Benefits of owning, piece by piece
EAGLE COUNTY — We all know about the high price of real estate in the Vail Valley. But there are property owners in the valley who bought just a little slice of their vacation homes.
Whether you call it time share, fractional ownership or residence clubs, there are hundreds of units in the valley owned by thousands of people. And those people tend to come no matter the weather, or with little regard for economic conditions.
Lisa Siegert Free has been the general manager of the Christie Lodge in Avon since 1996. That property has 280 units, which adds up to more than 14,000 “intervals.” All of those people are property owners in Eagle County.
The week before Vail Mountain opened — typically a quiet week on the valley’s calendar, there were still more than 50 owners and guests in rooms at the lodge. That’s not a lot, but again, it’s a quiet week.
Jeff Andrews, in the time share division of East West Resorts, said occupancy at those units generally is higher than at the valley’s hotels, especially during quiet times.
“Hotels may run at 15 or 20 percent (occupancy) in the offseason,” Andrews said. “At time shares, occupancy can run as high as 40 percent.”
Keeping the travel economy rolling
The same can be true at residence clubs — an offshoot of the time share business.
Lance Thompson is the managing director of resort operations at Timbers Resorts, a Carbondale-based company that runs The Sebastian Hotel in Vail and the Timbers Residence Club in Bachelor Gulch. Thompson said he expects a busy Thanksgiving weekend at both places this year.
“We’re 100 percent booked at the clubs,” Thompson said. “We aren’t (that full) at our hotels.”
Andrews said that increased occupancy often comes from ownership.
“These are homeowners,” Andrews said. “They may own a week, but they’re owners. They pay property taxes and bring a lot of revenue from eating in restaurants, skiing and taking part in activities.”
Those owners also tend to come when others don’t.
Siegert Free is active in industry groups and just returned from a conference at which the mayor of Honolulu spoke.
“He told us that when the economy tanked (in 2008), tourists stopped coming … but the time share people showed up — they kept the economy there rolling,” she said.
Time share owners often belong to clubs that allow members to travel to other properties within a network. Some of those networks are within one company, such as Timbers or East West Resorts. Others, like the Christie Lodge, are part of broader networks.
That travel to other places, or simply renting vacant units, can sometimes encourage happy guests to buy in the Vail Valley, Andrews said.
Rentals “are a big source of new buyers,” Andrews said. “If you enjoy (a stay) and see the value, you’ll buy.”
Part of that attraction is that time share payments are steady for buyers, although maintenance and other fees can vary.
Time share a plane …
The idea of owning a piece of something instead of all of it seems to be growing. Andrews said joint ownership of boats, aircraft and vacation rental property are among the fastest-growing sectors of the travel and leisure business.
Time share property is also attracting younger buyers, Siegert Free said, particularly when it comes to being able to parlay a week in Avon into vacation time elsewhere.
“They like the flexibility,” she said.
The growth in the time share business is being seen in new construction. Wyndham Resorts completed a 58-unit time share project in Avon early this year. There’s also a fractional element to The Lion, a condo project being built in Vail.
While people in the business are quick to talk about the advantages of time share and fractional ownership, Andrews acknowledged that the business sometimes gets a “bad rap” as a business.
And, Siegert Free said, people need to be aware of unethical practices by companies that offer to get people out of their time share contracts.
If an owner needs to get out of a unit, for whatever reason, Siegert Free said the owner’s first call should be to the property.
“If someone wants to get out, we try to assist any way we can,” she said.
At the moment, though, the business seems strong and growing.
“We have owners in their 20s and 30s, and we have owners in their 70s and 80s,” Siegert Free said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.