Estoppel Procedures: How Can We Do Better?

Operating a timeshare resort efficiently requires a multi-disciplinarian approach, requiring resort operators to not only be versed in human resources management, interior and exterior property care and maintenance, plus rental and resale marketing expertise; but they must also keep themselves current with legislation and regulations concerning several facets connected with their project. This can be particularly challenging whenever managing financial matters comes into play.

The issue of how to handle estoppels was one such challenge that recently presented itself to Vice President of Stonebridge Management LLC, Natalie Bobsin. Headquartered in the Branson, Missouri, area, Stonebridge Management is a full-service property management company seeking to provide HOAs, resort developers, timeshare owners, and guests the most comprehensive administrative and financial services, immaculate surroundings, and accommodations conceivable. The company promises the delivery of customized service that will relieve clients of any ‘hassles’ and offers a wide array of à la carte services to fit their needs.

THE CHALLENGE

Stonebridge executives are focused on growing their management portfolio of independent, ‘legacy’ resorts. While their back office is equipped to deal with the phone calls, faxes, emails and mailing involved with the normal transfer of a timeshare property interest between sellers and buyers/heirs, the resort group’s management felt there must be a better way to handle the estoppel process. Additionally, they recognized they were required to be concerned about the data security of their owners’ credit card and personal contact information as long as they depended on non-secure transmission of information.

“We needed the ability to automate the estoppel process to ease the burden our team was experiencing,” says Bobsin.

Her concerns included the following:

  • Reduce the number of phone calls to sellers and new owners. There were often as many as 5-to-10 telephone calls involved in the processing of a single request for estoppel. Whereas the resort team valued the opportunity to make the initial inquiries and welcome calls by phone, they needed an automated system to take care of the behind-the-scenes details.
  • Remain compliant with state and Federal guidelines throughout the estoppel procedure. These days there continue to be new demands placed on a resort’s finance department, which can even vary from one state to another.
  • Provide better customer service. With faxing, emailing and the use of ‘snail mail’ involved, often weeks would go by, between the original request for an estoppel, the verification of the new owner and the actual transfer of the property. This often created concern on the part of the consumers, who did not fully understand the various steps involved.

THE SOLUTION

During the 2015 ARDA World Convention and Exposition, Bobsin was manning Stonebridge’s display booth when she met Dave Heine, who told her about his company’s cloud-based software RequestMyEstoppel.com.

As Bobsin explains it, the light bulb immediately went off! “Dave set us up online in about a 24-hour period and we were able to start using the system immediately,” she says. “They had all the forms on the site customized with our logo and information. It really required no training at all. Our staff had all the questions right in front of them and could walk through the forms with the client right on the phone.”

The entire transaction is paid for by the party requesting the estoppel. The typical fee is $ 9.95, with the resort having the ability to add a fee for processing the request.

The web site walks the customer through a series of questions relating to the unit/week and if it is being sold, the price and the name of the buyer. The name of the buyer is a critical step that is often missed in the preparation of the estoppel letters. By having this information, the resort makes sure the transaction is taking place with a ‘real’ person and can see what units are being sold for. This gives the resort the equivalent of a comparative market analysis, much like in the traditional real estate transaction.

In addition, the resort is provided information on the potential new buyer so that the resort/management company can screen the owner to see if they own additional units and are current on their fees to other associations. This becomes a key point: If the potential new buyer is in default on other units, you can attempt to stop the transfer or at a minimum, get more up-to-date information on them.

After completing the forms online, the system sends an email to the resort’s administrative personnel, alerting them that a request is pending. The resort then puts in the account information, processes the package and the system then emails the documents the resort requires in order to process the transfer.

One of the forms addresses the information that must be sent back to the resort if a business entity is taking ownership. Another form requires as much current information about the buyer as possible, to assist in the collection of the annual maintenance fees.

Heine notes further:

  • RequestMyEstoppel.com safeguards private information and provides a tracking method to manage the estoppel.
  • The software is absolutely user-friendly, both on the customer’s side and on the resort/management company’s administrator dashboard.
  • It’s a ‘one-stop-shop,’ allowing everything needed to digitally produce the estoppel package: all communications are recorded digitally, the full transaction is processed digitally and, finally, all items are stored digitally. This protects the privacy of the individual customer and assists resort staff in following the best practices as pertains to ‘clean desk policies.’
  • RequestMyEstoppel.com provides the software, the updates and hosting free of charge to the resort/management
    company. (They are paid by charging a small fee to the party requesting the information.)
  • The software has met the requirements of the European Union and is certified by the U.S. Department of Commerce as
    ‘EU Safe Harbor’ compliant.
  • The company’s servers utilize the same security and safeguards that the medical community faces and are HIPPA compliant.
  • In addition, if the resort charges a fee for producing the estoppel, RequestMyEstoppel.com will collect it up front, sending the resort/management company a breakdown and a check.
  • The system has an account verification request letter available, commonly used by a real estate broker to get accurate
    information about the unit for listing the sale. (As it is not an estoppel, fees can still accumulate daily.)
  • A second letter available is for the full estoppel package, which follows a set of best practices including the requirement
    to provide a sales price and a buyer’s name to ensure they are real, will pay their maintenance fees and enjoy their resort
    privileges.

SUMMARY

“It has been a relief to be able to rely on having a safe, secure, automated no-cost way to perform the estoppel process,” says Bobsin. “It answered all of my concerns and then some: What used to take weeks when generating documents now takes less than an hour!”

According to Heine, “Once we’ve automated their processes, companies like Stonebridge find substantial cost-savings as their staff is freed up to work on other things, plus they get results right away. Why didn’t we do this before, is the comment I usually get.”

The company recently produced several informative videos which can be viewed at requestmyestoppel.info. “Or anyone interested can contact me at 800-973-3316 for a no cost, non-obligatory demonstration,” adds Heine.