Selling Snake Oil 101 |

Selling Snake Oil 101

Roger Marolt

“I’d like to buy a timeshare.” “Sorry, we don’t have those in Aspen.””Well, what do you have for a guy that loves status symbols, tries a little too hard to be groovy, wants ‘local’ bragging rights, but really can’t afford it?””Sounds like you’re looking for modified cheese product in le Marche de Fromage.””Say that again.””How about a fractional ownership unit?””What’s the difference?””With a fractional ownership unit, you actually own property. With one of those old-fashioned timeshares, all you were buying was the right to use the property for a few weeks every year.””Great! So you’re saying that, with these fractional ownership units, I own real estate?””Yep. We give you a genuine deed with your name on it and record a certified copy at the courthouse! It’s similar to getting a star named after you except with this you even get to pay property taxes!””It sounds too good to be true. You’re telling me that for a measly $300,000, I can own slopeside real estate in Aspen, Colo.? Wow! Draw up the paperwork. I’ll sign today, get you a check, and be back next week with the family!””Wait, not so fast. You can’t come back next week. Next week is Christmas.””What? Why not? You just said I own the place. Don’t I own it all the time?””Well, yes, you own it all the time. But, you can only use it three weeks every year. You do get to use it over Christmas every 17 years or so, though.””Well … OK. When should I schedule the movers to bring my furniture out?””Ah … you can’t do that either. Nobody gets to put their own furniture in the units. You have to share this place with other real estate owners like yourself, so we decorate with some generic stuff that nobody really loves, but that anyone can live with for a short time. We discourage creativity from occurring on your property. It’s policy, for your own protection, you understand.””Yes, well … what if I don’t like the color? Can I at least paint my unit with something I like?””No. We can’t allow you to paint, redecorate, or remodel your property, either. But don’t worry; we do them up quite nondescript. Nothing will offend you. We will, however, put out a picture of your dog the night before you arrive, if you ship one to us. Be sure to let us know if you change your travel plans, though. We wouldn’t want your picture of Fluffy ending up in someone else’s room.” “Yes, I can see that might be a problem. What kind of services do you offer to us property owners?””Oh, my goodness, the list goes on and on. Where do I start? We’ll pick you up at the airport and drive you back here. We’ll make dinner reservations and drive you to the restaurant. We’ll drive you to any store in town. We’ll load your skis in the van and drive you to the slopes. In the summer we’ll drive you to the golf course. We’ll get you tickets to any show and drive you to it. And, at the end of your stay, we’ll drive you back to the airport.” “Do you have maid service?””Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. We have that, too.””Is all that included in the purchase price?””Oh, my no, sir. It’s all extra.””How much extra?””Mmmm … I’d say it works out to be about twice as much per night as you would spend at a really nice hotel.””What if I don’t like the place after I buy it? Are they difficult to sell?””Ha, ha! It’s real estate in Aspen, for crying out loud! Are you kidding? Ha, ha, ha!””Ahh … no, I’m not kidding. How hard are these things to resell?””[Cough!] ahem … sorry. Actually, the resale market for these things is extremely hot. If you’re willing to accept less than half of what you paid for it. Do the math and you will see that we are selling these things for about $3,500 per square foot. To put that in perspective, a really nice house on Red Mountain would sell for about $1,000 per square foot including the land. Roughly 30 percent of the cost of these things is for marketing. In essence, you are paying us about $90,000 to pitch this thing to you. Since, when you try to sell this thing, you won’t be putting nearly that kind of money into advertising, you might be lucky to get rid of it for half of what you’ve sunk into it. Plus, we are going to keep building these things until we are sure there are no suckers left in this world. Good luck!””Sorry, I didn’t catch that last part.””Oh, nothing. I was just practicing speaking in fine print. It’s the latest thing they’re teaching us in real estate school. You wouldn’t believe the paper it saves. Everybody has to do their part to protect the environment, you know.” “OK, just so I get this right – I actually own real estate here, but I can’t use it whenever I want, I can’t put my own furniture in it, I can’t remodel, I can’t put up a couple of shelves or replace a towel rack, I can’t do a little touch-up painting, I can’t even re-arrange the sofa and coffee table, and I’m paying a huge premium for the right not to be able to do any of these things?””You got it.” “Very Interesting. So, level with me, why don’t you call these things timeshares anymore?””You must be joking. Who would spend $300,000 on a timeshare?””Good point.”Roger Marolt believes timeshares are the best thing to happen to Aspen’s economy since they installed snowmaking. The price tag ensures that people will show up to use them. This week it’s his turn to use the address: