A rent-to-own agreement allows a homeowner to lease out their property as normal with the added condition that the tenant(s) can purchase the property if they so choose. In a simpler way, the form can be thought of as a residential lease agreement combined with a purchase agreement.
Also known as a:
- “Lease with an option to purchase agreement”
- “Lease to own”
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Table of Contents
- What is a Rent-to-Own Agreement?
- Rent-to-Own Pros & Cons
- Lease-Option vs. Lease-Purchase
- How a Rent-to-Own Works
- What to Include
- How to Write
A rent-to-own agreement is a form that combines leasing and selling into one, allowing a homeowner to rent their property to those that would be interested in buying at a later date. The agreement-type is popular among renters that want to become homeowners but cannot due to inadequate savings or inability to obtain a loan due to a poor credit score.
With the contract, the owner will commonly keep a portion of the monthly rent (known as the “rent premium”) and deposit it into an escrow account that the buyer can contribute towards a down payment in the event they purchase. The buyer(s) may also be required to make an upfront deposit known as the “option fee”. This is typically equivalent to one to five percent (1-5%) of the home’s purchase price. The period in which the buyer(s) can decide to purchase is known as the “option term”, and is negotiated by the parties. If the buyer(s) don’t decide to purchase within the window of the option term, their accumulated rent premium and option fee is kept by the homeowner.
Due to the additional costs involved, a lease-to-own agreement only makes financial sense for renters that intend to purchase the property.
A rent-to-own agreement can serve as a great middle-point between selling and renting a home. However, like anything, they come with a set of benefits and risks that should be well understood prior to entering into the contract.
- Higher sale price – Because of the benefits provided to tenants through the use of a rent to own, sellers often negotiate higher rent payments than if the property were a simple rental.
- Easier to find a buyer – If a property has been sitting on the market for months with no activity, selling it as a lease-purchase opens up the pool of potential buyers to those who wouldn’t be able to qualify for a loan or afford a down payment.
- Trustworthy renter – Renters in a lease-to-own anticipate purchasing the property at the end of the lease. Because of this, they often treat the rental as if it were their own.
- Income – Although the seller won’t be receiving a lump sum of money from selling the home, they can use the rental income to build up the required income for a down payment on another property.
- Tenants with poor credit – Due to lease-option properties being more affordable/preferred by those that don’t have strong credit, sellers should be prepared to lease to tenants in tougher financial situations.
- Property appreciation – In a lease to own, the parties lock-in a future selling price for the home. If the home appreciates faster than expected, the buyer receives a “deal” and the seller misses out.
- Difficult to make a home purchase – By leasing the property instead of selling it, the seller won’t have the cash they would likely need to purchase another home. This point doesn’t apply for those who are affluent and/or own more than one (1) property.
- Uncertainty – Sellers can’t rely on the tenant making a purchase at the end of the lease (unless they decide to use a lease-purchase agreement).
- Secure a price – During negotiation the buyer and seller will agree on a price point for the home. If the buyer locks in a good rate, they can end up buying the property below market value.
- Helps build credit – Renters than can’t qualify for a loan due to poor credit can use a lease-to-own to build their credit until it’s time to purchase.
- Allows buyers to test the property / location – If the buyers aren’t 100% sure if the location/home is right for them, but they want to take a step towards purchasing, they can “test” to see if the spot is right for them.
- Property depreciation – During the course of the lease, the property’s value could fall. Because the purchase price has already been locked-in, the renter can buy at a higher price, or walk away and forfeit the option money that has accumulated.
- Lost option fee & rent premium – If the tenant decides to walk away from purchasing, the portion of rent that has gone towards a down payment (rent premium) and the option fee is kept by the owner. This can amount to thousands of dollars of lost money.
- Utility / repair costs – Because the responsibilities for taking care of the property are typically on the tenant, leasing-to-own can be significantly costlier than just renting.
- Dependent on the owner – If the owner has a mortgage on the property and they stop making payments, they could lose the property. The same applies for property taxes.
While very similar in concept, a “lease option” and a “lease purchase” are both types of rent-to-own contracts that differ in one important factor: the tenant’s obligation. A lease option provides tenants with the option to purchase the residential property at the end of the lease, whereas a lease-purchase binds the seller to purchase the property for a predetermined price. In other words, a lease-option allows a renter (buyer) to back out of the purchase at the end of the lease if they so choose, at the sacrifice of their option fee.
A lease option is the more commonly-used document due to the flexibility it provides the tenant/buyer.
- Step 1 – List the Property
- Step 2 – Negotiate
- Step 3 – Screen the Tenant
- Step 4 – Sign the Lease Option
- Step 5 – Enter Into the Purchase Agreement
- Step 6 – Disclosures + Financing
- Step 7 – Closing
Once a prospective renter has been found, the parties will need to negotiate the terms of the contract. This should be broken down into two (2) areas: information on the lease and the purchase contract.
For the lease section of the agreement, the parties will need to agree on the monthly rent, the duration (length) of the lease, what utilities and services will be paid by the landlord (seller) and tenant(s), and the cost of the security deposit (if required).
The sections regarding the purchase will also need to be negotiated, including the purchase price of the home, what downpayment will be required, the option fee (has to be paid upfront), the term of the option (how long the tenant/buyer can decide to purchase), and what premium will be removed from the rent payments (if any).
If the parties agree to the conditions included, the seller of the property should take the time to thoroughly vet the buyer/tenant. The seller should screen through the applicant’s criminal, credit, and rental history. Additionally, the seller should verify the applicant’s income to ensure they can make rent payments. Although a lower-than-desirable credit score may be expected, the seller should see the applicant doesn’t:
- Have a series of previous evictions;
- Have severe and/or recent criminal convictions;
- Shy away from providing additional information;
- Have one (1) or more poor landlord references; and/or
- Have inadequate income to cover rent.
Sellers can use the following resources for obtaining a background check on an applicant:
To verify an applicant’s income, the seller should request recent bank statements (previous 2-3 months), tax returns, payment record (paystub), and verification from their employer (job role, full-time/part-time, name and contact info of manager, etc.).
Above all, the landlord should take the time to interview the tenant to give them a chance to explain any red flags on their application.
So long the parties agree to everything included in the contract and the landlord approves of the tenant’s application, they can sign the agreement. This can be done electronically with eSign or by printing out the agreement and signing it by hand. After this point, the tenant(s) will lease the property “as normal” until they decide to activate their option to purchase (if desired). If the tenant(s) wish to go ahead with purchasing the home, proceed to the fifth step. Otherwise, the contract will continue as a lease until it’s termination.
If the tenant/buyer(s) intend to purchase the property (known as “exercising their option”), they will need to give the owner a notice of their intent to purchase. Once received, the parties will need to enter into a purchase agreement. This process will be very similar to a standard property sale, with the major differences being that the tenant will have pre-paid an option fee that will be applied towards the home, they will have accumulated an additional sum from the additional rent premiums they made (if applicable), and the purchase price will have been pre-determined.
In order to ensure the closing process goes smoothly, the buyer and/or seller should 1) request a survey of the home to ensure they understand the full extent of the property they are purchasing, 2) schedule an inspection to locate any potential issues with the property, 3) set a closing date, 4) discuss how the property will be paid for (next step), and negotiate any selling conditions.
Depending on the state in which the property is located, they will need to give the buyer disclosures regarding the property. This includes informing the buyer of any issues with the property that may require repair or renovation. Because the buyer will have been living in the property prior to the purchase, the majority of faults they will commonly find on their own. Regardless of the state, all sellers are required by Federal law to provide the buyer with a lead disclosure if the property was built prior to 1978.
Because the buyer will most likely be taking out a mortgage on the property, they will need to have the home appraised. This is paid for by the buyer but is requested by the financer to ensure they can pay off the mortgage by selling the home in the event of a foreclosure.
Here, the buyer and seller will conduct a final walkthrough of the home, the buyer will transfer the funds to the seller (commonly through a wire), any closing costs will be paid, and the seller will sign the deed over to the buyer. The deed should only be signed after the buyer has proved the funds are available.
Although rent to own agreements can be customized to meet the unique needs of a situation, they should cover the following points, at a minimum:
- Duration (rent term) – The length of the lease contract. Typically from one (1) to three (3) years.1
- Option term – The window of time in which the tenant/buyer can decide to purchase the leased property. The option term is typically the length of the lease, although a different option window can be specified in the contract.
- Parties – Names and addresses of the buyer(s) and the seller.
- Security deposit – Will typically be equivalent to one (1) or two (2) months of rent.
- Premises – The full address of the home/property to be leased.
- Rent payments – Should be the same rate that would be charged if the home wasn’t a lease-to-own.
- Purchase price – The dollar ($) amount of what the tenant will pay in the event they decide to purchase.
- Premium credit – The amount of each monthly payment that will serve as a credit to the purchase price. Forfeited if the buyer doesn’t exercise the purchase option.
Step 1 – The Parties
Enter the date in which the contract is being written, followed by the name(s) and address of the landlord/seller(s) and the name(s) of the tenant/buyer(s).
Step 2 – Property
Enter the full address of the rental home. Including the street address, city/town, state, and ZIP code.
Step 3 – Term
The term of the contract is how long the tenant(s) can rightfully live in the rental (regardless if they decide to purchase). Enter the number (#) of months the lease will extend for followed by the starting and end-dates.
Step 4 – Rent
The rent payments are separate from purchasing, and are what the tenant(s) are required to pay on a monthly basis in order to live in the property. Enter:
- Dollar-amount ($) the tenant(s) have to pay per month;
- The date the first rental payment is due’; and
- The day of the month in which each rental payment should be made.
Step 5 – Rent Premium
The rent premium is a portion of the monthly rent (if any) that accrues throughout the lease term. If the tenant/buyer decides to purchase the property, the rent premium is credited towards the purchase price or down payment to the home. Enter the portion of the rent that acts as the premium in the space provided.
Note: This is not an additional amount – the rent entered in Step 4 should include the premium.
Step 6 – Utilities
Lease-to-own agreements typically require tenants to pay for all utilities and maintenance/repairs on the property. If the landlord will be covering any, write them on the two (2) lines provided.
Step 7 – Security Deposit
If the landlord/seller will be requiring the tenant/buyer to pay a security deposit for the rental, specify the amount ($) in the first available space. Then, enter the number (#) of days the landlord has to return the deposit (consult state-specific security deposit laws).
Step 8 – Occupants
If there will be additional occupants in the property aside from the tenant/buyer(s), check the first box and enter the name(s) of all occupants. Otherwise, check the second box and proceed to the next step.
Step 9 – Notices
Specify the addresses in which the landlord/seller and tenant/buyer(s) should be sent any notices. It is VERY important the addresses listed are correct, as the tenant/buyer(s) will send a notice to the written address for exercising their option to purchase in the event they decide to go through with buying the home.
Step 10 – Pets
If the tenant(s) aren’t allowed to have pets in the property, check the first box. If they are allowed to have one (1) or more pets, check the second box and specify the number (#) of pets and the exact types of pets allowed (dogs under 50lbs, cats, fish, hamsters, etc.)
Step 11 – Smoking
Check the box correlating to whether or not the seller will permit the tenant(s) to smoke on or in the property.
Step 12 – Lead-based Paint
If the home was built prior to 1978, check the second box, and ensure the tenant(s) receives the appropriate lead disclosure forms. If the property was built after 1978, check the first box.
Step 13 – Option Term
The option term is the length of time in which the tenant/buyer(s) can decide to purchase the rented home. This is commonly set as the same duration of the lease, although the seller can make the option term any block of time they like. Specify the start and end dates of the term (day, month, and year).
Step 14 – Option Fee
The option fee is what the buyer(s) pay to the seller in exchange for having the right to purchase the rental. The value of the option fee is applied to the purchase price if the tenants go forward with the purchase. The option fee is nonrefundable and kept by the landlord/seller if the tenants do not decide to purchase.
Step 15 – Purchase Price
The purchase price of the property should be carefully determined, as the seller will be obligated to sell the property for the value listed if the buyer(s) decide to exercise the option. If set too low, appreciation can result in the seller losing money.
Step 16 – Included in Purchase
If there are any additional possessions the owner will be included in the purchase price, write them on the three (3) lines provided. If none, leave the field blank.
Step 17 – Governing Law
Enter the name of the state in which the property is located.
Step 18 – Signatures
So long the parties agree to everything included in the contract, they can record their signatures onto the form. This can be done with eSign or by printing the form out and signing it by hand. Leave any fields that don’t apply blank.