How to Buy a Week in Paradise for $1

Tyler Anderson profile photo

Tyler Anderson, CFP®

Mint Hill Wealth Management
Office : 833-421-1140

Imagine if millions of American women decided they were tired of wearing their engagement rings and put them on eBay. They wouldn’t fetch anything near the original retail price.

And what if, in addition to regretting the $5,500 or so their spouses had shelled out, there was a mandatory, annual “gem maintenance fee” of $250 that increased with inflation. Moreover, any relative who inherited the ring would have to keep paying it. Sentimental types would hang on. Others might take what they could get. For those with less-impressive stones, it wouldn’t be much.

The luxurious Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara in southern California has nine weeks being offered on RedWeek for $10 or less. PHOTO: ROB GORDON

People buying a timeshare should think of them like engagement rings, not property, says Bryan Rand, president of a leading secondary marketplace for the weekly vacation products, SellMyTimeshareNow. And while he says that 95% of those for sale through his company are listed for more than $1,000, sites like eBay, RedWeek and Timeshare Users Group show hundreds going for a dollar or even zero.

There is a gigantic gulf between what most timeshare owners or new buyers think they own and what they really do—a form of phantom wealth. The American Resort Development Association, a trade group, says there were more than 201,600 timeshare units across 1,541 U.S. resorts in 2022. The average per-transaction sales price was $23,940 that year—when bought from a developer. Some of those units’ 51 available weeks are held in developers’ inventory, but if three-quarters are owned by individuals who mentally peg their value at just $15,000 on average, then that would come to $115 billion.

January, when most maintenance bills are due, can be a busy time for timeshare resellers like Donald Nadeau, who runs Timeshare Broker Sales in Tampa, Fla. Despite sticking to the high end of the market—there is no other way to make money as a reputable broker—he says he just sold what was originally a $30,000 week for $4,000. Sellers are often surprised. 

Due in part to rising inflation, the past three years have been busier than ever. Nadeau has to turn away hopeful owners at tired resorts or of off-season weeks—November in South Carolina, for example.

“We tell them it has no value,” he says. “The next piece of information is that it’s going to cost you to get rid of it.”

Many of the $1 timeshare ads even say they will reimburse the buyer for hundreds in closing or transfer fees. Predatory firms ask for payment upfront to sell them. The listings do pull in the occasional bargain-hunter. For people like Anthony Eppolito, a retired New York City sanitation worker who didn’t mind visiting the same resort the same week for years, they make fancy vacations affordable. Then the kids grow up or the owners get old.

“People are basically trying to give them away at this point,” he says, of the Florida resort week he got for a dollar plus closing costs and still owns. He hasn’t been able to resell it for the same price on eBay and is mulling just walking away, daring the developer to come after him.

He is lucky. Many who buy directly from developers have loans—basically high-rate mortgages—attached to those imagined values. Industry leader Marriott Vacations Worldwide said that in 2022 54% of its timeshare buyers used financing with an average loan of $28,400, an average term of 12 years and an average interest rate of 13.4%.

Marriott, which split from the hotel chain in 2011, is one of the companies that is also somewhat active in the secondary market since timeshare companies retain the right of first refusal on resales. CEO John Geller told The Wall Street Journal last year that it spends $80 million to $90 million annually on existing timeshares that it then resells for about $1 billion. The difference isn’t pure profit because the cost of selling them is substantial—free stays or vouchers used as inducements, plus commissions for salespeople who have perfected those 90-minute pitches.

Eppolito fell for one of them, originally buying a timeshare at Silver Lake Resort in Kissimmee, Fla., for $17,000 in 1994 from a developer while on vacation. He soon bought another because it came with points that could be converted into more vacations. He says his family got good use out of them, but that costs mounted.

“Taxes only increase, maintenance only increases,” he says.

Eppolito didn’t imagine at the time that the weeks would lose all of their value. He finally got the developer to take the deeds back from him—for a fee.

“It isn’t worthless—it has a value for you to take vacations,” says Jason Gamel, president and chief executive of ARDA, the trade group.

Gamel acknowledges that timeshare weeks at independent resorts “are going to be harder to move.”

Tempted by the idea of profiting from someone else’s changed circumstances? That might well make sense for desirable weeks at properties managed by deep-pocketed developers like Marriott, Hilton Grand Vacations or Disney Vacation Club that better keep their value. Those companies have a love-hate relationship with the secondary market—it represents much cheaper competition. Marriott now sells points in a land trust that can be exchanged for vacations. 

Nadeau says many of his buyers are people who canceled contracts with developers within the allowed rescission period after googling the vacation they just purchased. Even at a discount, a desirable week at a nice resort is rarely a good financial investment. It can still be an enjoyable one, though.  

Free ones, on the other hand, might not be. Consider the experience of Ryan Sullivan, a 38-year-old Marine Corps veteran who bought a Florida timeshare eight years ago via RedWeek for a buck. Unable to plan a vacation far enough in advance to use his week in June, he also ran into difficulties using the points associated with his purchase for more impromptu stays elsewhere.

“Every time I tried to use the points, there was some caveat,” he says.

Between the transfer fees on his purchase and yearly maintenance, he estimates he has spent about $10,000 on his timeshare yet never used it. He once refused to pay the fees and soon got a call from a collection agency, damaging his credit score.

Sullivan’s timeshare is back on RedWeek for $1. The two-bedroom unit in a “West Indies-styled resort” with seven pools and “lush landscaping” near Orlando’s theme parks sounds lovely but, despite Sullivan’s willingness to pay a buyer’s costs as well, he hasn’t found any takers.

Write to Spencer Jakab at

Tyler Anderson profile photo

Tyler Anderson, CFP®

Mint Hill Wealth Management
Office : 833-421-1140