The pitch can be persuasive: Enjoy two weeks a year in your favorite vacation paradise, without the cost of a hotel or the hassle of maintaining a year-round second home. Plus you’ll have a valuable asset that you can sell when the time comes. 

For some people, owning a timeshare may work out just as advertised. For many, however, it will prove to be not only a bad investment but one that’s nearly impossible to get rid of. 

There are basically two types of arrangements that most people think of as timeshares, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explains. With a deeded timeshare, you and your fellow buyers collectively own a property, and each of you has the right to use it for some portion if the year. A vacation interval plan works similarly, although a developer owns the property, while you “own” the right to use it for a certain number of years. 

Both arrangements have upfront costs as well as ongoing expenses. In the case of a deeded timeshare, there’s the initial purchase price, which will mean monthly  mortgage payments if you finance it rather than pay cash. In addition, you’ll be on the hook for closing costs, annual maintenance fees and possibly local real-estate taxes. With a vacation interval plan, you’ll also pay annual fees. The FTC warns that those costs can rise over the years, matching or exceeding the rate of inflation, and suggests that prospective buyers find out if the contract includes a fee cap. 

Bear in mind that you’ll be responsible for all of these payments for as long as you own your timeshare, even if you are no longer using it.

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A hard sell

Unfortunately, while timeshares can be easy to buy, they are notoriously difficult to sell. Plus, as the FTC puts it, “Because so many timeshares and vacation interval plans are available, the resale value of yours is likely to be a good deal lower than what you paid.” 

In fact, it can be hard even to give one away. A recent search on eBay found hundreds of timeshares from Manhattan to Maui priced as low as 1 cent. On some timeshare resale sites, properties were listed for $0, and still had no takers. 

What typically scares off potential buyers is those annual maintenance fees. Rick Kahler, a certified financial planner in Rapid City, South Dakota, says he has looked at hundreds of timeshare deals and has never seen one worth buying, at any cost. “When you start penciling what you could buy with those same dollars, you find that you’ll often do better just staying in  hotels.”

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Resale scams

In recent years, the glut of unwanted properties has given rise to a sinister industry — timeshare resale scams that prey on people hoping to shed their shares. 

The scams usually work like this: A timeshare owner receives a call from someone claiming that he or she has eager buyers lined up and can sell the timeshare in return for an upfront fee. Of course, there are no eager buyers — and you’ll never see the upfront fee again. 

And if that weren’t vile enough, the FTC reports that other crooks, often posing as lawyers or government officials, will call the victims of resale scams, promising to get their money back for them — in exchange, of course, for another fee. 

Of course, if you can’t sell a timeshare or even give it away, you can always leave it to your heirs when you die. “Sometimes,” Kahler says, “that’s the only way to get out of it.” Considering the fees they’ll inherit, though, they may not be too happy about the “gift.” 

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Greg Daugherty is a longtime personal-finance writer and a former senior editor of Money magazine.