I read the article, Developers Launch ‘Responsible Exit’ Programs, four years ago about ARDA’s Responsible Exit website. Westgate Resorts was listed as one of the website’s 15 founding Developer members. I was greatly relieved to learn that resorts were finally going to provide a responsible exit. Westgate Resorts “Legacy” department was featured prominently on the Responsible Exit website’s home page.
After reading the article above, I referred a husband and wife to the Responsible Exit website. Both had been diagnosed with cancer. I asked the couple to let me know if and how Westgate responded. They replied:
The Legacy Responsible Exit department transferred me to Maureen, a Westgate Supervisor. Maureen informed me that Westgate does not have a responsible exit program and that ARDA’s Coalition for Responsible Exit “is not our website.” Maureen told me they would only offer a payment plan. We cannot drive to Branson anymore due to our medical issues. We bought a one-week unit in 1990.”
Unfortunately, based on reports from members and owners, I came to the conclusion that the Responsible Exit website is mostly a smokescreen for Wall Street and lawmakers, to make them think there are responsible exits. Yes, Wyndham Ovations has worked well, as has Diamond’s Transition program, but there are still far too many defaults from members reporting unfair and deceptive practices.
The justification for the title, Westgate Timeshare Hostages, is because of the hypocrisy of a facade of a responsible exit when owners have reported to us that they were denied because their unit is only a 1 BR, or because it was located in Branson. Such responses typically lead to an irresponsible exit.
Licensed timeshare brokers, those that charge no money upfront to sell a timeshare, will not accept a Westgate listing because Westgate demands 50% of their commission. According to an owner’s report below, Westgate would not accept their unit back if they paid the broker who found them a buyer ANY commission. Can you imagine what would happen to the primary home market if such policies exist?
One Westgate owner did report that Westgate referred her to Fidelity Real Estate. She listed her unit, but there were no inquiries until she posted this on the Westgate Timeshare Hostages Facebook Group almost a year later. A day or two after she posted, she received a call from Fidelity saying they had arranged for Westgate to take her unit back.
The most common complaint industry-wide these days is about agents assuring buyers that the unit can easily be rented out to cover costs. Some resort contracts prohibit renting, but Westgate contracts state that renting is allowed. Thus, there is no safeguard to protect the consumer. The rescission period doesn’t help because no one would attempt to rent while on a short vacation.
A veteran who served 24 years overseas reached out. He explained that he is waiting for a lung transplant, but still works at the Pentagon for needed income. Like so many others, he reported that he and his wife were told they could easily rent out the unit they purchased to cover costs. Since this is not a feasible strategy, they were forced to default. This means his security clearance is in jeopardy because they had no choice but to default on their Westgate timeshare loan. His report:
Following are two more reports and Westgate’s responses. The reports are two out of ten examples of irresponsible exits featured in an article I wrote called Senior Defaults. Writing this article after attending a 2019 Florida legislative workshop, in which a timeshare industry lobbyist testified that, “All resorts have a dissolution policy.” This is simply not true. There are some resorts that will not allow a release under any circumstances.
#8 Two Westgate owners, Dorothy and Howard in Florida, ages 72 and 90, Jackie in Virginia
Dorothy and Howard
July 7, 2020
To Westgate Development Services Department, Tiffany or designated representative,
I am writing on behalf of my grandparents. I am an attorney, but not officially representing my grandparents on this matter. They purchased a Westgate timeshare in 2011. In 2018 my grandfather, age 90, suffered serious medical problems requiring multiple hospitalizations. We contacted a licensed broker to sell the timeshare for $99 and signed an agreement in May 2019. A couple from New York agreed to the purchase in October 2019. Paperwork was sent to Westgate in November 2019, which included a “Right of 1st Refusal Checklist.” Westgate exercised their Right of First Refusal, but not until March 19, 2020. What buyer wants to wait five months to close a real estate transaction?
We feel that Westgate’s actions concerning the unnecessary delays in the execution of a transaction are unfair and designed to restrict resale. Their actions seem harshly unfair, considering the age of my grandparents and their medical circumstances.
Westgate left my grandparents with no alternative but to default. We will reach out to the timeshare lobby ARDA-ROC, as they have launched a Coalition for Responsible Exit. There is nothing responsible about a company that deliberately prevents a secondary market by not allowing a resale market. Timeshares are hard to sell. To think that my grandparents lost a willing buyer because of Westgate objecting to a broker’s $800 commission is something that should be reported to the proper authorities.
On March 10, 2020, my grandparents sent a letter to Westgate informing them they had paid our broker $800. Westgate replied with a letter dated March 19, 2020, requesting $701 quoting Florida Statute 721.15 (#7). Westgate questioned the $800 commission! Westgate owners, the Siegels, are building a 90,000-square-foot home with 30 bathrooms, and an ice skating rink. The home was featured in the documentary Queen of Versailles. And they are objecting to a broker receiving an $800 commission?
According to another Florida licensed broker, “In the fine print of Westgate’s documents, it states that Florida Ranchlands Real Estate gets 50% of the Brokers commission. No other Developer does that. Few licensed real estate brokers will list Westgate properties.”
Now, it appears Westgate wants to stop licensed brokers from getting paid at all.
We received a collection letter dated April 24, 2020, from Pinnacle Recovery demanding our 2020 maintenance fee plus late fees totalling $1,053.51. According to the contract, the Buyer was responsible for the 2020 maintenance fees. The buyer now is Westgate. Maintenance fees were current when my grandparents submitted the contract to Westgate. We received a letter from Pinnacle dated May 15, stating they were no longer trying to collect. We have not paid the 2020 fees.
On May 21, I spoke to Todd in collections. I expressed our frustration and said we felt they were forcing us to contact a lawyer. On May 28, we received a call from Edna in Research & Resolution wanting to know why. I explained. The line was disconnected by a storm. She never called back. I left three messages with no response.
Reaction from a licensed broker:
The other broker who talked about the “fine print of Westgate’s documents” is wrong. There is nothing anywhere about taking a share of a broker’s commission. They simply made it up on the fly. They basically told brokers, “Either play along and get half your commission or we won’t allow the sale to proceed and you get nothing.” I received letters from Westgate about this as well. The FL Real Estate Commission should be contacted to determine if what they are doing is completely illegal. Hundreds of deals have been taken from brokers. I never gave them one dime of my commissions. The other brokers simply folded and gave up. There is a 2004 article from TimeSharing Today talking about this. I would think getting the FL Real Estate Commission to look into this would be a worthy goal.
Two Jackies: One in Virginia, and one Jackie Siegel in Florida
The Queen of Versailles Jackie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54DuxvrzKiU
One of the Florida homes of Westgate owners David and Jackie Siegel
By (Virginia) Jackie’s daughter, Toshia:
My mom is 69 years old. She is scheduled for her fourth surgery, replacing her second shoulder. Despite a serious medical hardship, she was told by Westgate’s Legacy representative that they would not take her week back because it was a one-bedroom unit. She bought the Westgate timeshare in 2004. She used it once, I used it once, and a family member used it once. It’s getting difficult for her to travel. The timeshare is paid in full.
We hope this explains why there is a Westgate Timeshare Hostages Facebook Group. People who feel they have been harmed need a safe place to ask questions and receive straight answers. Other timeshare self-advocacy Facebook Groups are listed in this article:
Results of a Florida AG Public Records Request, 584 Westgate complaints, nearly half about being assured of the ability to rent.
Bluegreen Timeshare Hostages and Account Suspensions, October 7, 2021
Thank you, Irene, in the perfect world these groups on social media should be places where great experiences are shared, even those groups which are “solely” dedicated to this are now full of complaints, some are very trivial indeed, like the lack of sunbeds, but there is a growing amount of concern on how members are being treated. Social media can potentially be the death of any business, it only needs one complaint to be posted and this sparks more comments about similar experiences, and before you know it there is general discontent. Something I was told many years ago is, you can have a hundred rave reviews, but everyone will only remember the single bad one.
It is not just timeshare that appears to be ignoring what is on social media, notice how adverse comments are dealt with on “company” pages, usually some platitude like “sorry for your bad experience, our team was on hand at the time had you gone through the right channels”. OK, that one is taking the “Michael” a bit, but those sorts of comments are only too real from businesses. They themselves know the value of social media, after all, they pay to advertise on it for new customers and have their own groups, yet ignore how they actually operate and deliver their services.
For the consumer, social media has become their voice, the internet has connected consumers everywhere, and no longer can any company hide complaints from consumers, it is out there for the world to see. Westgate Timeshare Hostages is a prime example of how ordinary consumers can have a voice, and how they are able to help each other with information on how to defeat a foe that believes it is untouchable. This delusion they have is like the “Ostrich sticking his head in the sand”, if they ignore it the danger will go away.
That is all for this week, we hope you all have a great weekend, Baby Dog is hoping to repeat his last trip to the mountains this weekend, but I’m not sure the weather will be right.