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Shell Shocked: The inventor of real estate time sharing

By Staff | Feb 26, 2019

Art Stevens

I’m putting humor aside for today. I’d like to pay tribute to someone I’ve known in Sanibel for the past 30 years – Keith Trowbridge. With the expert help of Barbara Hill Freeman, a noted local writer, Trowbridge has just written a book about an industry he created right here in Sanibel – time sharing. Time sharing has become a worldwide phenomenon which allows people to own a share of a vacation property and have a place to go to every year.

What better legacy can anyone leave than to have created an entire industry which has grown into the billions of dollars? It’s like Edison inventing electricity, Bell inventing the telephone and Morse inventing the telegraph. Trowbridge has earned his special place in real estate Hall of Fame by coming up with a concept that has caught on like wildfire.

I never really understood how this now commonplace industry got its start until I read “Time to Share.” I know many people who enjoy their vacations every year by availing themselves of the benefits of time sharing. They actually own a portion of an existing property, usually in a resort area, that entitles them to spend two weeks in it every year. And they get the benefits of owning property which they can sell at some point for a profit. Or trade it in for another time share somewhere else.

The idea is so logical that one wonders why it wasn’t thought of until well along into the twentieth century. Enter Trowbridge, a Canadian by birth but a long-time American by love of country.

Trowbridge has written a book that shares the adventure of birthing a whole new industry that makes you want to shout out loud, “of course.” Time sharing is a fascinating industry and its entry into our modern world is told to us by a master story teller. And in the process, Trowbridge recounts his adventures along the way in the exciting world he created. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about how great ideas are born and their impact on contemporary society. And a personal close up of the man who made history in the process.

Several factors contributed to Trowbridge’s decision to transfer his attention to vacation ownership. One was Sanibel itself. He says, “Around that time, Sanibel became a city, and the city council lowered the allowable density of construction from twenty units per acre to five units per acre. That had the financial effect of doubling land costs, but there was no way to increase the price of condos to offset the increased price of land. Vacation ownership was a way to absorb the increased land costs of condos.”

Another factor was the sluggish condo market. While Trowbridge’s traditional ownership condo developments on Sanibel were eventually considered successful, it took longer to sell every unit than he anticipated. In addition, after the failure of Sanibel Lodge, he was gun shy about trying to build another model.

In looking for an alternative, he found his inspiration in long-term interval leasing “right-to-use” programs initiated in 1964 at a resort in the Swiss Alps, programs then French often call temp partage (shared time). Building upon this European model of units rented for a period of time annually, he asked shy not sell properties by the week in desirable vacation destinations? In the week-centric model, clients would own the week or weeks they purchased; and it would be in the unit of their choice. The week and the unit would be theirs in perpetuity.

Trowbridge has played a prominent role in the growth of Sanibel and its reputation as one of the top warm weather resort islands to frequent. “Time to Share” chronicles much of that history as well as telling the story of a man with boundless energy and creativity. It is a book about a real estate visionary. If you love Sanibel, you must read this book.