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McNellis: Sharing Time in Hell

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By John McNellis

You can be in real estate and still possibly do some good in the world. The easy way is to build low-income housing or rehab blighted neighborhoods. But to really do the Lord’s work, consider instead preaching against the perils of owning a time-share. This is not easy. Like a street-corner fundamentalist with a bible and a bullhorn, you cannot go at this half-heartedly; you must rage, rage against the folly of time-shares, against the lunacy of even attending a resort’s sales pitch.

This is the parable you might preach:

Every time-share company from Reykjavik to Rangoon offers something pretty enticing—a fancy lunch or dinner, a day of deep sea fishing, coupons worth a couple hundred bucks, even a deeply discounted ocean cruise—if you will only attend their pitch. You may say to yourself, “What the heck, a free steak and lobster lunch and all I have to do is sit through a Power Point presentation. I’m never going to buy. How could this go wrong?” Simple. Out of the blocks, you went wrong thinking you are impervious to salesmen. You are not. This widely held self-delusion enables the sharks to daily fill their tanks with prey.

You may know that the basic strategy of reality television is to lock the feeble-minded into close quarters, tell them lies about each other, all the while feeding them almost nothing and fire-hosing drinks down their throats. And then waiting. Turn off the cameras, throw in a steak and you have a time-share presentation.

But unlike reality TV, you can be quite clever and still wake up with a hangover and a perpetual week at some resort you would never think of again if you weren’t lashed to it like Odysseus to the mast. Some of the smartest—if not the most economically astute—people I know have purchased weeks that seemed like deals at the time*. But what turned out to be prices no more than say ten times what it would cost to return as a mere guest.

If you do attend a presentation, chances are you will be seated next to your own personal demon who will—except when the Prince of Darkness is pitching the assemblage—work you ceaselessly, extolling the resort’s amenities, ferreting out whether you have any money (no matter how pathetic your savings, they will cheerfully take it all and let you sign a note for the balance), using phrases like “sure-fire investment,” “risk-free reward” and “unlimited upside” to describe your permanent week in hell for which, by the way, you must also pay an annual maintenance fee.

All the while keeping your margarita overflowing.

Even if you say no, no, a thousand times no to your lesser devil, Lucifer himself—a truly gifted sociopath—will at some point during your verbal waterboarding sidle in for the coup de gras. Yes, you may be able to withstand a sales pitch so high-pressured it’s been outlawed in Switzerland, Swaziland and Sweden (of course Sweden). But then again, you may not. As a very young man, I barely escaped with my pocket change after my own complimentary steak lunch in Hades, not feeling free of my Mephistopheles’ Jedi mind tricks until I was a mile away.

If for some odd reason you do wish to return to the same resort annually for the next two hundred years (it takes that long to recover your investment) and you somehow feel the need to own your week rather than simply rent it, Google “time-share resales” and buy someone else’s time. The seller will gratefully throw in a case of champagne while deeding you his albatross for pennies on the dollar. Or if you really want to squeeze the buck, rent someone’s week; chances are you can pick it up for her annual maintenance fee.

Yes, there are time-share schemes where instead of being stuck in one fly-blown resort forever, you can spend your week in any of the company’s fly-blown resorts throughout the lesser parts of the world. The location may change, but nothing else will.

And yes there are people who swear they love their time-shares. According to world-class psychiatrists, this sad bravado is either a form of denial or an unpardonable wish for others to share their pain, akin to being the first one to jump into an alpine lake in June and then assuring those on the dock that the liquid ice is just fine.

Friends don’t let friends buy time-shares. Or even attend their trauma-inducing presentations at which everything from your lineage to your manhood to your financial acumen will be ridiculed if you fail to purchase on the spot.

john_mcnellisIf despite all of this great advice, you’re still going to accept that free lunch invitation, then you might as well buy fifty-two weeks at the Hotel California rather than one. Since you will never be able to get rid of it, you could use it as your family crypt.

*Alcohol is not always your friend

John E. McNellis is a Principal at McNellis Partners in Palo Alto, Calif.