Fractional Ownership and Timeshare Scheme

by : Neil Robertson

Some fractional ownership schemes are so far away from the true concept some companies are. Some seem to include the worst aspects of timeshare and outright ownership! To explore this further it is first necessary to explain the reasons why timeshare is almost always not a good investment:

Timeshare - An Opportunity Missed

Firstly there is absolutely nothing wrong with the concept of timeshare. If sold at the right price and managed well (at a fair cost) it can genuinely be a good option, especially when you consider the possibilities of swapping your week(s) for time at other properties. However there are frequent problems with the execution of timeshare schemes, these being some of the most common:

Cost - Frequently timeshare is sold at a huge premium to the underlying property value. To get an idea of the premium that is being paid, choose an average mid-season week and multiply it's cost by 52, then compare this figure to the cost of buying a similar property outright. This premium is a particular problem if you decide to sell your timeshare as (if you bought it direct from the developer) you are very unlikely to get your money back. Buying on the resale market does solve this problem, but you can then be caught out by...

Management fees - What is the point of buying the right to have 'free' holidays for a period if the management fees approach the cost of paying for a normal holiday each year? Frequently timeshare contracts amount to a free pass into your bank account with the option to increase management charges at will! On occasions people have been so desperate to free themselves from the contract that they have given the timeshare away!

Resale value - Because of the problems above, and also the bad name generated for timeshare by the pressure marketing techniques employed by some operators, resale values are extremely poor.

All of the above indicates that timeshare (if managed well) can be a nice way to enjoy holidays of a certain standard for many years, but can hardly be considered a good investment. But does fractional ownership do any better?

Fractional Ownership - Investment or Leisure Expense?

The key difference between timeshare and fractional ownership is that you own a fraction of the underlying asset. This should in theory give better investment performance, but you still have to be careful, as the same flaws that plague timeshare schemes can still be present:

Cost - There is a tendency for fractional property developers to construct very luxurious resorts with a massive range of services. This is very nice for your holiday but also makes it harder to work out what the true underlying value of the asset actually is. Try to research a normal re-sale of a property of similar size with the same basic amenities (e.g. swimming pool) and compare this with the total cost of the fractional property you are investigating. You will then gain an idea of how much you are paying for the 'luxury' status and fancy services!

Management fees - Here the position is exactly the same as with timeshare - beware the small print in the management contract. An excessive management fee could wipe out any investment gains you might make and may become a financial burden.

Resale - As you own a fraction of the freehold you might expect the value of your share to increase in-line with local property prices - wrong! The resale value depends on many factors as well as the increase in property prices, e.g. the market for fractions, the success or otherwise of the resort management, the level of management fees. The only way to extract the true value of the freehold is to sell the whole property. I would advise that all fractional ownership schemes have a regular review period (e.g. 5 years) at which point any of the fraction owners can trigger a sale.

Either the property would have to be sold or the existing fraction owners would buy out the unwanted fractions at full market value.

In summary, beware of the companies that became good at emptying people's pockets with timeshare - they can do it with fractional ownership too (they can even do it with outright sales!).

Fractional ownership can be a good investment as well as fun but only if:

The relationship between the underlying asset value and the fraction value is clear and fair.

The management fees are reasonable.

There is a means to extract the value of your fraction if you decide you don't want it anymore.