Timeshare owners have no more ardent advocate than Greg Crist, CEO of the National Timeshare Owners Association (NTOA)—if their claim is legitimate. Greg’s even-handed approach, acting as an “honest broker” trying to facilitate an equitable solution, has earned him credibility with both consumers and developers.
If he doesn’t think a complaint is valid, he won’t support it. “The complaint can’t be emotionally based,” he said. “It has to be fact-based.”
“Contrary to the popular saying,” Greg said, “the customer is not always right. Let me tell you about two situations.” The first involved a takeover of a Canadian timeshare developer by a large U.S. developer that resulted in some loss of usage for the Canadian owners. “I have contacts at the executive level of almost every large developer,” Greg said, “and I got in touch with this company and tried to work out a solution. As it turned out, they had a fair amount of unused inventory that they could dedicate for the use of these consumers. They agreed to do that, and the majority of owners were happy. That’s our goal, to work out an amicable solution, to reach across the aisle. If we have a potential problem, it’s a ‘yellow light’ situation. We contact the developer, and if they aren’t cooperative, then we’ve got a ‘red light’ and we might take another approach.”
The second example involved a consumer complaint regarding an attempted rescission. After a little investigation, Greg’s staff determined that the complaint had been lifted almost verbatim from a web site. “They borrowed someone else’s facts,” he said. “I told them we couldn’t help them because they’d already perjured themselves. We were able to get a tape of their exit interview, and it was 22 minutes long and very clean. If it was 90 minutes, you’d know there had been a problem and they were trying to re-sell the customer. This was just a case of buyer’s remorse.” Greg is a big proponent of recording the closing process so that the transaction is memorialized in the event that each party has differing recollections. “I wish,” he said, “that they would keep the recordings for more than 90 days. Often a problem arises a year after the closing, and under many companies’ policies, the tape is gone.”
The roots of the NTOA were planted in 1993 when a gentleman named Ed Hastry formed an organization called the Maryland Timeshare Association. When owners from other states expressed a desire to join, Hastry changed the name to the National Timeshare Owners’ Association in 1997.
In 2013, Hastry was looking to retire, and was introduced to Crist, who had an extensive background in health care advocacy. Greg’s family had been in the timeshare business for 40 years, and he was a member of a Florida owners’ group. He agreed to take over management, and changed it from a non-profit to a social purpose organization, which is permitted to engage in political activity and lobbying. Membership is open to any timeshare owner in the United States or Canada, at two levels priced at $89 and $99 annually. NTOA has a significant Canadian owner base, and works very closely with the Canadian Vacation Ownership Association (formerly CRDA).
“Our mission is based on three pillars,” said Crist. “The first is education. Know what you bought and how it works. Sometimes a company is acquired and the rules change a little. You’ve got to keep up with the changes.” A critical component of the education pillar is the Timeshare Owners’ Study performed for NTOA by Intuition Brand Marketing that was described in the last issue of the Chronicle.
“The second pillar is use. If you don’t use the product, you’re going to be dissatisfied. My goal is to encourage owners to get the most beneficial use of their ownership interest that they can, either at their home resort or through an exchange.” “The third and final pillar of our mission is advocacy. We’re not by definition pro-developer, but we are definitely pro-timeshare. If there’s a problem, I am the owners’ advocate. Often it’s only a matter of making management aware of what’s happened and helping them understand that there is a problem.
”The most pressing problem among timeshare owners is the lack of a viable resale market, and as an owner advocate, NTOA is in the midst of the discussion. “I probably spend 70% of my time dealing with the bad actors in the secondary market,” Crist said, “and it’s like an endless game of Whack-a-Mole. I understand it’s not in the best interest of developers to have their product being sold at a price well below their prices, but by ignoring the issue, they leave an opening for unscrupulous re-sellers who end up getting their owners even deeper into the quagmire.”
“We work very closely with the regulators to try to police the resale market, and in one instance we were instrumental in helping to gather evidence that resulted in an indictment. On a more positive tone, I’ve been talking to some of the big developers to try to convince them to make it easier for their owners to sell by allowing subsequent buyers the same rights the initial owner had.
”In addition to resales, a second legacy issue concerns the Homeowners’ Associations of aging resorts. The NTOA will perform a financial and situational analysis for an association, identifying problems and potential solutions, a service particularly useful for smaller, self-managed resorts. “Many resorts have been robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Crist said. “They don’t want to raise assessments or have a special assessment, so they take money from the reserve account and defer maintenance. We’ve helped turn some of those associations around, but others have been so set in their ways that there was no hope. It’s a slow painful death.”
Or perhaps a death that’s not so painful. A few older resorts that have lost owners have been sold as hotels, with the net purchase price divided amongst the remaining owners. “We’ve been working with ARDA,” Crist said, “to try to make it easier for associations to re-position a project by lowering the percentage of owners that need to vote in favor of a change. If I’ve been an owner for 30 years, have taken 30 years of vacations, and get a check for $500 at the end, that’s not a bad deal.”
NTOA’s relationship with ARDA is an interesting one, for the former is the advocate for the owners while the latter is the advocate for the developers. Yet, each has a vested interest in helping the other constituency. “ARDA is not an enforcement agency,” Crist said. “They’re a trade association. What I’d like to see them do is to embrace the leaders who raise the bar and stop acknowledging those that don’t adhere to the standards.”
Decades of connections with the timeshare industry have given Greg Crist an understanding of the different aspects of the business, and he uses empathy, sympathy, determination, and balanced judgment to try to see that owners get what they paid for. That’s not easy, for often the crux of the problem is a difference of opinion as to what the developer believes they sold and what the buyer thinks they bought. The answer can often be found in one of Crist’s three pillars: education. Some days Greg must feel as though he could use, four, five, or maybe a hundred pillars, but he’s a big man on a big mission, and the Chronicle wishes him the best.