance fees, new owners might have to pay membership fees, closing costs, “convenience fees” (good luck figuring out what that is), and a portion of the property’s real estate taxes. If the property expands or does major repairs, timeshare owners may be required to chip in even more money.
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Rather than buying, the savvier move right now would seem to be renting a timeshare from an owner who has decided against selling in the awful current market, but who is renting his week in order to collect a portion of his annual fees. You’ll pay more than $1 to rent someone else’s timeshare, but in this case renting will probably be much cheaper in the long run.
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.