Is Rent to Own A Good Way to Purchase a Home?

Rent to Own ContractToday we are going to discuss whether rent to own is a good way to purchase a house or not.  You may hear other terms for rent to own like lease to own or lease option to buy.

While not terribly popular in New England because of the strong housing market, rent to own homes can still be found. 

I probably get several calls a month from a hopeful home buyer looking for a home they can lease to own. The rent to own or lease option gives hope to many to buy a home instead of renting forever.

You will find where the real estate market is languishing and houses are sitting on the market, lease or rent to own options will be much greater than where there is a strong real estate market like we are seeing in the greater Boston area.

When you buy a home as a rent to own, it allows the potential sale of a home while the landlord covers costs waiting for you to perform on the purchase.

As well, as allowing the home buyer to accrue a down payment and improve their credit to allow them to get a conventional mortgage.

How Does Rent  To Own Work For Homes?

You can rent to own many different items, whether it is a TV, a couch, or an entire bedroom set.  But this article will focus on renting to own homes.

What is Rent to Own?

Rent to own is where a renter/buyer and a seller agree to a predetermined price where the buyer rents a house and has the option to purchase the house they are renting before the lease runs out.  Typically it is a one, two or three-year option to buy in the rent to own contract.

In return for the option to purchase the home, the renter pays an agreed-upon option fee usually in the arena of 20% of the rent.  So if the rent is $2000 a month you would be paying an additional $400 dollars a month in option fees.

The option fee will be converted towards a down payment should the renter exercise the option to buy. 

Why Would A Seller Rent To Own?

The availability of rent-to-own homes rise when the real estate market softens and it is harder for a seller to secure a buyer.  In a tough buyer’s market, a seller could opt to rent to own their house to open up to a larger pool of buyers, with the hopes of getting the home sold in the near future.

Why Rent To Own vs Getting a Mortgage?

More often than not a renter/buyer does not have the proper qualifications to secure a traditional mortgage.  It could be a homebuyer has bad credit, their debt-to-income ratio is to high, they have not worked a job long enough, etc…

The rent to own a house option seems attractive.  It allows the home buyer time to fix their credit or other situations that may prevent a borrower from getting approved for a mortgage. 

Usually, the renter/buyer has a credit score that is too low to purchase a home or their credit may be fine but they need to pull a down payment and closing costs together. 

It is also an option for people who may not be fully committed to buying but want to keep their options open.  A renter can “test drive a home” before buying.  Or, in case of a relocation, a renter is waiting to see if a job contract will convert to a full-time position.

Is Rent to Own House a Good Way to Purchase A Home?

For 98% of the folks looking to rent to own, I implore you to think carefully

You are probably looking at rent to own homes for all the wrong reasons. The reason you can’t get a mortgage is exactly the reason you should not rent to own.  Impulse!  Control it. 

Take the time to fix your fico score and purchase a home with a traditional mortgage product.  Don’t put the cart before the horse. 

I certainly do not want to discourage someone to purchase a home with with a rent to own scenario, but understand the road ahead of you.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Rent To Own

The Advantages Of Renting A Home With An Option To Buy

  • Secure A Purchase Price-  Renting to own a home allows you to secure a purchase price.  If prices rise, great! If prices fall then you have the option to back out.
  • Test Drive The Home: Buying a home through a rent to own contract allows you to test drive a home.  Not only do you have time to see if the home is a good fit, but you also get a chance to find out if the neighborhood and the surrounding are right for your family.  This can be a good option for relo’s who know nothing about the area.
  • Move less: A home that is rent to own is great for a buyer who is committed to purchasing and wants to set roots in a community.  The rental period in a rent to own contract allows a buyer the time to pull the purchase together.
  • Build equity: Often there is a premium paid in a rent to own contract. The premium often goes toward the purchase price which creates automatic savings to go towards a downpayment. 

The Disadvantages Of Renting A Home With An Option To Buy

Usually there are many downsides to getting into a rent to own contract.  All of the rent to own contracts I have seen benefit the seller and put the buyer at risk of losing a serious amount of money if they don’t perform on the option to buy.

  • Your Option Premium Is Wasted. Yep,  if you decide not to close or can’t close your option fee is non-refundable.  Your landlord received market rent and then some.
  • You’re Locked Into A Purchase Price. This can go either way for you, home prices in your area can go up or down.  But, it is very hard to predict where home prices will be two or three years from now. 
  • It May Benefit The Seller More Than You.  Think about why the seller is willing to get into a lease to own contract.  They could just sell it today and be done with it.  In my experience, they can’t sell their home for what they want and they are leveraging your poor financial situation.
  • Rent to own contracts are very seller-weighted Rent to own homes attract disadvantaged buyers that can’t secure a mortgage right now.   They have no other option to buy. It puts the seller in an advantageous position.
  • You will be responsible for all the maintenance Unlike a rental the thought is that you are the one that benefits from repairs in the future and you are responsible.  And, if you don’t exercise your purchase options you leave all the repairs and upgrades for the landlord.
  • You still have the lease terms to abide by Until you purchase the property you have the terms of the lease to abide by. If you violate the terms of the lease then the option is considered null and void and you will be asked to leave or evicted.
  • Limited pool of homes to choose from When it comes time to look for a home the supply of rent to own homes will be almost non-existent.   It will limit your choices and your negotiating position.

Rent To Own I sputting The horse before the cart

The Devil Is In The Details Of The Rent To Own Contract

Everything in a rent own contract is negotiable.  Do not get involved in a contract to purchase a rent to own house without the contract being a win-win for both buyer and seller.  Here are a few points to consider when a contract on a lease-to-own option is drawn up.

  1. Hire an attorney.  Have an attorney review the rent to own contract so that he can spell out the downsides for you and possibly negotiate better terms. Local attorney Rick Carter of Carter Law points out there are many grey areas that can arise in a rent to own contract.  There needs to be many specifics spelled out to protect the renter/buyer.
  2. Do a Home Inspection.  A home inspector will point out current deficiencies in the home as well as short-term maintenance that could be around the corner.  Negotiate any home repairs just like you do with a purchase.  You expect a house to be delivered safe, healthy and with all systems and structures functioning and serviceable.
  3. Get an appraisal.  An appraisal will confirm that you are paying a fair market price for the house.  Just like when a bank finances a mortgage they confirm the value with an appraisal.  If the home does not appraise for the purchase price you should consider walking away.  I would suggest two appraisals, one when you sign the rent to own contract and make the option contingent on the property appraising at or above the purchase price.  And,when you exercise the option to buy.
  4. Make sure that whatever is preventing you from buying today will be corrected when the option to buy comes around.  Talk to your credit repair people or your mortgage broker.  You will need to be diligent to correct the problem.  And, make sure you can deliver when the time comes.
  5. Understand the downside of the contract you are entering into.  Unfortunately, there are going to be downsides for a buyer in a rent to own contract.  Make sure you can live with those downsides.

Find Rent To Own Homes in Massachusetts

Finding affordable homes for rent to own can be tough. Rent to own homes in Massachusetts are a little hard to find, but other parts of the country may have more rent to own homes available.

There are companies that may purchase a home and set you up with a rent to own contract with ahouse of your liking. Especially in hot markets like you find in the Greater Boston area of Massachusetts rent to own homes will be difficult to find.  A seller can easily sell a home without the hassle of rent to own.

  • Network-  Talk to friends and family about your desire to find a rent to own home.  They may know a landlord/seller that may consider that option.
  • Have your agent reach out to other agents– A real estate agent can quickly blast out they are seeking a rent to own situation for a buyer.  While most homes listed in the MLS are sellers that just want to sell, there might be a seller who has struggled to sell their home and would consider it as an option.
  • Hit Up For Sale By Owners- You may have a better chance of working with a home that is being sold as a for sale by owner. 
  • Talk to landlords-  A landlord that has been considering selling but isn’t fully committed might just consider a lease with an option to buy.
  • Do a google search and look use the term “rent to own homes near me” and see what comes up.

Is Buying A Rent To Own Home A Good Idea?

Rent-to-own homes have the potential to be terrible investments in my opinion.

It has both advantages and drawbacks. But the disadvantages, which can be many, may outweigh the benefits of purchasing a house in this manner.

Many contracts that are presented by the seller advantages the seller.  The consequence is that you will spend a lot of money and not have anything to show for it at the end of the day.  Make sure you negotiate the best possible terms and you fully understand how and why you could possibly lose all you money that you have paid towards the purchase and any maintenance costs.

Definitely consult an attorney when it comes time to review and sign a rent to own contract.

As far as saving for a down payment?  Just take a savings account and add 20% of your rent into that account every month. That is what you are doing anyway with a rent to own!  You can buy a house for as little as 3-5% down with very competitive interest rates.  Also, explore down payment assistance programs in your area.

A $300,000 home the downpayment can be as little as $9,000 to $15,000.  There are still some No Money Down Loan Programs available but are not available to a large pool of buyers.

If you want to explore financing options or work on your credit give me a call, I will set you up with the right professionals to get you buying in no time.

Other Related Real Estate Resources:

This article about Is Rent to Own A good Way to Purchase a House? is written by Kevin Vitali of EXIT Realty a Massachusetts REALTOR. Need help buying or selling a home? Give me a call at 978-360-0422 or email me at kevin@kevinvitali.com

Real Estate Services in the following areas: Northeast Massachusetts, Merrimack Valley, North Shore and Metrowest. Including the following communities and the surrounding area- Amesbury, Andover, Billerica, Burlington, Chelmsford, Dracut, Groveland, Haverhill, Lowell, Melrose, Merrimac, Methuen, Middleton, North Andover, North Reading, Reading, Stoneham, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Wakefield, Wilmington, Westfor


  1. Great Article but I use the term, “LEASE, WILL BUY,” to protect my seller/landlord clients. None of this “with option” to purchase. This solidifies the deposit fee and the “overage” amount the buyer/renter pays on a monthly basis should they “back out” on the agreement as per the terms of the agreement. Absolutelt, an agent should NOT play lawyer here. An ACTUALReal Estate attorney needs to draw up tne P&S.

    • Call it what you will but the renter is paying a premium for the option to buy. If the dont they are certainly penalized. As with any contract an attorney should always review.

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