While this may seem like an EXTREMELY basic question, many timeshare owners simply do not know and perhaps are afraid to ask it assuming that it just "comes with the territory of owning a timeshare. Sadly while this may be true, it is vital that you completely understand your responsibility when it comes to maintenance fees as an owner of a timeshare for the rest of your life (usually).
The cost to operate a resort is spread out among all owners at that resort via an annual maintenance fee. The fee must also build up reserves to pay for non-recurring costs like furniture, landscaping, external upgrades, appliances etc. that need periodic replacement and other capital costs as normal physical deterioration occurs, just like your own costs of owning your house or car etc. Cost is established by the developer or HOA (homeowners association). Caution: When a developer is in control, maintenance fees may be temporarily subsidized by the developer as a marketing tool while there is sales activity. After the HOA takes over, fees may quickly rise to unsubsidized levels without any warning.
Special Assessments are sometimes added to maintenance fees to cover unexpected (non-reserved) expenses. These assessments are passed by the HOA board of directors. Severe storm damage not completely covered by insurance would be an example where an extra assessment would apply (think Florida or Caribbean timeshares during hurricane season). These also come without warning and can actually be levied at any time! Just another tidbit you are not likely to hear about in a sales presentation before you buy (or after for that matter until the bill arrives).
As for cost, Maintenance fees vary with the location and resort, but are for the most part in the $200 to $1500 dollar range depending on the type of ownerships available. I believe a recent ARDA research study put the average maint fee in the $850 dollar a year range overall.
What is important to understand is that when you buy your timeshare now, there is nothing that locks in your maint. fee for the rest of your ownership tenure which in most cases, is forever for deeded properties. This means that 20 years from now, your annual fee of $850 could be (and will be) significantly higher. Such is the case with the industry now as many resorts have increased their annual maint. fees to a point where it is becoming less and less desirable to own....and in some rare cases...more expensive to own in annual maint fees, than a non owner can RENT the unit for an entire week. Yes you read that right, there are cases where it is more expensive to OWN the interval than the average joe can RENT the exact same unit from an existing owner (or RCI/II).
I recently read an article written for Timeshare Salesmen that gave "answers" for the commonly asked questions from buyers to counter any arguments or objections the buyer may have to signing right then and there. One of the questions was about maintenance fees and if they would increase. The answer was quite amusing to me along the lines of "of course they will go up, but you WANT them to". Citing the fact that if you were a homeowner, and the value of your house went up year after year...the cost of owning said house would also increase etc etc. And thats true to a point, but they also made a point to tell you that there were "restrictions" and "guidelines" that limit the amount a resort can increase the annual maintenance fee each year. I would certainly like the salesman to whip out the bylaws and point out those guidelines and restrictions to show me exactly what those limits are! AND YOU SHOULD ASK!
Remember, education is key BEFORE you buy. In no situation should you ever be pressured to sign immediately. always always always ask questions and do your research before you sign a lifetime commitment!
Timeshare Maintenance Fees are always a sore subject for many owners, but it is far less painful when owners know these details up front vs after buying and discovering it for the first time!
Many discussions around Timeshare fees take place on the TUG forums every year around January (when most come due!) For more detailed help and information on the resale market, be sure to visit the TUG : Buying Selling and Renting Timeshares forum
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