Online giant eBay plans to announce the launch of a new real estate service today that could produce huge benefits to millions of vacation timeshare owners and buyers, www.nemmar.com has learned.

Although eBay has carried a modest number of timeshares and fractional-ownership listings in its real estate area for over a year, the venture scheduled for launch today provides new, consumer-friendly tools such as the first online "value estimator" for timeshare units, fixed-fee closings including title and recordation work, and enhanced marketing assistance for unit sellers.

The venture also includes a formal link between eBay and a newly-created group of the timeshare industry's largest-volume resort developers led by Marriott Vacation Club International, among others. The developer group calls itself "Timeshare Nation" and will market members' units via eBay. Also participating in the new venture to market re-sale timeshares will be Century 21 Vacation Properties.

One effect of the beefed-up eBay presence in timesharing should be to provide far greater liquidity to a real estate product traditionally known for its illiquidity. Owners of timeshares historically have had major difficulties in re-selling their units, in large part because no true secondary marketplace has existed. As a result they often have had to list their units with realty agents who demanded heavy sales commissions -- up to 40 percent -- or list them with poorly-promoted auction services that produced pennies on the dollar.

The entry of eBay -- a globally-known, well-respected marketing platform with 42-plus million registered users and modest fees -- is likely to radically change all that.

"I fully expect that eBay will become the MLS (multiple listing service) for timeshares," said eBay Real Estate general manager Doug Galen, in an exclusive interview with Real Estate-Realtor Times.

"It's a big market (for timeshares), it has not been well served, and that has hurt the sales of new timeshares," he said. Galen estimates that there are 5 million timeshare owners around the world, 2 million in the United States. The eBay connection should save individual re-sellers and developers substantially on marketing costs: The standard charge is $50 for a 10-day listing, $100 for a 30-day listing.

The new "valuation estimator" tool, tapping into online title, appraisal and prior resale databases, will cost $35 for those who wish to use it. The marketing package -- dubbed "SuperLister" --draws on a database of photographs and resort descriptions maintained by Dynetech, Inc., and will cost users $15 per package. Post-sale closing and title services -- traditionally a headache and large expense for re-sellers -- will be available as a flat-fee, $395 option through a joint venture between Dynetech and Chicago Title and Trust Co.

Timeshares traditionally have been marketed by developers using costly, sometimes controversial methods. Many of the early timeshare resort communities were promoted through prizes, "free trips" awarded by direct mail, free meals and other giveaways that occasionally drew the attention of state and federal regulators. Some developers hawked their units by paying promoters to walk down beaches and through shopping areas to pull in potential buyers with giveaway gimmicks.

In recent years, the timeshare industry has been transformed by the arrival of some of the nation's best-known hotel development and management companies -- Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton and Sheraton -- into the field. Their now-dominant presence has given timesharing a financial stability and quality level that was sorely lacking in the industry's star-up years during the 1970s and 1980s. Ebay's entry as a place to buy and sell units should move the industry in that direction even further.

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