KIRO Radio's Tom Kelly digs deep into the Puget Sound real estate market
Real Estate

Timeshare pitch: 'Keep an open mind'

(Second of a series)

Ah, Mexico. A slow pace coupled with a manana attitude. When it's vacation desperation time (February) in the Northwest, Puerto Vallarta is not a bad option.

I recall the four-day weekend in Mexico vividly. For the first time in 20 years, all of the four Kelly kids were five air hours away. My wife's siblings had gathered for my mother-in-law's 75th birthday and life was blissful until:

"Tom, will you represent the group and attend a 90-minute presentation?" my father-in-law asked. "All of us will be eligible for discounts on meals and excursions if just one of us attends this session."

I can smell a timeshare pitch from a 5-iron away. Many of the hardball sales jobs are what have given the industry a black eye. Some offer elegant weekends for a pittance and then bid you a courteous farewell if you obviously have no interest in the proposal. Others sit you down at a buffet breakfast long gone cold, constantly remind you to "keep an open mind" and then grind and scratch the possibilities for as long as they possibly can.

The 90-minute commitment is merely a lure because if promoters required three hours very few visitors would relinquish that much precious vacation time.

I had a feeling this seminar would be the latter. Potential buyers already were on the resort site so no huge lure-other than the discounted tours and a bad breakfast-was required to corral prospects to the show. However, I'd played this role before, had seen all the costumes and rarely do a big breakfast. And, we had once paid dearly and learned a hard lesson.

We had bought a timeshare nearly 20 years ago and after not using a single day finally sold it at a loss three years later after a frustrating and anxious year on the market. It's true, timeshares work for many folks but I assume most of those owners can plan far in advance, or travel at a moment's notice.

I know that the schedules of two working spouses and four active kids in four different schools do not lend themselves to timesharing. Some people swear it's the only way to travel with a family and that the international "bank" of resorts not only offers flexibility but also destinations they normally would not consider.

We bought a timeshare with dreams of kicking back in a variety of resorts, seeing America with the kids from a conveniently located, already-paid-for base condo. It didn't happen. Family reunions, budget restraints and school-coupled with the fact that we are very picky about accommodations-led to a three-year timeshare shutout.

So, when I went to the "seminar", all of this seemed to stick in my throat when a young, energetic woman named Gabriella ("Please, call me Gabby'') sat me down in front of balled-up eggs, refried beans pierced with two corn chips ringed by three pieces of warm cantaloupe.

"Tom , you promised me you would keep an open mind," Gabby said. "This is true?"

"Si."

"You really do not look your age. You look so young."

We were clearly off to a fast start. Timeshare sales agents drive home the idea that the average family cannot afford a second home and that vacation time is limited. Why own a getaway, they say, if you only can get away a few weeks of the year?

Gabby was angling in the same waters. When I mentioned to Gabby that my family shared a lake cabin with another family, some of the synergy left our partnership. The Gabby KO punch-or the one that elevated me to supervisor fodder-seemed to be the disclosure of the cash loss due to our timeshare ownership.

"It is time to see if Mr. Gertz is free," Gabby noted.

Ivan Gertz, New Jersey born and bred, told me he recently sold a timeshare to a couple from "Pullyup" but most of his Northwest customers lived in "Ore-e-gone."

We strolled, with Gabby in tow, to a large conference room with about 25 small tables where heavy duty grinding was taking place. The room was as loud as a Las Vegas casino and felt like a live bait tank.

"So how," Mr. Gertz began, ``are we going to make this work for you?"

I mentioned that the program would not work for me, I had once tried timesharing and failed, that my time was up and my 75-year-old mother-in-law was waiting.

"Tom, remember you said you would keep an open mind," Gabby said.

"It seems we can't possibly go over the number of programs available in the time we have left, so we will set up an appointment for tomorrow and go over them then,'' Mr. Gertz said. "But tell me. What do you do when you are not on vacation?"

"I'm in the newspaper business," I said. "I also do some radio. We discuss real estate, mortgage banking and, sometimes even timeshares."

It was downhill from there. Mr. Gertz suddenly had to attend to two other tables and Gabby said another appointment was waiting. She said to let her know if I needed more information.

The discounted meals were nowhere to be found. The super deals on excursions were not as good as the rate that could be negotiated with another proprietor downtown.

But I knew that, and took one for the team. Been there, done that. Again.

(Next week: Learning of the glut in the timeshare resale market)

Tom Kelly's novel "Cold Crossover" is now available in print at bookstores everywhere and in both print and Ebook form from a variety of digital outlets. Follow real estate agent and former basketball coach Ernie Creekmore as investigates the disappearance of his star player on a late-night boat. Check out the national reviews and put "Cold Crossover" on your list.

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