Rent-to-Own Homes: How the Process Works

Real Estate

Leasing with the Option to Buy

Rent-to-own agreements, also called lease-to-own agreements or lease-options, are traditional leases agreements that also give the tenant an option to purchase the rental property, typically a single-family house, sometime after the beginning of the tenancy. This arrangement has potential financial and other benefits to both landlords and tenants.

Leasing with an option to buy is when a renting tenant signs an agreement with a landlord stating that the tenant can buy the property at the end of a prearranged time period. The owner is obligated to sell at the option price, but the tenant is not obligated to buy. The tenant can buy the property only if the landlord exercises the option.

The option should be recorded with the county clerk to put others on notice of the tenant's rights, thus preventing the seller from selling to another buyer. The lease agreement should have a clause that terminates the option to buy if the tenant in any way violates the lease or gets evicted before closing the agreement to purchase.

Usually, the purchase price is set out in the original lease-option agreement – in other words, the purchase price is set according to today’s market, not in the future when the option may be exercised.

An option to buy doesn’t give the tenant legal title to the real estate. The tenant becomes a purchaser only upon exercise of the option, at which time the landlord-tenant relationship ceases and the option becomes an absolute and binding contract of sale.

A unique feature of the lease-option is the rent credit. The tenant usually pays above-market rent for the property, but a (nonrefundable) portion is credited toward the purchase price if the buyer decides to exercise the purchase option.

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