Summer Bay Resort Sinkhole, Should Florida Timeshare Owners be Concerned?

Summer Bay Resort Sinkhole, Should Florida Timeshare Owners be Concerned?

If you are a Florida timeshare owner, you probably have already heard about the sinkhole that opened beneath two units (one building connected by a walkway) at the (Clermont) Orlando timeshare, Summer Bay Resort. If you’ve missed this, here are three updates from The Timeshare Authority that will bring you up to speed:

Although no one was injured in the building collapse, certainly the vacationers involved experienced emotions that ranged from inconvenience to trauma. Their holidays were disrupted with the type of vacation memories that no one wants ever to experience. Many are still sorting out the personal expense they may incur, while all Summer Bay Resort owners are wondering if this catastrophic event will result in additional fees being levied on a one-time basis, or perhaps an ongoing increase in annual maintenance fees.

Answers to these questions are being sorted out, one by one. While only time will tell for sure how the Summer Bay Resort event is resolved, Florida timeshare owners in general can’t help but wonder if their timeshare could be next.

Florida Timeshare Owners: Are Sinkholes a Reason to Sell Your Timeshare?

Sinkholes are essentially any area of soil that collapses and in varying degrees, they can occur anywhere. A perfect example is the sinkhole that opened earlier this summer in Arlington, Texas, near the pitcher’s mound at Ranger’s Ballpark. It was caused by a busted water pipe under the infield and had to be repaired before the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers took the field that evening.

The sinkhole at Ranger’s Ballpark is caused by our own actions and is a different category from what happened two weeks ago at the Clermont, Florida timeshare. Generally, naturally occurring sinkholes are either cover-subsidence sinkholes, which typically collapse slowly over many years or are cover-collapse sinkholes such as the Summer Bay Resort sinkhole. This second type of sinkhole also takes time to build, but appears to happen suddenly because the surface damage becomes evident abruptly when the surface soil collapses into a void  that has been slowly expanding.

Because sinkholes can be induced by our own actions that involve drilling, paving, and otherwise disrupting the soil and drainage, they can, technically occur anywhere. Those that occur because of changing subsurface water levels and other natural transitions in the earth generally happen in places with a high concentration of limestone soil.

Florida, of course, sits on the top of the sinkhole vulnerable list because it literally sits on top of a shelf of limestone. But limestone can be found throughout the eastern US, with the Great Valley (of limestone) reaching from the eastern parts of New York, into Pennsylvania, through Tennessee and Alabama. Even the Ozarks in Missouri are vulnerable along with Indiana and portions of Minnesota.

Just this week, officials in Louisiana are dealing with a sinkhole that has been growing for more than a year. Covering some 25 acres in land area, the sinkhole (which has already resulted in evacuation of two towns) threatens road closure that could create a 90-minute detour for travelers, including school buses. The Assumption Parish Sinkhole is shown in this video, which captures the actual collapse of trees in a way that will probably make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  

 

But before you decide to put your Florida timeshare (or Louisiana timeshare) on the resale market, you need to know that east coast limestone isn’t the only soil vulnerable to sinkholes. Gypsum, found in soil strata throughout the Midwest, salt domes found in Texas, Louisiana, and Utah, and anhydrite scattered across the country are all carbonate rocks with the potential to wash away. The US Geological Survey says perhaps as much as 40 percent of the US is undermined by rock that under the right circumstances (or wrong circumstances) can collapse.

What’s a timeshare owner to do? Weigh your risks. Consider whether the nagging worry of  a sinkhole collapse will put a damper on your vacation experience.  Consider adding a sinkhole policy to your home owners insurance; this will help cover personal property loss in the event you ever experience a sinkhole collapse.

..And by the way, we did our research. According to multiple sources, including this map published in the New York Times, Florida doesn’t even make the Top 5 of places where you are most at risk from a natural disaster.

 

Getting to the Bottom of the Summer Bay Resort Sinkhole

Getting to the Bottom of the Summer Bay Resort Sinkhole

Just when things seemed as if they would turn out okay for Summer Bay Resort timeshare owners, we run across this news that reminds us many things can be more complicated than they appear on the surface. Certainly the Summer Bay Resort sinkhole doesn’t seem inconsequential or uncomplicated to anyone involved.

Two New Hampshire area residents, Debbi Ward and her sister Faith Clark, are grateful to be back in New England after the trauma of vacationing in one of the Summer Bay Resort timeshare units that was ultimately swallowed by a massive sinkhole. Ward explains, “I was in the bathtub. The water started jumping, the tub moved, because at that point the building was starting to twist.”

While she and her family members all escaped the experience without physical harm, they lost their clothes, laptop computers, cameras, cash, jewelry, and cell phones when their timeshare unit collapsed into the earth late on the evening of Sunday, August 11, 2013. (Read more here: Is the Orlando Summer Bay Resort Timeshare Sinkhole Growing? and here: The Insurance Issue for Summer Bay Resort Timeshare Owners).

According to CBS Boston, Local News, Ward and Clark have been notified by Summer Bay Resort ownership, via a letter, “alerting victims that the resort will not cover the cost of all that is gone, writing that homeowner insurance should pay for it.” Of course, not everyone carries sinkhole coverage as an add-on to a homeowner insurance policy.

In most states, sinkhole coverage is like flood insurance or earthquake insurance; you only have it if you add it on as an extra. This means that even though an individual’s homeowners insurance typically covers personal possessions when destroyed or stolen (whether they are at home or away from home), there are specific circumstances under which coverage is not provided unless the person also carries an additional insurance policy that specifically addresses that situation.

Large and complex insurance claims rarely are settled quickly. Before anyone jumps on the bandwagon to criticize Summer Bay Resorts, let’s give the situation a little more time to play out. Despite the fact that vacationers and others involved are justifiably greatly stressed and inconvenienced by the event, it has been only 2 weeks since the sinkhole occurred. Although it would be wonderful for all involved if restitution, processing,  and repairs happened instantly, and no one’s life was made more difficult because of such an experience, life rarely—if ever—works out with immediacy.

Here’s hoping for satisfactory resolution on the fastest timeline possible, for all who are dealing with the Summer Bay Resort sinkhole.   

6 Ways You Overpaid for Your Last Family Vacation

6 Ways You Overpaid for Your Last Family Vacation

6 ways to save on a family vacation.
6 ways to save on a family vacation.

You’ve read all the updates about America, the under-vacationed nation. You already know that most of us leave vacation days on the table—time off that we could be spending jet skiing at the lake, relaxing by a pool, or hiking in a cool, fragrant forest. And the reasons we do this are more complex than vacation costs alone, involving demands at work, job insecurities, and other workplace dynamics. But if taking vacation time was more affordable, don’t you think people would try harder to find a way around the challenges of getting away from their jobs and their daily routines?

Here are 6 ways that many people leave family vacation dollars on the table, paying more than they need to for accommodations and travel services that others are enjoying for much less.

  1. Need to rent a car? Don’t just book it; bid for it or negotiate a rate. Hotwire and Priceline both offer options for you to bid for a rental vehicle from most of the major car rental companies. A website you may not have discovered yet, Breezenet.com, offers rental deals that include local car companies as well as national brands. And most companies offer specials, coupons, and membership discounts for groups you already belong to such as alumni associations, AAA, professional associations, and even warehouse or buying clubs.
  2. Airfares really are cheaper on certain days of the week. This is more than urban legend; airfares are at their lowest on Tuesday afternoons and begin to creep up throughout the week, with buying airfares on weekends being the most expensive time to shop.
  3. Renting a timeshare, as most include eat-in kitchens, can save you a ton on dining out and also make it easy to pack snacks for days you will be spending at places, such as theme parks, where on-site food costs drive up the price of your daily fun.
  4. Consider alternate airports. If you have to rent a car at your destination anyway, you might find the best price on air travel isn’t to fly directly to your destination. Most online travel booking websites offer the option to “search nearby airports” and many even let you set a distance by miles for how far from your target destination you are willing to travel. One example of using an alternate airport is the Orlando-Sanford International Airport, which is located within an hour’s drive of the theme parks and attractions in the popular Orlando-Kissimmee family vacation area. Served by a limited number of airlines, you’ll find that this Orlando travel alternative not only offers highly competitive prices on domestic carriers to US destinations, but also on travel from Europe and South America through international carriers. And although it is a full service facility, it’s smaller size makes this airport one you can move through quickly, saving time to offset the fact that it may not be the closest to your timeshare rental or the parks you plan to visit.
  5. Renting a timeshare typically means you can pack lighter. Since most timeshares include either an in-unit washer and dryer, or laundry facilities convenient to your timeshare unit, (such as in a common hallway and shared by a few units), you can buy less and pack less, reducing luggage fees.
  6. When you plan a family vacation in a timeshare rental, you have options for how much money you want to save. You can rent directly from a resort and you will save over the cost of a hotel room, because you can accommodate more people, more comfortably, without the cost of renting additional timeshare units. But that is only the beginning of the savings possible on timeshare rentals. You can rent timeshare directly from the person who currently owns the timeshare, either in a rent by owner transaction or by working with a company that specializes in timeshare resort rentals. Renting timeshare from the owner or the owner’s representative, often means you are working with someone who is only looking to cover or offset the costs of his annual timeshare maintenance fee. These drastically reduced rates on accommodations are in fact, a win-win for timeshare owners and vacationers.
The Insurance Issue for Summer Bay Resort Timeshare Owners

The Insurance Issue for Summer Bay Resort Timeshare Owners

Summer Bay Resort
Summer Bay Resort (photo credit: Orlando Sentinel)

This week got off to a dramatic (and traumatic) start when a sinkhole caused the collapse of two adjoined buildings and the condemning of another one at Summer Bay Resort, just outside of Orlando, Florida. (See: Is the Orlando Summer Bay Resort Timeshare Sinkhole Growing?)  For the guests and owners at Summer Bay Resort, all are physically unharmed and it appears they will be, for the most part, fiscally unharmed as well.

Most importantly, all occupants of the building were safe. This fact alone seems amazing considering that the event became apparent around 11 PM in the evening, meaning that some occupants were already sleeping, others were in varying stages of preparing for bed, and many had sleeping children to roust and gather before evacuating. One woman was even enjoying a relaxing soak in the tub when the room around her began to collapse.

The staff at Summer Bay Resort deserves tremendous praise for its successful evacuation efforts and effectively dealing with the relocation of guests and timeshare owners who had lost everything they had with them. But the problems facing Summer Bay Resort vacationers didn’t end when the ground stabilized.

Displaced guests were without medications, eyeglasses, car keys, wallets, and credit cards. There was a temporary interruption of utilities that impacted other buildings on the property. Guests and owners throughout the resort were awakened, frightened, and were no doubt, peppering the Summer Bay Resort staff with anxious questions. And then there was the ongoing stream of news coverage, reporters, helicopters, repair crews, police, firefighters, and other emergency workers called onto the scene. This was a summer vacation gone wrong in the worst way for many people.

But when the dust, literally and figuratively settled, the obvious question on everyone’s mind is: who pays when a sinkhole swallows you timeshare, or it is damaged or destroyed by lightning, flooding, wind, tsunami, or any other type of natural disaster?

The answer to this important question can vary significantly, depending upon the resort at which you own timeshare and the type of disaster. This blog post looks only at the Summer Bay Resort sinkhole situation.

Who Picks Up the Cost When a Natural Disaster Impacts Your Timeshare Resort?

In the case of Summer Bay Resort, let’s put this situation into perspective. This resort property is very large occupying some 3,000 acres with approximately 900 timeshare units, vacation houses, and a hotel located on the resort grounds. Most of the more than 4,500 guests who were at the resort this week, were unaffected by the sinkhole and the resort has experienced few cancellations for upcoming weeks.

Timeshare owners at Summer Bay who own units in the buildings that were impacted, report that the resort management is telling them insurance will cover damages from the sinkhole. This should prove to be reliable information, backed by recent legislative changes pertaining to Florida sinkholes.

Florida Sinkhole Legislation Changed

Sinkholes were already a hot topic in Florida this year, even before the earth opened up the 120-foot wide chasm on the resort grounds of this popular Florida vacation ownership resort. Last year, Florida legislature approved a law defining that any catastrophic collapse caused by a sinkhole is fully covered under Florida property insurance. This is great news for the timeshare owners at Summer Bay Resort.

It is not such great news for other Florida timeshare owners and owners of residential property whose timeshare, homes, garages, or other structures are damaged over time by slow or small shifts in the earth. The new law clearly states that there must be an “abrupt land collapse, structural damage, and a condemned property.” However, for purposes of this blog post, let’s consider only the type of collapse and damaged experienced by Summer Bay Resort.

Many Florida insurance experts are commenting to the press that the resort’s property and casualty insurance should cover the loss and should prevent the need for any related special assessments against the timeshare owners.

Breaking Down the Insurance Issue for Summer Bay Resort Timeshare Owners

Timeshare owners and guests directly effected by the sinkhole, experiencing the loss of personal property, and who have insurance that covers their residence elsewhere, will likely find that their homeowners insurance also covers their personal property when they are traveling. Others who took out vacation insurance will probably find aspects of their time or personal property loss covered by their vacation insurance policy. And this is not to imply that personal property lost in the building collapse won’t be covered directly by the resort’s insurance that is covering this event. But some owners and guests may find they have additional types of insurance that they personally carry that also will benefit them in this situation.

Right now, Summer Bay Resort says it plans to rebuild the damaged buildings on some other part of its large property. So are the owners off the hook, for paying a special assessment or an increase in their maintenance fees?

Not necessarily. Insurance will cover the property as it was before the loss, plus depreciation, which is the difference in the cost today to replace items and property as compared to what it cost originally. But if the resort looks to update or upgrade the timeshare units in the rebuilding process, and there is added cost in so doing, that cost will be above any insurance coverage.

For example, what if the timeshare units being replaced had carpeting and the decision was made to update and upgrade to an engineered wood or other type of flooring that in the long run is more durable and perhaps more aesthetic? In that case, the insurance dollars allowed for replacing the carpet might fall short of the amount needed to switch to a more currently preferred type of flooring.  This cost could logically be borne by the thousands of Summer Bay vacation owners, in an apportionment equal to the number of units or weeks they own and the size of those units.

The Bottom Line

Most Summer Bay Resort owners who have commented publicly on the sinkhole have expressed relief that no one was harmed and have shown great compassion for anyone who was directly part of this bizarre event. Yet a few have demanded that the resort “guarantee” this won’t happen at other buildings on the property.

Let’s let Summer Bay Resort, and all other hotels, timeshares, and vacation properties off the hook on this type of demand. No one can offer guarantees against natural disasters, nor should we expect them to try.

Assuming that a resort makes all reasonable efforts to protect its guests and timeshare owners, and that to any degree determined by logic or law, the resort structure and property are safe, stable, and functional, then the resort has done all it can possibly do.

Things happen. You can personally procure insurance to protect you against most of them, including inclement weather and loss of vacation. If your peace of mind is enhanced by knowing you are covered against all possibilities, then you should explore the options for the many types of insurances that are available.

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