“Well, so far you say you like everything I’ve told you about our condominiums and resort here, ” Mr. Corbett summarised. “Do you have any questions? ”
“Just the big one, I guess, ” Karl answered. “The big one?’
‘Yeah, price. ”
“Well, of course. Now believe it or not, I’ve been saving the best for last, ” Corbett laughed.
“So how much’re we talking about? ”
“Well, that depends, ” Corbett said, lowering his voice so it was almost impossible to hear above the music and the jumble of conversations from the surrounding sales tables.
He always lowered his voice when he started talking about prices.
“Depends on what? ” Karl asked. Terri, his wife, looked uninterested.
“I figured you’d be smart enough to ask that, ” Corbett smiled. “Really, it depends pretty much on whatever you want it to depend. Today I’m going to give you a piece of this resort for a price you’ll help decide. I’m coming to you. ”
“You don’t have set prices? ”
“Oh sure, we got a list, ” Corbett said, “but to heck with it—today for you. Look, I know you like it here and you’ve agreed that vacationing this way would help you keep the family together and save you money. You say you don’t own any real estate, which is understandable these days when it’s nearly impossible for kids like you to buy a home. So I figured what the heck, you kids drove all this way to get here, you’re the last people I’ll talk to today, so I’ll do you a favor—throw in my commission if I need to, get you started in real estate you can afford: timeshare condos. And this is better than money in the bank. Now my philosophy is if I couldn’t help you get into one of these today, we’d shake hands and part as friends. So there’s really no pressure on my part. As you can see, the only pressure is that it’s a great deal. And since the price is your only question, I’m going to
work with you on that so we can make you owners here, ” he said, winking. “I’m going to let you steal one of these from me today. ”
“So how much?” Kar1 asked.
Corbett knew he could hook Karl by his curiosity. It had to be done that way. But he couldn’t move him too fast. Sink the hook. Make him ask for the price ten times. “We’re moving right into that, ” Corbett evaded.
“Remember, you’re helping me in figuring the price. What time of year do you see yourselves vacationing here? ”
“ I take it that some times of the year are cheaper than others, ” Karl said.
“Well, it’s just that 1 can make you a little better deal in some seasons that I can in others.”
Then Terri interrupted, “Why don’t you give us a list of all the prices so we can go home and think this over for a couple of weeks. This is still a new idea to us.”
Corbett was surprised by Terri’s early attempt to short- circuit his usually unnoticed, unchallenged suspense building. So far she’d just been quiet, though passively quiet. “Well, Terri, that’s why I spend so much time with you while you’re here. My job’s to help you learn all you need to know to be able to make an intelligent decision about this today. Also, it’s like I told you: prices can vary here when it’s me you’re talking to. You see, I’m their number one here. They gotta give me pretty much whatever I ask. And I’ll be asking for an unbelievable deal for you. ” He held up his left index finger and smiled a fatherly smile, pausing to let his milky blue eyes contact theirs: hers then his. Then he steered their eyes around the rest of the sales room with his practiced “see what I mean” expression. While looking across the room, Corbett took a split-second stare at Tauna. He smiled differently as he saw her leaning over the table in her neckless dress. Her customers never even noticed she had eyes, he thought. She still did well, though. Every week she was in the running with Corbett and Donald for top salesperson; Corbett believed she’d do anything to get the extra $200 bonus. Two weeks in a row she’d got it. But she’d been sick a couple of days, so Corbett figured on snatching up the two Benjamin Franklins this week—that is, if he could outlast Donald’s luck with his experiment as Pierre . That guy could really develop a mystique with the French accent he was learning.
“Okay?” Corbet asked as he brought his attention back to the small, round table where they sat.
“But you don’t really expect people to drive fifty miles to get here, look at your rooms for an hour, and write you out a check, just like that, do you?” Terri asked.
“Well, it’s happening like that every hour all over the country. One thing which makes it easier is that we have a great financing plan. Really, what we’re talking about is a very simple idea, so it’s a very simple decision. You agree there’ll be lots of savings in this for you. The best time to think about it’s while you’re here, while I can answer your questions.’
“But I’d like to know if you expect us to sign our names to anything today. ”
Never firm up on the tables, Corbett reminded himself. “Okay, well, then, yes. If I’ve done my job at all you’ll see that if we can get something that will fit your budget, you ought to become owners today. ”
Terri gave Karl a triumphant look.
“Maybe you could just give us a general idea of what the cost would generally run, ” Karl asked, seeming worried that his wife might have been offensive.
Control, Corbett thought. “Now remember, my prices vary; what I suggest is that we go over just a few more things and come back to that directly, ‘ ‘ Corbett said. He decided to pitch a low-season condo: something cheap. Wouldn’t be much volume, but it was the only chance for a sale. The price would suck them in. They’d never believe it could be so cheap. Besides, selling unpopular weeks was good prac- tice, and each low-week sale brought a $50 cash bonus. But he had to help them think that buying such a week was their choice. And he’d have to get them away from the question about price until he could get them agreeing with him again.
“Looks like for you folks the best place to start’s with size. As I told you, the studio home’s a four-sleeper . Now here’s a little secret I don’t tell just anyone: the one-bedroom con- dos sleep six, but they only trade for condos that sleep four. That roll-away doesn’t count. So you get as much trading power, for when you go to Hawaii or wherever, with the studio. Besides, you end up with just as much floor space, or pretty close to it, if you use it here. If you bring a couple of friends up for the week—say ‘How’ d you like to join Terri and me at our condominium this week? ‘—you’ve got plenty of room in the studio, and there’s no sense in owning something bigger than you’d need. Agreed?”
“Okay, so a studio’ll do just fine. Now let’s go back and solve the time-of-year question, then talk money. Fair enough? ”
It was late afternoon and the air conditioner wasn’t on.
Maybe it was broken, Corbett thought, or just turned off early to help hurry people along. What a day to wear a tie. He loosened it. Then, since Karl had agreed to look specifically at the studio condo , Corbett asked Terri if that would be okay with her. She had been staring at the table, but looked up at Corbett when he addressed her down. “Whatever, ” she said blankly.
Then she looked back.
“Now as you can scc from our timeshare ownership board on the far wall, Corbett pointed, “our inventory’s getting tighter every day; parts are already pretty picked over.
They’ll be sold out soon. Most of our high season weeks’re already gone. Crazy people. Go on vacation when everybody else does, so it must hardly seem like a vacation. I own a week in the winter and one in the summer—rent the summer one out, or trade it for a week somewhere like Banyan Harbor or the Kuhio Surf Club in Hawaii. But I’d never give up that winter week here. And I’ll be honest—today I can make you the best deal on a winter condo. I’ll practically give one to you.’
“Why don’t more people buy winter condos?” Karl asked.
“Ever know the masses to be right about anything? ”
“But what would you do around here in the winter?”
Corbett gave his smile of confidence, his “I’m so glad you asked” smile. Sometimes, as this time, he’d put a little bit of surprise into the smile, so as to compliment his prospects for asking such an intelligent question. These expressions were always deliberate, relaxed, knowing.
He figured he could get Karl. He wanted to ask Terri something. Answer Karl’s question. With a question. Yes, with a question. His smile gave him a couple of seconds to think, made him look patient, not pushy, masked the several approaches he considered each instant.
“Terri, ” he said, “wouldn’t you just like to stop the world for a week, have somewhere quiet where you and Karl could take off to and just enjoy? ” He lowered his head a little to try to get her to meet his eyes. With his eyes he made himself look vulnerable, as if her responding any way but positively would devastate him. He was silent for a few seconds, knowing that he’d lose the battle if he were the first to speak after he’d asked even a moderately obligating ques- tion. He knew she’d give in to the discomfort of the silence before he would. He moved his left hand across the table, gently touching her wrist, and looked at her eyelids; she was still looking down at the table.
“I personally like the idea, ” Karl said after a brief silence.
“Depends, ” Terri said, seeming not to have heard Karl’s comment.
“You stand behind Karl in his decisions, don’t you ? ”
Corbett asked Terri.
She turned her neck to look out one of the picture win- dows. “We usually decide things together, ” she said, turning back, challenging Corbett’s eyes.
Corbett was losing momentum. He knew it. Women are too easily offended, he remembered. Again he suggested, “Well, okay, I guess we’re ready to break the good news about a price for the condominium you’re interested in. No harm in looking, is there? ”
“Yeah, okay, let’s look at it, ” Karl agreed. “Is that all right with you?” he asked Terri.
“It might be a good investment for us, if not now, sometime in the near future, ” Karl reassured her. Not sometime, Corbett thought. He wondered what it would take to get them thinking “today. ”
And Karl had mentioned investment. Where ‘d he ever get that? Corbett had never mentioned it; couldn’t get him for “misrepresentation of a material fact” on that one. And yet he never told anyone about the investment disclaimer on the back of the purchase agreement. People hardly ever read the back anyway. Last year, he’d heard, lots of people had been told the project would be sold out by the year’s end, and since the developers weren’t building any more con- dominiums the resale would be real good—supply and demand. “Investment could double in a year, ” they’d always said. “Seen it happen before. ” But now it was doubtful that they’d sell out completely by the end of this year. Not as many people had been responding to the bulk mail offers. Maybe everyone had collected enough free cameras, pen and pencil sets, and industrial diamond necklaces (diamond chips swept off the factory floor) from other resorts’ mail bribes.
Maybe the word was out that the few valuable summer weeks left in the inventory were over-priced. Whatever the reason, the number of prospects was down, sales were down, so last year’s buyers who had speculated on this year’s promised on- site resale program were stuck, unhappy. $50 cash SPIF on low weeks, Corbett reminded himself. Management wanted to move them. Wouldn’t even let a high week go any more unless it was packaged with a low week. All these young people coming in now couldn’t even afford homes. Mailing to the bottom of the barrel. Dirt- bags. At least they were better than some of the tombstoners who’d been coming in lately. Clowns. Had to get them to obligate themselves, thinking “today. ”
“Now here’s the deal. I’ve taken enough time to tell you all you’ll ever need to know about our timeshare program. You say you like it and you see how it will save you money. You like the idea of trading to different resorts in the world and staying for nothing. So it’s to your advantage for me to do all I can to help you get one of these. Since you said the price was your only question, if we can find a price that’s affordable in a studio condo, would there be anything that would stop you from getting involved in our program today? ”
“I think we’d better think about it, Karl, ” Terri said.
“Oh, I can definitely understand that, ” Corbett butted in. “ I’d feel the same way. Probably sounds too good to be true. But I’ll tell you there’s absolutely no catch: it’s an idea whose time has come. Look here,” he demanded, pull- ing out a well-used newspaper article, “ ALDA reports that timeshare sales in the U.S. have doubled every year since 1977. ” He pointed to the word “doubled, ” then folded the article, continuing, “and I could show you another article which says the annual appreciation is over 32 percent. At the same time, as you know, residential real estate’s been a loser. Timesharing’s the best place for anyone’s money right now, best way to get your foot in the door, get inflation on your side. I used to be area manager for a life insurance company, but the first time I heard about this I knew someday I’d be selling it because that’s what I believed in. You got to sell what you believe in.
“Anyway, if I understand your situation right, and I think I do, the only thing you need to consider is price. You said there weren’t any more questions. So if we can find a price that’s agreeable to you, there wouldn’t be anything else that would stop you from picking one of these up today, would there? ”
“Yes. No matter how good a deal is, I like to sleep on it.
And I don’t like buying under high pressure, ” Terri said. “We’re not the kind of people who have money to throw around on the spur of the moment. ”
“Really, I think Terri would agree that a lot depends on price—how good a deal this is, ” Karl told Corbett.
Corbett wasn’t so sure, nor was he sure it was worth it to pay any more attention to Terri. “I want to think about it” was as good as “NO. ” He’d learned about that the first week on the job; no such thing as a “be-back. ” Now he didn’t let anyone leave still thinking about it. Either they’d buy, or once he was sure he’d lost them he’d make them admit that the reason they wouldn’t buy was because they didn’t like the program (after he’d previously had them tell him they liked the program), then he’d insinuate that they’d lied, and stolen his time—which he could have been spend- ing more profitably with honest people or with his family.
“I’ll be frank with you, ” Corbett quickly said. “I can give you a lot better deal today than I ever can again. In fact, I’ve decided to give you my week’s bonus points so you’ll have a substantial first-tour discount. And that’s because the good questions you’ve asked and the time you’ve spent here today tell me that you’re very serious about this. Remember, we’re working against an inventory which gets tighter every day, every hour. And there’s always a chance of a price in- crease. So if, I emphasize if, we can get you a condo for a price you say you can afford, there’d be nothing stopping you from taking advantage of this today, right?”
“How can I say what I can afford until I know the price ? ” Karl asked.
Good. Had to keep Karl asking for the price. “Well, we can come to your price as soon as we agree that you’d go ahead and get one of these today—only if we can make it comfortably affordable to you. Otherwise there’s really no sense in talking money because it’d be a different story after today. Remember, I’m only doing this for your advantage. Most salesmen would just tell you how much you’d have to pay. I’ll let you help decide. I want to help you kids get started. ”
“But how can I know if I can afford it until you give me at least an idea of what the price should be?” Karl asked, obviously frustrated at the deadlock.
“Okay, ” Corbett said, “let’s take a short-cut. If there was a bank down the street paying you 32 percent interest, would you put any money into it? ”
Karl looked unsure about how this related, but answered, “Don’t know why not, whenever I had some extra.”
“So you’ve got a little money you could spare each month to invest if you could get it into the right situation. Now, if I could get you into real estate here, which not only makes you as much money as that bank would, but also lets you use your money by giving you and your wife a free vacation every year for the rest of your life—for a one-time price—you’d get involved in our program today. Am I right? ”
“I think so, ” Karl said hesitantly.
Not good enough, Corbett thought. Got to get him boxed better than that. “Would you?” Corbett asked.
“Well, okay. ” Karl looked at Terri; she wouldn’t look back.
“Okay. Of course, ‘ Corbett confirmed. “Now how much could you put into that bank on a monthly basis—
comfortably? ’ Corbett could still see no expression on Terri ‘s face. He decided to play as if he’d lost her.
“Maybe $30 a month, ” Karl answered readily.
“You could do that comfortably, then, ” Corbett half asked, half stated.
“Probably, ‘ Corbett repeated. ‘’Would $30 be a problem? ”
“Not right now because I work in building construction and it’s been pretty good lately. But you never know for sure about lay-offs. ”
“All right, you can handle $30—just a dollar a day. Look at it that way. Heck, my paper boy could afford that. The manager might laugh me out of here for asking if I can go this low, but I gave my word that I’d let you choose the price, and you’d have to agree that if you could get a valuable piece of Warranty Deeded real estate for your price we’d have a deal, right ? ”
“Yeah, most likely. ”
“Most likely?’ Corbett asked. “You said you could afford $30 a month. ”
“But for how long? ”
“That’d be on a seven-year contract, 14 percent simple interest. Can’t stretch them any longer than that, and you can’t beat the interest rate these days. Buys you the Warranty Deed to an interest in the property—fee simple. For you we’ll pay all the closing costs and, like I told you, we’ll send you a Title Insurance Policy when you get the property paid for.
Once it’s paid for it’s all yours—forever. You can pass it on to your kids, after you get some. You’ve got tomorrow’s vacation guaranteed at today’s price, got inflation on your side. And as inflation ups the value of your real estate, you’ll actually be getting paid to go on a vacation. This thing’ll’ve made you richer by tomorrow. Just the opposite of driving a new car off the lot. And if you ever do have money troubles, you can sell the condo yourself or you can go through a realtor or we should have a resale program going on here and we’d sell it for a minimal commission. Make yourselves some money. ”
“Can I talk with her about this for a minute?” Karl asked, nodding toward Terri.
“ Sure, ‘ ‘ Corbett said, planning on remaining seated unless they had the nerve to ask him to leave. This was not a good time to leave them alone.
“Alone, ” Terri stated.
“Sure, ” Corbett smiled. “I’ll go check on this price and make sure it’s okay to sell it that cheap. Haven’t had anyone talk me down like this since I practically lost my job at the beginning of the sales year in April—I went just as low then. ”
Corbett stood up, vowing to himself that if Karl couldn’t talk Terri into making the deal, he’d make them both sorry they’d ever heard of this place. He knew he didn’t have them perfectly boxed, but figured he could get them anyway. He remembered he hadn’t told them about the yearly homeowners’ assessment. That was something they hadn’t asked about, though.
Corbett decided to give them three minutes alone, then go in and haul them away. He left, saying he’d check on what prizes they’d won.
“Don’t you think it’s a good deal, honey? ” Karl asked. “You promised we wouldn’t buy anything today no matter how good it sounded. We were warned this is what these places were like. ”
“But I never knew how good it was, or that we could get one so cheap. We got a steal. Don’t you think we should go ahead? Thirty bucks a month is nothing. And we could always sell it. ”
“We don’t even know what the thing’s worth. He came to $30 too fast. And he’s too high pressure. If it’s really worth it we’ll still want it when we’ve thought about it for a while. ”
“But he said the price will be higher. And talking about high pressure, this guy’s no worse than the salesman who tried to sell me a suit last week. But you weren’t like this to him.”
“That’s not the issue. This is a larger commitment. ”
“Well, for $30 a month, I’m sold, regardless of what kind of salesman we’ve got. I can’t see what you have against it, except wanting to think about it, and I don’t see that as a good enough reason to pay more for it later. I’ll use my own money for it. ”
“Karl, if you came back and wanted to buy it next week, he’d give it to you for the same price. ”
“You think so? ”
“Yes. And who’d want to be here in winter anyway? There’s nothing to do here; even Mr. Know-It-All couldn’t think of anything. I’ll lay odds he doesn’t even have one of these. ”
“So you think he’s been lying? You think this place is no good ? Look at that inventory board—all the people who’ve bought here. ”
“Like our friendly salesman said, ‘Did you ever know the masses to be right?’ I surely don’t know who you’d get to come here with you in winter. ”
“You might be right about winter. But you have to remember that’s when work is usually slower. And there’s always the trade . .”
“I’m sure it’d take more than a lot of luck to get a trade for what he wants us to buy. When do you think Hawaii’s low season is? ”
“You might have a point there, but I’m also looking at this as an investment—and I think it’s a good one. We’ve got inflation on our side. I told him I’d buy if he could get it for $30. I can’t break my word. ”
“What do you mean break your word? He’s coerced you.
Besides, you know that’s what they try to do around here: force you to make a commitment and then make you believe you can never change your mind. They make you think it has something to do with integrity. Karl, 1 just don’t think we should buy anything under these circumstances. ”
“You know, ” Karl returned, “I don’t care about the circumstances. I don’t see anything wrong with making a quick decision here, or even an emotional one. I’m tired of everything always having to be so rational with you. I like this idea. And I think we should go along with it. I really do.”
“Well I don’t, and there’s no way I’m signing anything today. So just tell him you’ve changed your mind and let’s go home. We’ve listened to this guy for an hour and a half, and I’m hungry. ”
Karl and Terri waited, silently, for a moment before Corbett came back carrying a brown portfolio and three gifts: an instamatic camera, a Genuine Leather Llama Image flight bag, and a pen and pencil set. The mail-o-gram said they’d only win two gifts, with no obligations. They’d known they wouldn’t win the car or boat.
“Congratulations, ” Corbett greeted them, setting down the gifts and holding his hand out for Karl to shake it. “This pen and pencil set’s for our new owners, and you’ve won the camera and luggage just for coming today. This portfolio is your complimentary owner’s packet. The big man went for the $30; come over here to the owner’s board so we can pick you out a second home that’ll be yours forever. ”
Karl and Terri stood up and followed him to the owner’s board, Terri staying close to keep the pressure on Karl. Arriving at the board, Corbett turned around and continued speaking: “I’m sure you’ll want to be on top so you can get the best view. I could get you into a top-floor condo in either January or February, except for the first week in January. One hundred clams down today and it’s yours—got my secretary already working on the contract so we can take care of things in a hurry for you. You’ve got to be hungry by now. Which month, Karl, January or February?”
“I guess we’ll take one in January. ”
“Okay, week three in January, Corbett said. “That’s in unit 36.”
Terri turned around and slowly walked back to their table, threading herself through the maze of tables and chairs which overcrowded the half-populated room. She continued standing, staring at a stereo speaker. Then she looked at a wall poster, a beach scene captioned “Your Endless Vacation. ” Corbett and Karl laughed together as they continued to point at the inventory board. Terri looked toward them, then Corbett turned and met her stare. He wondered if she’d carry out this stubborn duel to the end.
He’d have to change the contract if she wouldn’t sign.
Terri sat down, looking at Corbett’s notepad. At the top of the page were the words “Rent” and “Own.” Corbett had had her cross out “Rent” and underline “Own” early in the presentation. At an adjacent table a salesman asked another young couple, “If I could get you into something that was affordable, is there anything that would keep you from …”
Corbett ’s voice broke above the buzz of music and conversation: ‘Hold your horses everyone. Karl here has just become the owner of our last condo in week three. That’s number six off the board today. ” Karl smiled as the other salespeople applauded and whistled.
Terri looked away.