Rent-to-own homes can be a good option for aspiring homebuyers who have had trouble saving up for a down payment. This arrangement allows you to rent the home and pay a little extra rent that’s credited toward an eventual down payment that you can use to buy the home at the end of the lease. This makes it easier to save up a down payment while still having a place to live and taking time to get ready to take on a mortgage.
But rent-to-own homes also have downsides, such as an option fee you’ll have to pay upfront. Plus, it’s not always easy to find rent-to-own homes.
“In general, rent-to-own agreements offer tenants the opportunity to lock in a purchase price for the property and build up equity towards the purchase while renting,” says Adie Kriegstein, a real estate agent and founder of the NYC Experience Team at Compass in New York. “However, they also come with risks and complexities, such as the possibility of losing the option fee and not being able to secure financing to buy the property at the end of the rental term.”
Advantages of Rent-to-Own Homes
Here’s a look at the benefits of rent-to-own homes:
- You can save for a down payment over time. If you’ve been having trouble saving for a down payment, a rent-to-own contract lets you do so while paying rent.
- You can save money on repairs. With rent-to-own, the tenant and landlord typically split repair costs. It’s also common for the tenant to handle small repairs, while the landlord pays for the big ones.
- You have time to build credit. If your credit needs a boost — or you have no credit — a rent-to-own arrangement can help you build a credit history and raise your credit score, which can make it easier to get a mortgage and a lower interest rate when it’s time to buy.
- You can decide later whether to buy. With lease-option contracts, you don’t have to decide to buy the home until the rental term ends. If you change your mind, you can just walk away.
Disadvantages of Rent-to-Own Homes
It’s also important to keep in mind the drawbacks of rent-to-own homes, which include:
- They are more expensive. Rent-to-own homes often have a higher price tag than other homes.
- You have to pay an option fee. Even though the option fee will be credited to your down payment if you buy the home, it’s still an upfront cost.
- You lose the money you saved if you don’t buy. If you decide against buying the home, you typically will lose your option fee and the amount that’s been credited toward the down payment.
- If you can’t secure financing, you might not be able to buy. If you fail to qualify for a mortgage at the end of your lease term, it will jeopardize your ability to buy the home and likely cost you money.
Pros vs. Cons of Rent-to-Own
Here’s another way to weigh the upsides and downsides of a rent-to-own home arrangement:
Rent-to-Own Pros and Cons
|More time to save for a down payment.||Higher cost.|
|Allows you to build credit.||You lose the money you saved if you choose not to buy.|
|Save money on repairs.||You’ll pay an option fee.|
|Flexibility to purchase or pass at the end of your term.||You won’t be able to buy the home if you can’t get a loan at the end of the lease term.|
Rent-to-Own vs. Mortgage
If you’re trying to decide whether you should go with a rent-to-own home or stick to a traditional mortgage, here are some factors to consider:
Rent-to-Own vs. Traditional Mortgage
|Higher overall cost.||Lower overall cost.|
|You’ll have to pay an option fee.||No option fee.|
|You get to live in the home while you save up for a down payment.||You can’t live in the house until you can afford a down payment and closing costs.|
|You have more time to save up a bigger down payment, which can get you a lower mortgage interest rate.||You may not be able to make as big of a down payment, which could result in a higher mortgage interest rate.|
|You’ll also have time to build credit, which can get you a lower interest rate.||More available options.|
Rent-to-Own and Your Credit
A rent-to-own home can be a good option for prospective homebuyers who don’t have good credit — or any credit at all. After all, your credit score is a major factor that mortgage lenders consider when deciding the interest rate they’ll charge you for a loan, which in turn affects how much you pay each month and overall for your mortgage.
Rent-to-own homes give you more time to increase your credit score, which can save you money down the line. To get those benefits, you’ll need to pay your rent and other bills on time each month. It also can help for you to improve your credit score by paying down your existing debt and keeping your credit utilization ratio low.
3 Tips for a Successful Rent-to-Own Experience
Here are some tips on how to have a positive rent-to-own experience.
1. Do your research
Before signing a rent-to-own agreement, make sure you do your research on the home, the seller, and the contract. Be sure you understand how and when the purchase price of the home will be determined. Also, confirm the timeline for the transition, as well as the rental price and option fee amounts.
2. Get a professional inspection
When you buy a home, you usually order a home inspection to learn the condition of the home and to identify any flaws, damage, or safety hazards. You also should order a home inspection before you enter into a rent-to-own agreement. Even if you don’t end up buying the home, it’s wise to know exactly what you’re getting into before you commit to a long-term deal.
3. Consult with a real estate attorney
It’s always advisable to have a lawyer review a contract before you sign it. In addition to explaining all the legal lingo, an attorney can help you confirm the legality of the contract and make sure that you’re getting a fair deal.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the pros and cons of rent-to-own homes.