Saskatoon's Alan Wilson thought he’d found a bargain when he took over a 40-year lease at a timeshare resort in Fairmont Hot Springs, B.C.
What he was getting when he signed 13 years ago was a beautifully appointed suite at Fairmont Vacation Villas for one week every year.
There were tennis courts, a swimming pool, sauna, hot tubs, and a fitness centre — a place he would gladly visit time and time again from his home in Saskatoon.
"We were actually going to use it for skiing, and it was ideal," he said.
Wilson thought it would cost him no more than an upfront sum of $3,000, plus an annual maintenance fee of less than $500.
Recession takes a toll
Then the big recession of 2009 hit. The resort went into bankruptcy. A group of creditors took over, hired new management and renamed the place Sunchaser Vacation Villas.
Wilson saw his annual maintenance fee shoot up to nearly $1,000, with by far the biggest jump, 25 per cent, coming right after the bankruptcy.
Then, last December, Wilson got a letter saying an estimated $28 million to $38 million in renovations would be necessary.
Everything from structural repairs to replacement of furniture and fixtures were needed, the letter said.
Timeshare members get a big bill
The whole tab, along with a 15-per-cent management fee, would be billed back to the 15,000 timeshare members.
'We were just shocked and stunned that they want to do this.' —Timeshare user Alan Wilson.
For each of them, that would mean about $4,000 plus GST. "We were just shocked and stunned that they want to do this," Wilson said.
It’s a tough situation, company says
He’s getting sympathy, but not much else, from resort management.
"It's a very tough situation that we’re faced with because of state of the resort and the past history from the previous owners," said Kirk Wankel, CEO of Northwyn Properties, the company that now runs the place.
Wankel blames previous management for poor construction and maintenance — and for keeping fees artificially low.
'The alternatives are very grim for the resort.' —Northwyn CEO Kirk Wankel says the extra fees are unfortunate but necessary
The complex was built more than 20 years ago, and now needs a major upgrade, he said.
"I think that it’s necessary 'cause the alternatives are very grim for the resort," Wankel said.
In his view, the timeshare holders must pay because they are legally responsible for the cost of maintaining the property: it’s in their contracts.
And, he said, some of them are happy about the project because it means they’ll have a resort they can enjoy again.
Sinking property values
Meanwhile, a real estate agent in nearby Invermere, B.C., says the spiralling fees and the big reno bills are make the timeshare units a tough sell.
Eric Redeker used to resell about a dozen timeshare units at the resort every month. Now he’s lucky to sell one or two.
Some are going for just one dollar. People are giving their timeshares away just so they can pass their bills on to someone else.
Alan Wilson doesn’t think he should have to pay the price of other’s mistakes, whether it’s by selling out at a loss, or paying for the renovations.
He has considered simply not paying.
"The people I’ve actually talked to in Saskatoon, they all believe they’re prepared to walk away and just say come get me."
Looking at options
Wilson has other options. But every single one will cost him.
For $3,000, the company will let him break the lease. He would then walk away having lost his initial investment, but free of all future obligations.
Wilson could also try to band together with a majority of resort members and replace Northwynd with another management company.
Or, he could hire a lawyer and try to fight the company. A Vancouver lawyer has already received dozens of calls from angry resort members.
One way or the other, Wilson wants out.
"Hopefully we’re going to cut the wire," he said. "I don’t want to be a fish on the hook anymore."