I've about decided to purchase a timeshare but want to be certain it's the right thing to do. I hear such horror stories about pushy salesmen and crummy locations that look great until one arrives and then screams bloody murder to no avail by that time. What do you suggest? – Carlina Condo

Dear Ms. Condo: A slice of heaven or a slice of the knife? This is the decision one must make before a timeshare purchase. On the one hand, to own a week or more of a fully-furnished condo on the beach or overlooking a snowy ski slope sounds divine. On the other, however, annual maintenance fees can eat you alive and they never decrease. In fact, timeshare owners often end up paying more yearly in fees than they paid for the original buying price. Let's see some pro's and con's.

1. How much do you spend currently on a vacation? The average timeshare buy-in runs about $20,000, which ain't cheap. While less than we might spend for a second home, it sounds like a good deal when we think about the scenic location and all the perks. But wait, there's more! A yearly maintenance fee can run $1,000 and up per week so, after a few years, these fees have suckered us in by about $30K per lifetime. Mighty expensive nights, even if staying in a deluxe hotel However, should you decide not to take advantage of your timeshare (or a week of the vacation if you "own" more than one week,) it's fairly easy to rent to make up the maintenance fee payment, especially if during high season in a prime locale.

2. How about flexibility? Fixed-week and flex week – folks usually prefer one over the other. When we enjoyed our timeshare in St. Maarten, we knew we were going the same time every year and stay in the same condo. In fact, because we "owned" three weeks, we were able to store belongings in one of the unit's locked closets to skip all the hauling via plane each summer. Sometimes, this fixed week didn't work as well if we wanted to visit elsewhere. While we tried lots of wiggle room, sometimes it just didn't work. Flex or floating weeks often give more time and staying power to change condos around the states or even the world. Let's say your week(s) appears between October and December; you'll have three months to schedule your new vacation time, which often helps more than trying to schedule that specific three weeks in June or even high season January.

3. What about going to the same old, same old every year? This is where timeshare exchanges come into the picture. Worlds (literally and figuratively) of vacation spots abound and its important to note that these companies work with you to try to trade locations with another owner.

Once you've done your homework, pop over to the following checklist to make sure you're protecting yourself and your family before you hand over that substantial payment.

* Check all the costs. Don't just ask about maintenance fees and taxes but also ask the most they can increase per year or over the lifetime of your timeshare.

* Check for American Resort Development Association (ARDA) affiliation if within the United States or another governing body if outside. This is where consumer protection comes into play, regardless of the country.

* Read online reviews. is a great place to start to read about the timeshare's management experience and quality.

* Visit the location. Walk around, peek into corners, taste the food, inspect the condos, and especially, talk with the owners about their likes and dislikes.

* Go over the contract with a fine-tooth comb. Check every word in every sentence and look for any hidden fees, such as housekeeping or Wi-Fi charges.

Contact Ellen Phillip at