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Time sharing: a new way to own a luxury condo

My neighbor recently bought a luxury resort condominium.It's a great place, nestled among tall pine trees and overlooking a picturesque lake. The purchase price was $7,250 with a $1,500 down payment. Monthly payments are $75, plus a maintenance fee.

A luxury condo for $7,250!

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Such as unbelievable bargain is possible because of a relatively new concept called time sharing -- one of the most rapidly growing facets of the current real-estate market.

My neighbor does indeed own his new lakeside condo, but onlym for two weeks a year. During the other 50 weeks, other people own and use the same condo unit.

In other words, my neighbor owns a two-week "slice of time." Total ownership is shared with others who own their own time slice of the same unit. Many industry leaders believe this concept will grow into a major segment of real-estate activities during the next 10 years.

Last year alone, resort time-share sales exceeded $1 billion. Some industry leaders now predict this market will grow by 50 percent a year for the next few years.

The idea of owning a condominium "slice of time" first became a really significant element in the US real-estate market in the early 1970s, but by the mid-1970s the popularity of time sharing began to wane. Buyers resisted the "slice" idea in favor of acquiring the whole pie and renting the unit when not needing it for personal use.

Then came the skyrocketing prices of real estate in the late 1970s, which continues today. Few buyers can afford to totally own their own resort condo, but many can afford to own a time slice.

The investment is minimal, but buyers can still enjoy a degree of pride of ownership, if only for a couple of weeks a year. And they benefit from the same basic economic advantages shared by all owners of real estate.

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The timeshare concept now is expanding and is being used for a wider range of property types.

The basic, most common time-share property is a resort condominium -- a unit tucked away in the wooded hills or on the shore of a lake or ocean. However, some of today's time-share offerings involve different property types, such as campsites and high-rise condos in the city. Even hotel and luxury-cruise-ship suites are being offered to time-share buyers.

In a recent survey of 10,000 time-share owners conducted for the American Land Development Association, it was determined that time-share owners' median income was $33,500 -- far above the national household average.

Since it is a comparatively new and rapidly growing real-estate activity, reports of ripoff offerings and sales abuses are inevitably more frequent, and new regulatory legislation is being proposed to protect consumers.

Time sharing is definitely on the rise and will account for a larger and larger share of the real-estate market in the future. It's a technique that allows families to enjoy at least a taste of real-estate ownership, despite today's inflationary economic climate.

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