It has been said that there's no such thing as bad publicity, and perhaps that's true for David Siegel, self-proclaimed "Timeshare King" and CEO of Westgate Resorts. After all, how many other CEO's of timeshare companies can you name?
What is not so clear, however, is to what extent publicity received by Siegel has negatively affected resale values of Westgate timeshares. Perhaps this is one the reasons most timeshare developers prefer to keep a low-profile.
When Siegel and his wife Jackie decided to build America's largest private home, a 90,000 square foot palace aptly named "Versailles," they attracted the attention of filmmaker Lauren Greenfield. Over the course of three years, Ms. Greenfield filmed interviews with the Siegels and their staff - including behind-the-scenes footage of Westgate Resorts operations. The resulting documentary film, The Queen of Versailles, was well received; winning the U.S. Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. (Now available on Netflix.)
The timing, of both the construction of Siegel's home and the filming of the documentary, happened to coincide with the recent financial crisis; turning what might have been just another story about the excesses of the rich into a saga of survival. Ezra Kline, of the Washington Post, dubbed The Queen of Versailles "the single best film on the Great Recession." When Siegel is unable to procure financing for Westgate Resorts' receivables, construction on Versailles is halted and the very fate of the company appears to hang in the balance. In a candid moment, Siegel declares, "this is almost like a riches-to-rags story."
Needless to say, The Queen of Versailles became a PR nightmare for Westgate Resorts. Siegel was so concerned about negative fallout that, the day before the film's premier, he sued the filmmaker for defamation; claiming Westgate Resorts was depicted "in an array of defamatory, derogatory and damaging ways." According to Siegel, by the time filming concluded Westgate Resorts was as profitable as it ever had been. The lawsuit has since been dismissed, but Siegel remains in damage control mode; appearing earlier this year on CNBC with his wife to announce "record profits" for Westgate Resorts and continuing construction of "Versailles."
There's no reason to doubt that both Siegel and Westgate Resorts are now financially solvent, but numerous other timeshare developers have gone bankrupt over the past 5 years. (e.g. Celebrity Resorts, Consolidated Resorts) When timeshare developers fail, the underlying real estate (individual timeshare interval) is not directly affected, but the resulting negative "buzz" often has lasting effects on perceived resale value. And speaking of perceptions, The Queen of Versailles portrays Westgate timeshare owners as victims of the same predatory sub-prime lending practices blamed for crashing the economy. Overall, it's easy to conclude that Siegel's PR mistakes have damaged the value of timeshares owned by hundreds of thousands of Westgate owners (at least temporarily.)
That said, now may well be the perfect time to buy a Westgate timeshare resale. Westgate Resorts makes a terrific product: Its timeshares are really, really nice. The properties are located on prime real estate. The maintenance fees are reasonable. And, for now, the prices are artificially low! Take Westgate Lakes Resort and Spa resale, for example, located on some of Orlando's best real estate and featuring leather furniture, granite and stainless kitchen, private patio, lock-out floor-plan, and large jetted-tub in master - priced thousands under cost.
Siegel has described Westgate Resorts as the "Rolls Royce of timeshare companies," designed to allow ordinary Americans to "vacation like a Rockefeller." Love him or hate him, if you've stayed in a Westgate timeshare, you have to agree with him.