2004-05-14 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

With summer quickly approaching, we turn our thoughts from our everyday routines, and think about planning vacations. Instead of spending time in a hotel, motel, or bed-and-breakfast, many people opt for a timeshare, which is any arrangement for sharing ownership of a vacation home, condominium or other interest in realty where each of the joint purchasers may occupy the unit during a specified period each year.

Timeshares often are sold during trips that are offered at little or no cost, provided that you attend sales seminars and view timeshare properties. Although that may sound appealing, you are often billed for hidden costs and charges.

Not all offers are misleading or end with unexpected fees and there are many reputable sellers that give you exactly what they promise. However, if you are interested in exploring timeshare options, it is imperative that you are able to discern between the scam and legitimate offers.

Timeshare offers mailed to your home in New York are subject to New York law. Offers of a free or low cost tour that includes a timeshare presentation, must state that the complete offering terms are in a New York offering plan available from the sponsor. Marketers of timeshares in New York are required to fully disclose the terms, conditions and facts of the transaction and the seller must offer the buyer an opportunity to cancel his or her purchase for a period of seven business days after signing a contract of sale.

In some offers, it may appear that you have won a prize, but in order to collect, you are usually required to visit the timeshare. If any advertisement or direct mail piece makes such an offer, it must state the following: a full description of the exact prize won; the cash value of the prize;

whether or not you are required to submit to a sales presentation; and all terms and conditions attached to the prize.

Some advertisements stress that the offer is of an urgent nature. Under New York law, advertisements must "not appear to be an urgent and official notification to winner in a contest and must not use any other means to convey a false sense of urgency or importance."

Before you sign a contract to purchase a timeshare, you should examine the deal and determine whether the deal is appropriate for you. You should keep in mind that if the sponsor declares bankruptcy, the rights of all purchasers may be terminated. Also, sometimes no resale market exists for timeshares so you should consider the purchase to be one for pleasure, not for profit. As well, you need to weigh the convenience and appeal of the timeshare and decide if the price is right. You should compare the cost of a comparable hotel or resort for the number of years you plan to own the timeshare and the value of your money during that time.

Timeshares offer a unique alternative to spending time at resorts or hotels. However, they come with additional costs, such as a down payment and a purchase price. For further information about the rules and regulations regarding timeshares under New York law, contact the New York State Attorney General at the Investment Protection Bureau - Real Estate Financing Section at (212) 416-8121, 120 Broadway, New York, New York 10271.

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