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Q AND A: Why now is the best time to rent a time share

Buying a vacation time share can end up being among the most regretted big-ticket purchases, but renting a time share from somebody else can be a fabulous idea.

Buying a vacation time share can end up being among the most regretted big-ticket purchases, but renting a time share from somebody else can be a fabulous idea.

It's a little-known strategy for getting luxurious digs for less.

"The people who actually know about it can get some amazing deals," said Brian Rogers, owner of the Timeshare Users Group online site.

Here are some things to consider if you're interested in renting a time share:

QUESTION: Why would I want to rent a time share?

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ANSWER: Time-share resorts are often luxury accommodations in the most popular vacation spots: near beaches, theme parks and ski mountains.

Many resorts are run by companies such as Disney, Hyatt and Marriott. They have check-in desks, maintenance crews and other services, similar to a hotel.

But condo units are larger than hotel rooms, with multiple bedrooms and a kitchen. Many also have washing machines and dryers. You also have access to such amenities as swimming pools, tennis courts and social activities.

Units rented from time-share owners can be cheaper than hotel rooms, especially if you have a large party that would need two hotel rooms but can use one multiroom resort unit. And you usually pay no tax on the transaction.

Be aware that time shares typically rent for a week, and you probably will not get daily maid service unless you pay extra.

Q: Why is now a good time to rent a time share?

A: Hotel chains overbuilt time shares before the economy tanked and had to sell them cheap, which means owners can rent them cheap, according to Consumer Reports Money Adviser.

And some time-share owners are canceling their vacations and are satisfied to recoup their annual maintenance fee, which averages about $650.

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Still others would like to sell but can't because there is almost no secondary market. So they rent them out.

"The market is out there right now for the vacationer to get really good deals," said Mike Barton, co-owner of MyResortNetwork.com.

Q: How much of a bargain will I get?

A: You can save up to half of what a resort might charge for the unit, Barton said. He recently rented a time share in Vail, Colo., for $1,800 when the resort priced them at $3,000, he said.

"You'll see weekly rentals from $300 to $1,500 for a week, depending on where they are," said John Locher, co-founder of time-share rental site RedWeek.com.

If you have flexibility, you can rent a time share just a few weeks ahead of time, often for less than $100 a night, Rogers said.

Q: Where do I learn about weeks to rent?

A: Browse listings and contact owners for free at MyResortNetwork.com and Timeshare Users Group (tug2.com). Another good site is RedWeek.com, where you can search listings for free but must pay about $15 to contact the owner. These brokers' sites include user reviews of many resorts. You can also find time-share rentals at Expedia and Travelocity, as well as Craigslist.com and eBay.com.

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Q: What precautions should I take?

A: Speak to the time-share owner on the phone, check references and negotiate price. Once you strike a deal and sign a lease, you'll typically send half the money to the owner, who will register the week in your name. Call the resort to verify before sending the other half of the money.

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