Owing a home is a big part of the American dream. But not everyone is fortunate enough to become a homeowner due to delimiting factors such as insufficient income, bankruptcy, bad or no credit, loss of employment, etc. For people with such troubles, owning a home is a distant dream and some of these people resign themselves to a lifetime of renting. But such people are not without options. Rent-to-own, which is also known as a lease-purchase option, can be an excellent alternative available to some people who are currently unable to buy a home.
A rent-to-own or lease-purchase option is an agreement between a prospective home buyer and a home seller. The agreement is basically a rental contract with a right to purchase the property after a period of time (usually 1 year). When a home seller offers a lease-purchase option, what they are really offering is the option to rent the house at some monthly rate, and to lock in the sales price of the home now, even though the prospective buyer would not actually purchase the house until a later time (if at all).
Here is a hypothetical example. Let’s say the monthly rent for a home is $1700. Under a lease-purchase option, a prospective buyer would rent the home for the $1700 a month, but would also pay an additional premium (e.g., $200-$300) every month for the option to buy the home after a period of time (usually 1 year). So in this example, the total monthly rent is actually $2000, but $200-$300 of the money will be applied toward buying the house at a later time. In other words, the home seller would apply the $200-$300 extra paid every month toward the prospective buyer’s down payment at the end of the year.
The good news for prospective home buyers is that it allows them to lock in the purchase price of the home now, even though they are not purchasing the home until a later time. The bad news is that if a buyer decides not to purchase the home at the end of lease term, the seller often keeps the premium amount paid over the year, although this is usually a point of negotiation.
Prospective home buyers should know that many of the terms described above are negotiable such as how much the monthly rent will be, how much extra has to be paid every month for the option fee (if any), the length of the lease term, etc. The other issue to consider is if it makes sense to lock in a home purchase price now in markets where real estate prices are still declining.
When compared to renting, a lease-purchase can be an attractive alternative because it gives prospective buyers an opportunity to own a home before they normally would be able to. There are some advantages to a lease-purchase option such as:
1) Low or No Initial Down Payment. Many lease-purchase options do not require an initial down payment.
2) Equity Advantage. At the end of the lease term, the value of a home may have appreciated over time, which benefits the purchaser.
3) Living Experience. Prospective home buyers have the opportunity to try out a home and neighborhood before purchasing the property.
4) Leverage Advantage. With just a small investment, a prospective buyer can control a property; yet still have the option of not buying the home if market conditions don’t warrant it.
Rent-to-own or lease-purchase option can be an effective strategy to home ownership. However, there are both positive and negative aspects to this type of approach (as described above). A good real estate agent can help you navigate the complex world of rent-to-own and lease-purchase option properties.

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