Is Rent to Own a good idea?

Rent to Own – Good Idea or Not?

Rent to own sounds like a really good idea until you start asking questions.

I get this question all the time and have never really had a discussion about it, until today. Let me start by saying that i’m not a huge fan.

I want to get that out of the way so that you understand that this article is only my opinion, and I am going to focus on the reasons why I’m not a fan of rent to own homes.


5 Reasons I Don’t Like Rent/Lease to Own

1. This scenario is “sold” to folks that cannot qualify for home loan financing right now.  Paying rent to someone under the pretense that you will have the option to buy this home in a few years will DOES NOT help you to qualify for home loan financing.  To me, this is a predatory tactic that preys on people’s desire to own a home when they can’t afford it at this time.

2. Lender guidelines are going to be extremely critical of a lease to own or rent to own down payment arrangement.  The Lender may not accept the down payment source from the seller unless it meets strict verification guidelines.

3. In order for you to “save” money to be applied toward the down payment, you are required to pay higher than market rents – the excess is then applied toward your down payment savings account – make sense?

4. An “option” means that you pay a premium for the right to buy the home at a future date at terms that are negotiated at the time you sign the lease.  This is a detailed legal agreement that requires that you fully understand the future ramifications of such an agreement.  After the honey moon period ends, and you are now in a 2 to 3 year lease at above market rents, what if you don’t like the neighborhood?  What if you don’t like the house?

5. Finally, what if the seller loses the home?  This is something that I’ve actually seen.  The “seller” is upside down on the home, offers a lease to own, can’t keep up with the payments then loses the home to short sale or foreclosure.

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Too Much Risk?

If you are not in a position to buy a home now, do not enter into a high rent situation.

Forget all that.  Save your money on your own.  Fix your credit.  You can start searching for your dream home once you are able to qualify for a home loan.

I invite anyone with a contradictory argument why lease to own is a good idea to challenge my beliefs here.  I’m not saying I’m right about this, I’m just opinionated 🙂

About the Author

Scott Schang

A 20+ year veteran of the Mortgage and Real Estate industry, I am passionate about educating and empowering consumers. I have been writing about consumer protection issues and making sense of complicated real estate and mortgage topics on this website since 2007

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  • Sandyer52 says:

    Need advise scott…
    I am looking at a townhouse this weekend…my credit is poor, but I can still afford a downpayment…however, my concern is that there are other fees associated with buying a home…closing costs, inspection,etc…does the inspections also apply to townhouses? although I am purchasing on my own, my 2 older sons work and would be living with me and participating in paying some expenses…what is your thought on this? or would rent to own work for me?

  • homeowner says:

    ScottSchang homeowner Thank you so much!!

  • ScottSchang says:

    homeowner ScottSchang the terms of your rental agreement would dictate whether or not he can sell the home (with appropriate notice).  I totally understand where you’re coming from.
    I also just noticed I didn’t address and important part of this – paying above market rents.  This is only a concern is the rental agreement states that a portion of your rent will be applied toward the “down payment” on the home.
    As a lender, the only way we can use this “down payment” is if you can show that you were paying above market rents, with the difference being applied toward the purchase price of the home.
    If you’re sure about this home, I think you should probably at least speak to a lender to determine your options.  The job shouldn’t be a problem, unless most of your income is from commissions, then it might be a challenge.

  • homeowner says:

    ScottSchang homeowner It’s the same line of work and same industry. I just realized I was being way underpaid and found a new job based in an area with a higher standard of living, so it pays quite a bit more. Basically, I don’t think the stability of the job is an issue, thankfully 🙂
    I don’t really trust the owner since we had discussed renting, but he was expecting us to allow him to keep the home on the market while we rent…is that typical? That last thing I want is to move in, and have him turn around and sell it while we’ve only been living there 2 months! Or, can we lock him into maybe a 2 year lease without allowing him to sell during that time? I agree – I’d much rather not lease to own, but I was beginning to think that was our only option. If we could sign a two year lease without allowing him to sell the home during that time, I think that would be ideal.
    And thank you for the advice to hire a home inspector. I’m not sure we would have done that otherwise.

  • ScottSchang says:

    homeowner when you say you haven’t been at the job long enough, are you in the same line of work, or same industry?  You should only need a minimum of 3.5% down payment, so that shouldn’t be holding you up for too long.
    If the owner is willing, maybe just rent the home with an option to buy the home in a year or two.   My concern would only be that you do not pay more than market rents while you’re determining if this is really the home you want to own.  It’s fairly unusual that a good home would be on the market for so long.
    If you do decide to enter into an option – I would hire a home inspector to make sure there isn’t anything that you’re not seeing that would affect the value, or ability to lend on this home.
    You certainly do not want to be in a situation where the property will not qualify for financing in the future.
    Hope this helps?

  • homeowner says:

    What about this situation?
    The owner has paid off the entire home and is retired living in FL, so the house has been vacant for 1.5 yrs up in MD. A few months ago, I got a much higher paying job (65% increase), but we haven’t had time to build savings for a large down payment since I haven’t been in the job long enough. We have 4 kids and are in desperate need of a larger home NOW rather than 3 or 4 years from now. We also need stability, so simply renting is not an option. This particular house is PERFECT, and it has gone down in price since it’s been vacant all this time. We’ve looked for homes for years and this area, and we haven’t found one we like this much.
    We have enough $$ to save up to 20% down payment on top of what we would pay for rent over the next 3 or 4 years – the issue is, I haven’t been in my job long enough to qualify for this mortgage, and we certainly haven’t had the time to save for the down payment. Might a lease to own work in this situation? Or do you still suggest just wait it out another several years?
    Also, when you say you pay more than market rent — how much more? Suppose the rent is $3500 / month? What would it likely be if it were rent to own? I hadn’t realized the rent would be more, which may make all the difference anyway.

  • Nicole says:

    So how do you feel about just renting a home? My fiancee and I currently rent a house, but like you mentioned, we realized we do not like the neighborhood or location. We have 3 dogs and moving back into an apartment is something we would like to avoid at all costs. I don’t think we’re ready to make the leap into buying a home yet either. What are your thoughts on moving into another rental house?

    • Scott Schang says:

      Absolutely Nicole, especially if you have 3 dogs 🙂 Dogs don’t like apartments much! There are a couple of things to be aware of when renting a home in today’s market.

      1. Don’t rent off of Craig’s list! there are a lot of scams out there where people are collecting deposit checks and “renting out” foreclosed or abandoned homes that they do not own. A real estate office has access to a large inventory of homes for rent. The real estate agent is paid by the home owner so it’s not cost to you to use them.
      2. Look up public records before committing to a lease. You will often find a home owner renting out a home that they are not making payments on the mortgage. The reason this has worked in the past is that it sometimes takes the banks years to actually foreclose once the loan has been defaulted. By going online to the County Recorder (or checking with a local real estate agent) you can research the public title to make sure that a Notice of Default (NOD) has not been recorded against the property. It’s not fun to have to move unexpectedly because your rental home is being foreclosed on by the bank.

      Do your due diligence and you will be fine – this is not a reason for not renting a home, it’s just a little added empowerment to make sure you don’t have any surprises!

      Hope this helps

  • Rosemarie Reyes says:

    My house is going to be auctioned this month. I have been a home owner for 17 years and it seem like “RENTING” at this stage was kinda weird. I was looking into rent-to-own because there’s a lot of them to choose from and lot nicer than the regular rentals. Upon reading your article, I am convinced just to rent for now, re-establish my credit and save the extra money for a down payment in the future. Thank you very much!

    • Scott Schang says:

      Hi Rosemarie, thank you for your comment. Just do your homework and make sure you understand the “rules”. I tend to believe that the decision you’re making is a better one than “renting to own” just so that you feel like you’re not just a “renter”. You only have a 3 year wait to buy again using FHA financing. Take your time, save your money, and make sure you’re buying your dream home next time around. Good luck!