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What is a Timeshare?

By D Frank
Updated May 17, 2024
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A timeshare is a piece of real estate that is owned jointly or at least enjoyed jointly by a number of different families, individuals, or organizations. Most of the time these people don’t know each other at all. The main idea is that they each get to use the property for a set amount of time each year as if it was their own. This is to say, each gets to spend a week or more at the property alone, and in most cases they only pay for that week. The arrangement is generally very economical for people who want the convenience of a second home in an attractive area but who don’t want to deal with off-season upkeep or other expenses. Many of these sorts of properties are managed by tourism corporations and entities who handle housekeeping and yard work, and members are usually permitted to keep certain things like clothing and household items in locked closets or other storage areas. Depending on the arrangement, it’s sometimes possible to “swap” or trade time in one place for time in another, which can allow members to see many different places without worrying about the cost of lodging.

Common Locations

Almost any sort of property can be designated time-divided, but the most common examples are in resort communities and other popular vacation destinations. Sunny beach locales tend to be the most numerous. Snowy ski villages are also in demand with a lot of people, as are cabins and homes on lakes, in mountains, or in well-known nature preserves. As long as there is a demand for semi-permanent accommodations and the clientele willing to purchase it, these sorts of arrangements will probably find success in any number of places.

Typical Amenities

There aren’t really any rules when it comes to the type of property that is divided, but as a matter of practicality most are condo or apartment-style units in larger complexes. These properties are much more than simple hotel rooms. Typically, they include one to three bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a living room. They are almost always fully furnished, and usually come stocked with a range of linens, basic kitchen appliances and tools, and simple ingredients. Indoor and outdoor swimming pools are common, too.

Sometimes properties are owned jointly by people who know each other, but more often the co-owners are strangers. In order to make the vacation experience more homey and comfortable, people in these situations frequently keep some personal items stored in the unit, most often in a secured locker or safe. Many closets in these sorts of properties are actually divided by owner and can be secured upon departure.

Practicalities of Buying In

These sorts of ownership arrangements are usually brokered by professional corporations. Owners decide to “buy in” for a set amount of time each year, usually at a fixed rate per day or week. Unlike hotel bookings or vacation rentals, which are often arranged on a one-time basis, these tend to be recurring. This means that owners commit to paying a fixed price every year until they sell their interest to someone else. It’s usually considered a form or property ownership rather than a rental or use permit, and owners pay whether or not they actually use the space for their allotted time.

Rights to shared property of this sort can typically be sold or passed down to heirs the same as any other real estate could be. In the eyes of the law, it’s often considered a right to enjoy or use a certain space. Many people not only look at their ownership as a means to have a great vacation, but also as an investment mechanism. Should they decide not to use the property themselves, they can often rent or sell their time to others, either once or on a recurring basis. Also, the value of many of these properties increases with the passage of years, so long as the destination remains attractive.

Duration and Division of Time

The typical ownership unit is one week, though it’s often possible to buy more. Depending on the arrangement, owners often purchase the same week each year; in other cases, they must bid or barter over the calendar in advance with the other owners. If an owner's one-week time period is in demand, the price will usually be higher. For instance, a timeshare for a week on Hilton Head Island, a resort community in the U.S. state of South Carolina, will generally cost far more in the high season of April than a week at the same resort location in the sweltering heat of August or the off-season of October.

Trading and Swapping

Most timeshare agreements allow owners to trade and swap locations. For instance, an owner in the Bahamas could swap his purchased week for a week at a property in Hawaii, in Ireland, or in some other locale. Sometimes the swap is even, which is to say day-for-day, but it might also be pro-rated; days at more popular destinations might be worth more than days in less common locales, with the result that owners might end up trading a week in one place for four or five days in another.

A lot of this depends on how the agreement was structured, and whether the property was brokered through a real estate company or official agent. Most of the world’s timeshare properties are actually managed by tourism corporations; hotel chains are some of the most common. In these instances, clients are often able to swap weeks for other properties that are managed by the same group. The terms of these sorts of deals are usually set out in buyer guides, and may be updated or changed as circumstances require.

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Discussion Comments

By anon127276 — On Nov 15, 2010

If you buy a for sale time share for say $2,000, is that something you must keep paying every year to keep it? Or do you just have to pay the member or maintenance fees?

By anon42246 — On Aug 20, 2009

What is the value of points in a timeshare?

By sputnik — On Jun 03, 2008

I suppose there are some variations to the original timeshare programs. There are some plans you can buy with the initial investment and yearly maintenance fee. But instead of a week at a particular location, you collect points, then use them when and where you wish.

That includes vacation properties such as condominiums, or actual rooms in a hotel. Of course it depends on the location, time of the year, and size of the room or condo you need at how many points it will cost you.

Another benefit is that you do not have to use your points every year, you can push them forward, to the next year and have more points and time to spend at a particular location. Or you can also pull points from the future, if your needs are greater in any particular year. Some hotels with these programs offer their members cheaper rates when you stay at their place and you do not have any more points. Of course this program is not suited for everybody, but many people find it practical and easy to use.

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