Ah, vacation! And how lovely it is to return to Gatlinburg, TN, where I have a timeshare at Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa.
When I first visited, I was required to spend 3 hours being subjected to a hard-core sales pitch. Now that I'd bought I wouldn't have to go through that again, would I?
Guess again. I had to attend a breakfast (at 10:30 AM! Wouldn't that be better called a "second breakfast"?) with my "concierge," the fast-talking man who sold me my unit three years ago.
I was disappointed that instead of the modern unit with the breathtaking vista I had originally stayed in, that I'd been given one of the run-down units at the bottom of the mountain. Oh well, I was here to write and look at instructional videos I'd been putting off viewing for one reason or another. You know, getting away from the long "to-do" list that's at home.
So I was picked up by my concierge at 9:30 AM to view what's new at the resort. Practically everything is, as practically everything burned down a few months after I'd bought in. Unfortunately, the run-down units at the bottom of the mountain were spared from Nature's Wrath. (No one was hurt at the resort, btw.)
We went to the building I'd stayed in last time, which is now a new building, and I oohed and ahhed at the sleek model unit there with the lovely view of the valleys and surrounding mountains. They gave me a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie and tried to foist several more on me, but I held firm. Just one.
Then it was down to the Lodge for a rather dismal, incomplete breakfast. At least this one had proteins in it, unlike the one I'd briefly visited in Kissimmee last February, which was ALL carbs. Concierge... May I call him Bart? Not his real name... Bart and I shared small talk. He does like to drop the name Jesus a lot; he does evangelical lectures. He hugs without asking permission, and keeps saying "You're so funny" to everyone but especially (it seemed) to me. Bart also likes to let you know that he's extremely rich, though he doesn't say that directly. He just shows you pictures of his mansion, his acreage, his vintage cars (did he say he had 20 or 40?), and all his fancy motorcycles. Got it, Bart.
He did say that next time I come I should arrange to hold some art classes. The resort would love me to do that! I just might look into it, after I've had some practice back home.
Anyway, he starts talking up the resort and how he's bought so much of it and how people who've also bought are making big bucks by renting out their weeks. (I have had zero luck renting out my place, but he says to call him and he'll help me do it.) Westgate Smoky Mountains is the #2 timeshare in the US, on track to become #1 in five years. And of course (like they told me last time) the prices on the units are about to jump up, so NOW IS A GREAT TIME TO BUY! Or upgrade. I could be living in that pretty unit way up on the mountain, looking out over that vista.
I make it crystal clear to Bart that I'm not buying anything, thank you. He keeps telling me how I need to buy a $250,000 8-bedroom unit so I can rent it out and make sixteen times my maintenance fee each year. He tells me that he's making six figures a year off his units. I laugh at him. He's so funny.
Then -- surprise -- Bart calls over his supervisor. I'm getting all this deja vu from our talk, because it's precisely the thing that had happened when I bought. And when I wanted to buy some new floors for my house. And when I bought new windows. These sales guys must all go to the same school, no? It's so clear they're operating from a literal script.
We don't get the supervisor but rather an understudy as the supervisor's busy. Let's call him Jim. He's under 30YO, and makes now what I'll make total in my lifetime. His breath could fell an elephant. He's amazed that an anomaly has shown up on my record. Give him a minute and he'll look into it. (Deja vu.) Comes back, and it turns out that my unit is actually a re-sold unit and that technically according to their records I've had it since 2005, when it was built, instead of for the actual 3 years I've owned it. That puts me in a Very Special Owner category. Imho, that puts them in Fantasy Land.
He tells me about those 8-bedroom units that can be split up into 8 units for rental purposes. All I have to do is upgrade. I give Bart the Evil Eye and Bart tells me to let him do the talking, to get me the best deal.
He then explains that I'm not interested in the 8-BR property, or even the 4BR one. I just want the 2BR one (which can be rented as 2 separate units or traded for stays at other resorts for something like 4 weeks of vacation stays), which comes as news to me. When had I told him this? I checked my memory. Nope, never gave him a clue in that direction. "Not buying anything" had been my instructions.
Bart and Jim argue vehemently with each other. In a burst of overacting Bart snatches an official letter with an offer on it from Jim's hands, holds it above his head, and rips it in half. Then he puts the pieces together and rips them again so the letter and offer are now strips. People at neighboring tables stare at him as he shouts. Bravo! They have this down to an art form. I applaud them. No, really, I did. It was lovely theater, and I told them so.
This did not faze them. I doubt if they were listening to me, a mere woman. Jim goes off and "figures out" a deal for me as I repeat to Bart that no way am I buying anything today. If a few bucks will upgrade me to a nicer unit, I might listen to that. Otherwise, nope.
Jim comes back. More outraged arguing! More deja vu! Bret asserts his machismo, cowing his "supervisor," who slinks off again after I've given them another round of applause. Really, local theater is hardly ever this good.
Jim returns with yet another deal. I can trade in my unit for a posh 2BR unit high up on the mountain in their second-best (non-Presidential) complex. It will only take $28,000 more of my money. Bart argues him down, then down again. They wind up at $15,000 plus trade-in. I will be a Rich Woman renting out my unit every year.
I check my watch. It is now 12:30. "I've been here 3 hours," I announce. Last time it took 6 hours, and I'd already told Bart that I wasn't playing that game this time. "I want to go shopping. I've really enjoyed this. Thanks a lot."
And I get up and leave.
Sure, if I had the money I'd likely invest in a 2BR unit, and for all I know, I might even make money on it. But these next two years will be concerned with paying everything off so I can retire in the black. If the lottery comes through, or my books hit the Best Seller list, I'll think about it. I never did sign that odd, convenient paper (another case of deja vu) they wanted me to sign in order to sever some kind of "easy way up" on upgrading in the future.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'll start setting up the fire under the run-down units. That's one way to get an upgrade. (You didn't read that, you hear?)
NOTE: Apparently the value of my unit has doubled from what I paid for it. Bart says it should at least double again in the next five years. The fire has sent property values on area rentals through the roof. He warned me not to try to sell it for those five years. If I sell it on my own, the resort has to approve the buyer, AND they'll have to pay $500 a year in addition to maintenance fees. OR I can wrangle a direct deal to sell the property back to Westgate, which is what I'd always thought I'd do anyway, if that option were available. Likely I won't get anywhere near full value, but if the property has quadrupled in value by then, I won't complain. I got rid of my first timeshare (ugh!) this past spring, after 18 months in the courts. That cost me money to do; I won't have to do that with Westgate.