By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Long-time realtor and land developer Wayne Stroman of Conroe is a good guy. Well, not just a good guy, a great guy. Ask anyone back home.
"Everybody likes Wayne," says "Stew" Darsey, president of the Greater Conroe/Lake Conroe Area Chamber of Commerce. "I don't know why anybody wouldn't like Wayne."
Stroman owns Stroman Realty, a fixture in Montgomery County for more than 20 years. Stroman is also a mainstay and prominent figure on a laundry list of industry organizations, having served on the board of directors of the Houston Association of Realtors, the Texas Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors.
"Wayne's the kind of developer who's always looking toward the future," says Montgomery County Commissioner Craig Doyal. "As far as I know, he's an outstanding fellow."
Stroman is politically active, giving time and money to the Texas Realtors Political Action Committee. He also serves on the International Committee of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and is a power-boat enthusiast.
Stroman's duties do compel him to travel from Conroe all across the country from time to time for conventions and seminars, but for all his success, say employees, he still spends as much time as possible in the office overseeing the day-to-day tasks of his growing operation.
"I've never heard a disparaging or derogatory word about him," says Conroe Mayor Tommy Metcalf. "But other than the fact that he runs a local real estate company up here, the truth is I really don't know much about him."
Actually, there is far more to Stroman than just a simple local realtor. From behind the brick walls of Stroman Realty headquarters along Highway 105 and within eyeshot of Lake Conroe, he conducts one of the largest timeshare resale businesses in the world. Critics contend it could also be one of the biggest scams.
Stroman charges customers seeking to get out from under their timeshares an up-front fee of $599 to list a property. Illinois, Arizona, Florida and California have tried to bar the company from operating within their boundaries, in part to protect consumers from the fees, and more than a dozen other states have joined them in support.
The Houston Better Business Bureau has a four-foot-tall stack of complaints against Stroman Realty, bursting with files going back as far as 20 years and as recently as a week ago. No matter when the complaint was filed, the grievance is the same: Stroman took my money up-front to allegedly market and sell my timeshare, but then didn't seem to do a damn thing.
In truth, admits Dan Parsons, president of the BBB, Stroman may well be operating within the bounds of Texas law, taking more liberties ethically than anything else.
When contacted by the Houston Press, Stroman at first said he would respond to questions in writing. The Press e-mailed Stroman a list of questions, and after receiving no reply, sent him a follow-up e-mail a week later again requesting comments. Two days later, Stroman e-mailed the Presssaying he did not receive the list of questions and was in Mexico, but was checking his e-mail "almost daily." E-mail records from the Press show that the original list of questions was successfully sent. That same day, the Press again e-mailed Stroman questions but did not get a response. In a final attempt to contact Stroman, the Press visited his three-story office building in Conroe, but his assistant said Stroman was not available and did not know when he would return.
Looking through numerous stacks of complaints, it appears that Stroman's licensed real estate salespeople tell owners of a timeshare an admittedly bad investment with a brutal resale market what they want to hear: We can unload your albatross of a property for top dollar. And fast.
Stroman is operating in a gray area. With apparently no one to stop him, he is mining a fortune $599 at a time.
The idea for timeshares started up in Europe during the mid-1960s.
Essentially, a timeshare is a property, usually a condo or an apartment in a resort town such as Orlando, Las Vegas or Cancún, that people own in conjunction with others. Each person has the right to use the place during specified times typically one or two weeks of the year. French resort-developer Paul Doumier is credited with formulating not only the concept but also the industry's first advertising campaign, "No need to rent the room; buy the hotel, it's cheaper."
By the late 1960s, timeshares were popping up in Hawaii, and by the 1980s, they had completely canvassed the American vacation landscape. Today, they are a favorite of baby boomers and yuppies alike, who save money by buying a timeshare instead of a vacation home that they can only use a few weeks of the year. Disney, Marriott and Hilton are among the industry leaders. In 2006, timeshare sales climbed to $10 billion, with more than 4.4 million Americans owning one, according to the American Resort Development Association, a trade group in Washington, D.C. representing developers. And there is no slowing down. ARDA, which was established in 1969 and has nearly 1,000 corporate members, estimates 25,000 new timeshare units will have been built between 2006 and the end of 2007.