Steamboat Springs Routt County residents who don’t follow the valley’s real estate market closely might be surprised to find out who is selling the most vacation homes here in 2010.
Wyndham Vacation Ownership has sold more than 650 timeshares totaling more than $45 million at The Village at Steamboat through the first eight months of 2010.
It’s not as much the dollar volume as the number of sales that stands out. Routt County had logged 986 real estate transactions through the end of July, according to statistics gleaned from the Routt County Assessor’s page by Bruce Carta, of Land Title Guarantee Co. Of the total, The Village at Steamboat, selling timeshare condominiums under the brands WorldMark by Wyndham and Wyndham Vacation Resorts, can claim more than half the total — 520.
OK, timeshare sales aren’t the same thing as whole ownerships. But The Village at Steamboat has accounted for 15 percent of Routt County’s dollar volume in 2010.
The total Routt County market through July saw $292 million in sales. The average transaction for Wyndham was $69,250.
Selling under two brands, Wyndham Vacation ownership and Wyndham Vacation Resorts, the company logged 161 sales for a combined $7.65 million in July.
How is Wyndham seemingly prospering in the midst of a recessionary mountain real estate market?
“We’re blessed,” Rich Folk, executive vice president of sales and marketing for WorldMark by Wyndham, said in a phone interview last week. “We have a great product. Steamboat is not one of our largest projects, but it’s among our top performers. People can’t go there and pay less (to vacation) than they can with us.”
Flexibility in the range of prices it can offer customers within one resort condominium project is an important part of his company’s business model, Folk said. People can become owners at Wyndham for as little as $16,000.
Throughout the summer, Wyndham closed 25 to 60 timeshare sales each week. And every week there were transactions for $16,000, about $36,000, $55,000, $85,000 and in a few cases, as much as $150,000.
They may be buying a five-day stay in a two-bedroom condo outside peak demand, or they may be upgrading existing points to allow them to travel wherever and whenever they want to.
As platinum members, Janet and John Bodnar, of Brighton, are in the latter category.
“We’ve been everywhere from Vegas to Hawaii,” Janet Bodnar said. “We went to Washington, D.C., and stayed in old Alexandria. We always have a kitchen, and after sightseeing all day, if you want to, you can just come home and heat up spaghetti. We don’t have to pay a lot to go on vacation because we’ve already paid for it.”
What happens when people want to sell their points and leave Wyndham vacation membership?
Folk said the company responds first by urging the owners to make better use of their investment and encourages them to take a trip and get re-engaged in their vacation investment. Ultimately, Wyndham does not buy back vacation points from disenchanted owners. Folk said the exit path is through established business entities that specialize in reselling timeshares.
A Wyndham spokeswoman recommended that consumers investigate the educational services at the website of the American Resort Development Association (www.arda.org), to learn more about resales. It publishes a consumer advisory about resale companies.
At a site called www.vaca tioncredits.com, an entity called Vacation Credits Unlimited is representing its ability to resell a typical $20,000 Wyndham membership, with all the privileges that go with the original sale, for $7,000 plus a transfer fee of $150. A wise consumer might thoroughly research Vacation Credits Unlimited before acting on impulse.
Condos among thousands
Folk said although Wyndham sells deeded real estate in Steamboat, for practical purposes, the buyers are paying for vacation points that determine how many vacation visits they can make and how luxurious the condominium will be.
Although buyers may be drawn to Steamboat and have a deeded interest in a condo here, every vacation week in Steamboat is indistinguishable among thousands of weeks spread across Wyndham’s dozens of resorts.
“We transfer ownership into points,” Folk said. “Steamboat is one of 60 resorts. It’s like a big funnel. All we’re doing is enabling owners to travel all over the place.”
Many of the sales at Steamboat are driven by hosted tours that allow prospective buyers to visit The Village at Steamboat. But other transactions linked to Steamboat are made at sales centers in other states, Ray Mason said. Based in Park City, Utah, he is vice president of sales in the mountain region for WorldMark by Wyndham.
“We have a huge distribution base,” Mason said. People visiting a sales center in, “Las Vegas, Orlando, Hawaii, San Diego or San Francisco all have access to (Steamboat). It’s not all walking through that door. It’s distribution and price point. What you see a lot is people who upgrade and buy additional points.”
That’s due in part, Mason said, to the fact that the Wyndham brands have more appealing products than they did 10 years ago.
Village doubles in size
The Village at Steamboat fits that characterization. The amenity building and the first condominium building were built in 1985. A second building pushed the number of condos to 64, and it languished there for a decade until previous owner TrendWest became Wyndham. Construction on 144 condos began in 2006 to bring the total to 208.
They are not among the most luxurious ski condos in Steamboat, but they have luxury touches such as granite kitchen islands and heated underground parking.
The new upgraded condos opened in December 2008 as Wyndham’s corporate headquarters was announcing layoffs in expectation of growing difficulty in financing timeshare sales (Wyndham finances the sale of a minority share of its transactions, but it is the largest housing lender, in terms of unit volume, not dollar volume, in the Steamboat market).
Folk said his company strategized for the coming recession by refocusing its marketing efforts on a more affluent customer base and placing renewed emphasis on customer service.
An example of the company’s detail-oriented approach to satisfying customers is the maintenance man who goes through every condo with a can of touch-up paint after every guest checks out. No one checks into The Village at Steamboat and finds scuff marks on the walls.
Appliances, televisions and carpet are due for replacement every five years.
Warm beds in the ’Boat
Mason said timeshare projects have benefited the mountain resorts he has worked in by building a base layer to tourism and keeping rooms occupied in the shoulder seasons.
The Village at Steamboat Guest Services Manager Brian O’Neil said his property logged 1,600 turnovers in July — the equivalent of renting every condo in the project 7.7 times in a month.
Wyndham must be doing something right. The company reported that its gross sales of Vacation Ownership Interest reached $371 million in the second quarter of 2010, up 13 percent from the second quarter of 2009.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org