Across the United States, Americans have invested in timeshares: properties built on the idea of owning an apartment or condo for just one week each year.
Timeshares can be found by the beach, in the mountains, near the Colonial Capitol or in other scenic destinations. For many families or travelers, they guarantee a weeklong vacation each year — and by definition, they are not scams.
But tourists and residents alike should still be cautious when faced with the prospect of buying a timeshare, William & Mary professors say.
High-pressure sales tactics and high interest rates can sometimes result in sticky situations — or buyer’s remorse, William & Mary communications professor Robert Stowers said.
“I don’t think timeshares are doing anything morally or ethically wrong,” said Stowers, who teaches courses in the William & Mary Mason School of Business. “People just sometimes don’t really have time to think about what they’ve done.”
It’s an issue that can pop up anywhere, even locally.
In early August, a Maryland couple filed a civil lawsuit against Williamsburg Plantation — the owner of the Colonies at Williamsburg timeshares — alleging they were coerced into buying a timeshare at a high interest rate.
The case was filed Aug. 6, but has no scheduled hearings. No attorney is listed for Williamsburg Plantation, which has not filed a response to the allegations.
Messages left with the Williamsburg Plantation sales department and attorney for the Maryland couple were not immediately returned.
The case at-hand
The lawsuit, filed by Maryland residents Diane and Tuan Davis, alleges salespeople with Williamsburg Plantation used high-pressure tactics to coerce them to buy a timeshare.
According to a complaint filed in the Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court, the couple stayed at the Colonies at Williamsburg on Aug. 6, 2016 and were invited to a 90-minute “presentation,” which promised a $100 gift card.
The presentation ran about four hours, with sales agents allegedly creating a high-pressure environment and leading the couple to believe they couldn’t leave the presentation, the lawsuit indicated.
The couple ended up buying a timeshare for $14,157 with a 17-percent interest rate. After paying the 10-year note, the timeshare would total $28,647, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit sues for $28,647 in damages.
“I’ve done a lot of articles about how communication happens,” Stowers said. “When I hear about this couple, they probably felt the message they were being told wasn’t a totally honest one.”
Timeshares have become a significant part of the Williamsburg region’s tourism since hotel visitation began to decline more than two decades ago, Stowers said.
In 2016, there were nearly 6,700 timeshares in York County, James City County and the City of Williamsburg, according to data from the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance.
“A lot of people want to come to Williamsburg to stay and vacation,” Stowers said. “That’s why they became so popular.”
Timeshares can be welcome development in some localities because it generates tax revenue, but doesn’t burden local schools or generate as much traffic as an apartment complex, Stowers said.
Stowers has lived in Williamsburg for years, and opposed the Colonies at Williamsburg more than a decade ago when it was proposed. He lived in the neighborhood adjacent to the property, and researched timeshares extensively during the process.
“We were more against the idea of building it in our backyard,” Stowers said.
The Board of Supervisors passed a scaled-down version of the Colonies at Williamsburg application, Stowers said.
While any sales presentation can be convincing, Stowers suggests stepping back from the sales pitch and weighing the deal before signing a contract.
Buyers should also look for fees that might not be apparent during initial sales discussions.
In high-pressure situations, don’t be afraid to forego any offered benefit, such as a gift card or free dinner, and leave, he added.
“If you walk around the Premium Outlets, there are people there wanting to sell you property,” Stowers said. “They’re always offering dinners or overnight stays.”
While buyers should take precautions when buying timeshares, the properties can be a great fit for some.
“I’m not against timeshares in terms of financial viability,” Stowers said. “They could be a good value. For some, I’m sure they’re wonderful.”