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Rent-to-own housing can be a great option if you're not financially ready to buy a home, but you've found a place you know you want to buy. So how do you get a rent-to-own agreement set up?
The terms of rent-to-own homes can vary, but generally, the property owner and the renter will sign a contract in which the renter agrees to rent the property for a specified time, typically one to three years. During that time, the renters usually pay an above-market rent, with the excess rent credited toward a down payment when the contract ends. The contract also typically sets a price for the home at the end of the lease.
Benefits for rent-to-own homesA rent-to-own deal offers prospective buyers an opportunity to settle into a home they want to purchase while they continue to save for a down payment, improve their credit score, or wait for a negative factor on their credit report - such as a foreclosure or a collection - to fade into the past.
Home sellers typically offer to a rent-to-own contract if their home isn't selling fast enough and they're motivated to move out.What to include in a rent-to-own housing contractBoth the seller and buyer must have the contract reviewed by a lawyer, because multiple issues must be addressed. The terms of any lease agreement should include:
Length of the lease periodRent amountRent credit for down payment and how it will be held until the time of purchase. Both sides need to agree in writing what will happen to the credit if the renters opt out of buying at the end of the contractWho will pay property taxes, insurance and homeowner fees during the lease periodWho will pay for utilities, maintenance, and repairs during the lease period
Sellers can also benefit from rent to own arrangements.More buyers: If you’re having trouble attracting buyers, you can also market to renters who hope to buy in the future. Not everybody has good credit and can qualify for a loan, but everybody needs a place to live.
Earn income: If you don’t need to sell right away and use the money for another down payment, you can earn rental income while moving towards selling a property.Higher price: You can ask for a higher sales price when you offer rent to own. You’re providing an opportunity that people may be willing to pay for. Renters also have an “option” to buy the house — which they might never use — and flexibility always costs extra.
Invested renter: A potential buyer is more likely to take care of a property (and get along with neighbors) than a renter with no skin in the game. The buyer is already invested in the property and has an interest in maintaining it.
How It Works
Everything is negotiable: A rent to own transaction, also known as a lease option, starts with the contract. Both the buyer and seller agree to certain terms, and all of the terms can be changed to fit everybody’s needs. Depending on what's important to you (whether you're a buyer or seller), you can request certain features before signing an agreement.For example, you might request a larger or smaller up-front payment if that would be helpful for you.Advice is essential: Be sure to review any contract with a real estate attorney because these transactions can be complicated, and there is a lot of money involved. Rent to own deals are especially risky for buyers. Several scams take advantage of people with poor credit and high hopes of buying a home. Even with an honest seller, it’s possible to forfeit a lot of money if things don’t go as planned.
An option to buy: At the beginning of any rent to own transaction, the buyer pays the seller an option premium, which is often around five percent of the ultimate purchase price (although it can certainly be higher or lower). This payment gives the buyer the right or “option” — but not the obligation — to buy the home at some point in the future.
No refunds: The initial premium payment is non-refundable, but it can be applied to the purchase price (if the buyer ever buys the home, she won't have to come up with as much cash). Larger option payments are risky for buyers: if the deal doesn't go through for whatever reason, there's no way to get that money back. The seller typically gets to keep any premium payments after a rent to own transaction ends.
Purchase price: The buyer and seller set a purchase price for the home in their contract. At some point in the future (usually between one and five years, depending on negotiations), the buyer can purchase the home for that price — regardless of what the home is actually worth. When setting the price, a price that’s higher than the current price is not uncommon (otherwise, the seller is better off just selling today). If the home has gone up in value faster than expected, things work out in the buyer's favor. If the home loses value, the renter probably won't buy the home (partly because it might not make sense, and partly because the renter might not be able to qualify for a large loan with a high loan-to-value ratio). Buyers usually apply for a mortgage when the time comes to purchase the home.Monthly payments: The buyer/renter also makes monthly payments to the seller. Those payments serve as rent payments (because the seller still owns the property), but the renter typically pays a little bit extra each month. The additional amount is usually credited to the final purchase price, so it reduces the amount of money the buyer has to come up with when buying the home. Again, the extra rent "premium" is nonrefundable — it compensates the seller for waiting around to see what the buyer will do (the seller can’t sell the property to anybody else until the agreement with the renter ends).
Maintenance: Everybody involved benefits from a well-maintained home, but who should pay? Your agreement should specify who is responsible for routine maintenance and extensive repairs. Some agreements say that anything under $500 is the responsibility of the buyer, but local laws can complicate matters (landlords might be required to provide certain amenities, even if your agreement says otherwise).
A properly-constructed rent-to-own agreement can be an optimal solution for both a landlord and a tenant.
Tenant Benefits of Rent-to-Own AgreementsA rent-to-own agreement could be a good choice for a tenant who wants to own a house and reap the benefits of home ownership but, due to bad credit or lack of capital (the typical 15-20% down payment required), does not qualify for a mortgage.This type of arrangement allows a tenant to invest and build equity in a house while leaving open the option of walking away—for example, if the tenant’s financial situation changes for the worse, or the tenant simply no longer wishes to live in or purchase the house. While there may be serious financial consequences (if the tenant paid a hefty option fee or has paid a lot of rent money into an escrow account), the tenant is not legally obligated to purchase the house under rent-to-own agreements. A decision to forfeit the option will not result in foreclosure proceedings and will not impact the tenant’s credit history.
Landlord Pros and Cons of Rent-to-Own Agreements
Landlords may benefit from a rent-to-own arrangement as well. Landlords who want to sell their rental property, but are having difficulty doing so, may find a buyer through a rent-to-own arrangement. During the option period, the landlord enjoys a reliable, long-term tenant, and usually does not have to deal with the expense and cost of maintaining the rental property. Also, if the tenant does not exercise the option, the landlord retains the option fee and the funds set aside in escrow. Finally, landlords may also have various financial incentives for considering a rent-to-own agreement. For example, a landlord with a negative cash flow may find it advantageous to receive a small amount of cash now and regular income (in the form of higher-than-normal monthly rent), and tax advantages of this arrangement, as opposed to a lump sum payment from sale of the property.
On the other hand, rent-to-own agreements have some downsides for landlords. Because they are unilateral agreements, the landlord is contractually obligated to sell the house to the tenant, if the option is exercised. The tenant, however, is not contractually obligated to purchase the house. Instead, the tenant may choose whether or not to exercise the option. The landlord is therefore bound by the agreement and may not sell the house to a third party during the option period.
When the term "rent to own" pops up, it's not always clear what it means, and that's partially because renting to own and the similar plan lease/option can work numerous ways. However, in a typical scenario, tenants can rent for a set period, such as a year, then when that time is up, they have the option to purchase the home. A portion of the rent is often credited to the sales price or closing costs.
Tenants may also purchase the option to buy the property for a predetermined price at the end of their lease by putting down a (non-refundable) payment of about 3 percent. With this option in place, the tenant is not bound to purchase at the end of the lease, but meanwhile, the property owner can't sell to anyone else.
Plans like this can appeal to people with little or no savings for a down payment, or people with bad credit or no credit who don't qualify for traditional mortgages. The latter group can include those who lost their homes in foreclosures, according to real estate investor Barb Getty, who has had both positive and negative experiences with rent-to-buy contracts.
Renting to own is also a way to get into a desired neighborhood in a timely matter, as with parents who need to be in school district for their kids, or people who are uncertain of their timeline, according to San Francisco real estate professional Herman Chan. "It's a way to get into a house without committing to a 30 year mortgage," he said.
It's not a very common practice. Of the 609,482 sales transactions on record in San Diego from 1990 to the present that were conducted with a real estate agent, only 782 were completed with a lease option contract, according to the San Diego Association of Realtors.
Let's take a look at the pros and cons. For those doing the lease option rental, the primary benefit to the buyer is that or or she can lock in a price, according to Phil Georgiades, the chief loan steward for VA Home Loan Centers in California. However, there are numerous concerns and potential drawbacks that make rent to buy more complicated and often more expensive than straight renting. Among them: the tenant's rent payment will likely be higher than market rent as part of that will be going toward the eventual down payment on the property. This extra amount will be forfeited if the tenant doesn't act on the option to buy.