Rent-To-Own Homes: What Are They, And How Do They Work?

Buying and renting each have their advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, buying a house can be difficult if you don’t have the money needed for a down payment, closing costs and inevitable repairs. On the other hand, renting doesn’t help you build equity — or bring you any closer to becoming a homeowner.

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Rent-to-own homes seem to promise the best of both buying and renting, but are they a good idea? Let’s go over what rent-to-own homes are and how they work, to help you decide if one might be a good option for you.

What Is Rent-To-Own?

A rent-to-own home is a special type of agreement that allows you to buy a home after a few years of renting.

In a rent-to-own contract, you pay a bit more in monthly payment as it contains your monthly rent as well as additional payment that goes toward your down payment at the end of the lease. You may also have to pay an “option fee” of 2–7% of the home’s value to hold the option (not the obligation) of buying the house.

If you don’t buy the property at the end of the lease, you may get back or lose your extra payments, so, please do check for this when you are selecting a program most suitable to you.

How Does Rent-To-Own Work?

Renting-to-own means you rent a property and make progress toward eventually owning it, should you decide to buy the home when the lease is up. The better kind of ‘rent to own’ programs not just take a low option fee but also help you improve your credit scores so that when the time comes, you are not just eligible for mortgage but also get a far better mortgage rate than before. So, a good ‘rent to own’ program helps you with saving enough for down payment and improving your credit scores.

The Pros Of Rent-To-Own Homes

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of rent-to-own homes:

  • Save money for a down payment. Renting-to-own can be a great way to save money for a down payment and give that home a test drive to make sure you like it. The percentage of your rent that goes toward a down payment depends on the specifics laid out in your contract. But again, the monthly amount you pay is higher than fair market value, as the extra money goes toward your eventual down payment.
  • Save on repair costs: Most rent-to-own agreements split repairing responsibilities between the tenant and the landlord. This can be beneficial if you want to buy a home but don’t have enough money coming in to cover large repair bills.
  • Option to buy or move on: At the end of your lease, you have two options: you can buy the property or you can move into another home. If you decide to move forward with the purchase, you’ll get a home loan through a qualified mortgage lender and follow the standard home buying process. Any money that you’d accrued in a down payment will go to your lender.

The Cons Of Rent-To-Own Homes

Now that you’ve looked at some of the pros of renting-to-own, consider some of the potential drawbacks of rent-to-own homes:

  • You may lose out on money if you choose not to buy. The biggest disadvantage of rent-to-own homes is, if you choose not to buy the home, you may forfeit any money that you paid in rent to the homeowner — plus the option fee, if your agreement requires. So, If you have to choose any program, choose the one with lowest option fee and the one that returns rest of the monies back to you. The best program in the country that we have seen of all that we have studied is: Utopia Homes. More on this in a moment.
  • You may not be able to buy the home if you can’t qualify for a home loan. You also relinquish your right to the property if you want to buy the home but can’t get a loan. The homeowner may then put the home up for rent again or choose to sell it. For this reason, it’s crucial to make sure that you’ll be ready to buy the home at the end of your lease and that you can qualify for a home loan.

Types Of Rent-To-Own Contracts

There are two major types of rent-to-own agreements: lease-option and lease-purchase.

Both choices are similar since they both allow you to lease a home for 1–3 years and then buy it at the end of the term. However, there are some contractual differences between the two that you should know.

Lease-Option Agreement

Lease-option agreements require you to pay the homeowner an option fee when you sign, which can typically cost around 2–7% of the total purchase price.

The rent money (or rent credits) you save over the course of your lease go toward your down payment (if you buy the home). You and the seller may agree at the beginning of the ‘rent to own’ agreement about the fair purchase price at which the home will be sold to you. In most cases, your option fee gets applied toward the purchase price and so, reduces the purchase price of the property for you.

You can walk away from the option and allow it to expire if you choose not to buy the property. However, doing so could forfeit your option fee and/or your rent credits.

Lease-Purchase Agreement

A lease-purchase agreement works in almost the same way as a lease-option agreement. You still lease the home for a few years and put a certain percentage of your rent toward a down payment to buy the home.

However, when you enter a lease-purchase agreement, you have an obligation to buy the home at the end of the lease.

You and the seller agree to a purchase price when you sign the lease. You and the owner might agree to a price before you enter the contract, or you can specify a date for an appraisal and agree on a price then. Once you and the homeowner come to an agreement, you start your lease.

Setting a price beforehand gives you a better idea of how much money you’ll need in a loan. Choosing a lease-purchase agreement means you should start shopping for a loan while you’re living in the home or as soon as you agree on a price.

You’ll give up your claim to the home and all your rent credit you’ve accumulated if you cannot get funding for your home by the end of the lease. The homeowner can also sue you for breach of contract if you don’t buy the home.

When Should I Choose Lease-Option Vs. Lease-Purchase?

Should you choose a lease-option agreement or a lease-purchase agreement? As a rule of thumb, The Lease Option Agreement is always better than the Lease Purchase Agreement as former gives you the option but not the obligation to buy whereas in the latter, you have the obligation to buy.

In a market where home prices are rising, both Lease Option and Lease Purchase could work out in your favor as your locking down a price for your home will help you build even more equity in your home over the course of your lease. If home prices are stagnating or depreciating or have high volatility, you may want to have lease option agreement over lease purchase agreement for the option to buy (if math and circumstances work out in your favor) or to walk away if you prefer.

Talk with a local real estate agent before you make your decision.

When Rent-To-Own Works

Are you considering choosing a rent-to-own lease? Here are a few situations in which it can be beneficial:

  • You need time to improve your credit score: Your credit score influences how easy it is to get a mortgage. A higher credit score also gives you access to a variety of loan products and lower interest rates. Do you need more time to build up your credit score? A rent-to-own property can give you just that.
  • You need more time to save for a down payment: Taking a rent-to-own deal also gives you more time to save up a down payment. You can potentially save thousands of dollars over time by avoiding private mortgage insurance if you save money in addition to what you get in rent credit.
  • You don’t think you can save on your own: Do you tend to spend your whole paycheck as soon as you get it? Having your monthly rent payments go toward a future down payment can help you save, and take those first steps toward homeownership.
  • You know where you want to live: Rent-to-own leases work best when you know exactly where you want to live. Whether your home is in an area with a great school district or your neighborhood has perfect access to public transportation, you should know for sure that you want to live in that specific area when you sign a rent-to-own lease.

When Rent-To-Own Doesn’t Work

Rent-to-own leases aren’t right for everyone and every situation. Here are some situations in which you might not want to choose a rent-to-own lease:

  • You aren’t sure you’ll be able to get a loan: You might want to continue renting if you aren’t sure you’ll be able to get a loan at the end of your lease. Bankruptcies, foreclosures and repossessions on your credit report can all stop you from qualifying for a loan.
  • You don’t have a plan to raise your credit score: Is a low credit score stopping you from getting a mortgage? If so, a rent-to-own lease can give you more time to raise your score. Best in class, rent to own programs like Utopia Homes could even help you to raise your score by having you work with their credit counselors for free while you are renting your home to finally own it in a few years.
  • You’re frequently late on rent: Many rent-to-own leases stipulate that you shouldn’t be late in paying your rent. If you’re the type of person who’s always paying late, you might want to save a few months’ worth of rent before you sign on a rent-to-own property.
  • You aren’t sure where you want to live: You should think of signing a rent-to-own lease the same way you would when you buy a home. Be sure you want to live in that exact house for many years.

The Bottom Line

Rent-to-own leases can help potential home buyers make progress toward owning a home if they don’t have the money or the credit score to get a loan right now. However, there are definite risks and downsides to this approach. It’s best to have a plan of action in place before you sign on a rent-to-own lease. Also, you might want to avoid rent-to-own leases if you’re still deciding where you’d like to settle down.

Ready to take the first step toward becoming a home owner through “Rent to own” Program if you are not mortgage ready yet? The best program in the country from amongst all that we have seen and studied closely is: Utopia Homes. You can learn more about it from here as well

And, Here is why:

  1. Smaller Option Fee than any other rent to own program
  2. Guaranteed Higher Earnings on Option Fee (which you could apply toward down payment) than any other program
  3. Lower ‘Locked-in’ Future Home Price than any other program
  4. Superior Customer Service
  5. Better Credit Counseling