|By Peter Hull, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 9, 2005 - The Hilton Head Island time-share company at the center of lawsuits and consumer complaints regarding its sales practices has agreed to measures aimed at helping buyers understand its sales contracts, S.C. Real Estate Commission officials said Wednesday.
Coral Sands told the commission it would communicate more directly and effectively with buyers in an effort to resolve any complaints and pledged to provide additional customer sales staff and an attorney for buyers to consult before contracts are signed, the commission said in an e-mailed statement released Wednesday.
The company also said it would work more closely with the commission.
Some buyers have told the commission they were misled during sales pitches by the island-based company.
"This will be the first such step by a time-share developer in the state and perhaps the nation," the commission said, referring to the attorney.
It was not clear Wednesday who would pay the attorney's salary. James E. Knight, the commission's spokesman, said Coral Sands assured the commission that the attorney would be independent and would provide the best legal advice.
"We'll just have to wait and see," Knight said. "The determining factor will be if complaints continue."
Attorneys for Coral Sands could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Representatives from Coral Sands and the Real Estate Commission met May 26, according to the statement, to discuss the number and nature of complaints received by the commission over the past two years. The measures go into effect immediately, Jay Pitts, state Real Estate Commission administrator, said Wednesday.
"Overall, I felt good about the meeting," Pitts said. "We want to work to resolve these issues."
In April, the commission wrote to developer Dwight Trew concerning his Coral Sands time-share operation off Pope Avenue after receiving 38 consumer complaints in the past two years, including 11 since January.
The commission described the number of complaints as "alarming and far in excess of any reasonably acceptable norm."
The April 14 letter states, "The appearance is that built-in protections in the contract mandated by law are undercut by verbal representations."
The commission said common consumer complaints include buyers who unknowingly sign agreements to use a unit once every three years -- called tri-annual agreements -- rather than one week every year.
Others said they received a deed for a property that is not in the Coral Sands resort.
The commission has received two more complaints since the letter was sent, officials said. The complaints have a common theme: The company made verbal assurances during sales pitches that differ from contracts the buyers later sign.
Lawyers representing Coral Sands say the state has found no violations in its contracts or sales approach. In fact, they say, buyers sign a separate document that acts as a check and balance so buyers understand exactly what they're getting into.
The Real Estate Commission said it has examined each of the 38 complaints and found no violations of state law on the part of Coral Sands.
Officials will continue to monitor the number of complaints against the company, Pitts said, but the intention is that the measures introduced by Coral Sands would stop complaints from ever getting to the commission in the first place.
"If we don't get complaints," Pitts said, "we'll assume it's working."
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Copyright (c) 2005, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
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