During the 1980s and 1990s, “rent-to-own” homes were relatively popular. The notion that renters could take a home for a test drive before purchasing it lured in many prospective homeowners. It was a great option for people who lacked the credit score or down payment to buy a home; and it allowed renters to dip their toes into the concept of homeownership before taking final plunge.

(If your property has landscaping, you will receive a notice in the mail with your watering schedule and your group letter. This dictates what days you can water. Your irrigation clock is usually inside the garage. It is your responsibility to learn how to use it. If you want us to come out and set your clock, the charge is $25. If you get a fine for excessive use of water you may get a fine.)


Making your lease payments on time can help improve your credit. Just make sure your landlord/seller reports your rental payment data to the major credit reporting agencies.  There are many other things you can do to improve your credit score while you’re in the rental period of your lease agreement. Start by requesting your free credit report. Federal law entitles you to one free credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com, a website set up by the three major credit bureaus.
The specifics of the contract will differ, but the general idea is that the prospective tenant/buyer will sign a contract to rent the home with an option for them to purchase the house at the end of the lease. The time period where they can live in the house before a lease expires is often between 1-5 years, and when they buy the house, a portion of the rent payments during the lease goes toward putting down a down payment. Ideally, this takes a sizable chunk out of the purchase price.
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A rent-to-own agreement allows would-be home buyers to move into a house right away, with several years to work on improving their credit scores and/or saving for a down payment before trying to get a mortgage. Of course, certain terms and conditions must be met, in accordance with the rent-to-own agreement. Even if a real estate agent assists with the process, it’s essential to consult a qualified real estate attorney who can clarify the contract and your rights before you sign anything.
If you think this is just like renting, you are wrong. The problem with renting is you are paying a monthly fee without having anything to show for it after the fact. Imagine living in that place for years and years! You are potentially paying thousands of dollars for the years to come. With rent to own homes, your money goes towards ownership. Meaning, it is just like renting but working towards actually owning the property yourself instead of throwing your hard earned money down the drain.
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HousingList provides buyers with a full database of rent-to-own, HUD Homes, and Foreclosure real estate in their area. Visit our library to learn more about what a rent-to-own home is, how to rent-to-own, and other common questions buyers have asked over the years. We work hard to keep this area updated with all the information you will need throughout the entire rent-to-own process. You can also get up-to-date news, tips and more on our blog.
The rent-to-own purchase model can be a good option for sellers whose houses have been on the market for some time and they can’t find a buyer for a variety of reasons: Perhaps it’s more advantageous to rent in your area. Or maybe interested buyers don’t have high enough credit or enough of a down payment to qualify for a mortgage. The rent-to-own option can attract potential buyers by giving them a chance to slowly build credit and pay their down payments over time. Just make sure your potential buyers can have high enough credit to qualify for a loan when it’s time to buy.
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As of 2011, no U.S. federal consumer protection law specifically addresses rent-to-own transactions, but through litigation, efforts have been made in attempt to bring rent-to-own agreements under the definition of “credit sale” in the Truth in Lending Act. However, courts have not, as of 2011, ruled in favor of making this change at a federal level.[25][26][27] In 2006, the United States Department of Defense labeled rent-to-own a predatory lending practice, defining it as an “unfair or abusive loan or credit sale transaction or collection practice,” along with payday loans, title loans, refund anticipation loans and other similar practices.[28] In 2007, the United States Government Accountability Office raised concerns with the methodology and structure of this research.[29] Later in the same year, the Department of Defense ultimately concluded that rent-to-own was not a form of credit and excluded it from its regulation on predatory lending practices.[30]
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I have nothing to "sell" you - so I'll lay out the issues I have with lease options below. "Can" rent to own deals work out for the buyer? Sure. You just assume a lot of additional risk vs. buying a home the conventional way. They are not, however, a way to circumvent the credit/income qualifications - you simply "postpone" this process for the term of the lease. At the end of the day, to "own" the home - you have to qualify for, and take out a mortgage on the property. There is no way to simply "make monthly payments" until you own the home, without having to qualify for anything on the basis on your credit, etc.
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In April of 2000 the FTC released the results to a survey of 12,000 randomly selected U.S. rent to own customers. This survey represents people who purchased any type of product rent to own industry. Most of the purchases were for home electronics, furniture & appliances. While the purchase prices are far smaller than the cost of a home, many of the concerns are similar to those who are renting a home.
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You could decide you don’t want to purchase the house. Let’s say you get a new job that requires you relocate to a new city. Or maybe you still can’t qualify for a mortgage at the end of the contract term. Perhaps you just decide this house isn’t for you. If you’re in a lease option agreement, you can walk away from the contract. But what happens to all of the cash you forked over in higher rent and option money? That’s thousands of dollars you won’t get back.
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Tenants who rent-to-own are often individuals who would have trouble buying a house through the traditional route because of poor credit, low income, or lack of a down payment. Rent-to-own gives them an opportunity for home ownership while living in the house they will eventually purchase and it also gives them a chance to discover flaws in the house before committing to purchasing it.
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Your contract may state that you, as the buyer, have to pay for repairs, homeowner fees, property taxes, and insurance while renting. Other contracts will stipulate that the current owner (the seller) covers these costs. It’s important that your contract clearly state who will cover repairs, because you might get stuck fixing a water leak on a home that isn’t legally yours yet. You should still have renter’s insurance to cover any issues in the interim.
The primary benefit is the ability to live in your future home while you make payments toward a down payment. If all goes well, you get to enjoy living in your new home before buying it. It’s often possible to negotiate with your landlord over such things as painting the walls and owning pets to a more prominent degree than you may be able to in a standard rental agreement.
Once you fully understand all the terms of the rent-to-own agreement -- and have had an attorney look it over and provide feedback -- it’s time to finalize the deal. Of course, signatures from both parties will be required at this time, as well as upfront payments such as the agreed-upon “option fee,” the monetary consideration that is necessary to make the rent-to-own contract binding.
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