The timeshare trap: cajoled with champagne and trapped for life with a piece of an apartment

Foto del autor


The timeshare spider web used to begin with an invitation to a hotel. The recipient had been graced with a gift. The offering was true, since attendees left with a television under their arm, but also with a purchase contract for a timeshare apartment and, in many cases, with a signed loan that was prepared in a matter of minutes. “They were four or five hour meetings with champagne. They didn't let them reflect,» says Juan Madrigal-Bormass, lawyer for the Spanish Association of People Affected by Timeshare (Ascoe) and one of the lawyers who knows the most about the timeshare real estate modality, with more than 300 rulings behind him and 70 lawsuits currently open. These extremely aggressive presentations were the origin of a loop that was difficult to escape. Timeshare ownership was a boom in the eighties and nineties of the last century, but it was later when it reached maximum levels. “The years of greatest sales were between 2002 and 2008. Banks began to finance these purchases after the regulation of the sector in 1998. It became fashionable and, in order to sell, it was financed automatically,” says the lawyer. Although not There are official data, Ascoe estimates that around 1.5 million people in Europe bought timeshares – it cannot be considered that everyone is affected. Spain had about 100,000 members in 2010. “It has been the country in Europe where there have been the most timeshare complexes, around 26% of the total,” says Francisco Claros, CEO of Reclamalia, a law firm. In the Canary Islands alone, the market generated around 220 million euros per year at that time and employed around 10,000 people, according to the then Gran Canaria Tourist Board. “The islands had 150 timeshare complexes out of the 345 in the country,” adds Claros, who defines the situation as “a fight that lasts decades between Goliath and David.” At first, the model was attractive to both the developers —who after the real estate crisis of 1992 dedicated entire developments to this formula to market the apartments that were not sold— and for consumers, who saw an accessible way to have an apartment on the beach. The average cost that each family paid was around 15,000 euros on average, although some spent up to 50,000 on luxury complexes – those who entered this market before the entry into force of the euro, in 1999, faced between 300,000 and 700,000 pesetas. —. Ogisaka Garden, Parque Denia, Bahía Azul, Calahonda Campanario, Hotel & Spa Peñíscola Plaza Suites (the latter continues to sell timeshares)… Dozens of companies, foreign and Spanish, sold apartments under this modality in many holiday complexes. Until 2008, with the Great Recession, the market stopped and declined. Obviously not all consumers of this product were victims of deception. Many knew what they were buying and, furthermore, were fortunate enough to buy reasonably well. But many others were unaware of the fine print. Decades later, “they continue to carry the feeling of guilt and shame for having been scammed,” says Alberto Mondragón, president of Ascoe. In practice, what they acquired was the right to use and enjoy a specific vacation shift: one week of the year in an apartment in a coastal area of ​​Levante, Costa del Sol, Costa Brava and the Canary Islands. Each apartment was divided into 52 weeks of the year. Those who bought during week 13 (March), 40 (October) or any other week outside the traditional holiday period soon realized the trap, from which they could not get out. “There are those who have never used the apartment, they have never been able to go,” says Mondragón. Furthermore, each apartment comes with an excessive and increasing maintenance fee. “On average it is 500 euros per owner per year. If you multiply 500 by 52 members, it gives 21,000 euros in maintenance expenses for each home. This is the real business of timeshare,” warns Mondragón. Thousands of people have been able to escape “this world of pirates,” as the president of Ascoe describes it. They have done so by going to court, a possibility only available to those who purchased after this figure was legally regulated in 1998. Fortunately, “the bulk of victims purchased after that date,” says lawyer Madrigal-Bormass. On December 15, 1998, Law 42/1998 was approved, which limits the duration of the contract, which cannot be less than three years nor more than 50. Thus, timeshare ownership in perpetuity disappeared. Since then, the Supreme Court has issued numerous rulings declaring these contracts null and void. Furthermore, those affected have been able to recover all or part of the money. Since the timeshare marketers no longer exist, the bank is jointly and severally liable. «The most active between the years 2000 and 2004 were BBVA, Ibercaja, Caja Madrid, La Caixa, Banco Santander…», says the president of the association of affected people, who was also a victim of this deception. “They sold it to us in a hotel in San Sebastián, they gave us a home cinema and we toasted with champagne. We left there with the feeling of having made a milk business.” In 2007 he bought the 47th week of the year (December) in a complex in Denia (Alicante) from the company Turihoteles. In 2011, a court declared his contract void and recovered the 13,500 euros paid in the operation plus 1,800 euros of interest. The association he presides over, which has been fighting for 16 years to help those affected, has managed to ensure that more than 12,000 owners have been able to escape from timeshare ownership.

The worst unemployed

Those who bought before the 1998 regulation have it more difficult because they cannot resort to the courts. Pablo Muñoz, 43 years old, is heir along with his four brothers to the timeshare that his parents joined in 1994 and which gives them the right to enjoy the week of June 8 to 15 in Alcossebre (Castellón). It is very common for children who inherit these products to want to get rid of them. “It is difficult for us to take advantage of it because it coincides with the children's exams,” he says. In addition, the maintenance fee has gone from 300 to 500 euros per year. These partners only have two options. One is to reach an agreement with the complex itself, something complicated because, in general, they want members who pay the fees and not weeks in the low season. The other is to transmit the week to a third party. “You can sell it, but there is no market, no one wants timeshares, there is no interest,” says Mondragón. “It is an obsolete vacation system,” Claros confirms. Muñoz knows it well: “We have been trying to sell or rent it for two years.” In Milanuncios, someone who identifies himself as Alfredo gives away his week of timeshare in Cala Codolar, in Ibiza. This is the 46th, that is, in November. On the other hand, Esther bought an apartment in La Pineda (Tarragona) in 1991, which she sells for 15,000 euros. “It is week 33, which corresponds to August. We sell it because my parents need the money. If not, we wouldn't do it,” she explains. It may also be an option to turn to companies that offer to buy weeks, although you have to be careful. “Many are timeshare pirates who have been created on the scent of money and who pay one euro,” says Mondragón. And he adds: “Some companies set the purchase price as one euro and, in addition, charge the partner 1,500 euros for being released.” Follow all the information from Economy and Business on Facebook and xor in our weekly newsletter