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Rent To Own Homes: How to Profit from a Lease Purchase

by Brandon Turner on January 6, 2013 · 42 comments

  
Rent to Own Homes

What is your market like?

In some parts of the country – homes are selling like hotcakes and multiple offers that are above the asking price are common. However, for most of the nation, this is simply not the case. Selling a home can be difficult and time consuming, costing the seller incredible amounts of time and stress. This article is going to look at a creative way to sell a house for as much as you want without any added costs or stress: the rent to own home ownership strategy.

Why Would Tenants Rent to Own a Home?

Sally and John are a hardworking, newly married couple just starting their lives together. Sally just started work as an independent makeup sales consultant and John as a foreman at a local home construction company. The couple understands the enormous benefit to buying in today’s rock-bottom market (low prices, low fixed interest rates) and want to buy as soon as possible. However, despite having decent credit, they do not have the down payment required to buy a house. Additionally, Sally’s self-employment income can’t yet be counted toward the minimum required income. How can you, as an investor, create a win-win to help the young couple get into a dream home and make your investing easier and more profitable?

You guessed it: A rent-to-own home ownership strategy.

Rent to Own Homes: Definition

A rent-to-own strategy, also known as a “lease option” or “lease purchase” involves leasing out a home to tenants with a legal agreement allowing the tenants the exclusive right to buy the home within a certain time period. In other words, Sally and John can move into the home, pay monthly rent, and buy the home at some point in the near future.

This process allows the tenants time to save up the required down payment, build their credit, establish longer job history, or repair whatever is making it difficult to obtain a mortgage. In the story of Sally and John above, the young couple could use a lease option to move into their dream house (the house you are trying to sell) and give them time to save enough down payment to buy the home with a typical down payment.

How do Rent to Own Homes Work?

The process for finding great tenants is similar to any other rental property, including the important of advertising correctly and screening properly. For more information on finding, screening, and renting to quality tenants, see How to Rent Your House: The Definitive Step by Step Guide

After an acceptable tenant is found, the seller will sign the lease with the tenant, as well as the “option agreement.” Some landlords choose to use just one document for this (a lease purchase contract) while others use two separate documents (a normal lease plus a separate “option agreement.) Check with an attorney to see which is the best route for you to take.

Whether you use one document or two, the rent-to-own agreement essential states that you, the seller, cannot sell the property to anyone else within a specified time frame. This time frame can be whatever you agree upon, but typically term lengths are one to three years. The eventual purchase price is agreed upon at this point as well, allowing the tenant to “lock in” their purchase price and setting the sales price for the seller. The agreement also states the specific rules that the tenant will need to adhere to, as well as the responsibilities of both parties. Typically in a rent-to-own situation, the landlord will make repairs up to a certain dollar amount the responsibility of the tenant, but again, this is up to you to decide on.

For a great article on what to include in your rent to own agreement, see “The 10 Documents You Need for Your Lease Option Deals.

The Rent to Own Option Fee

Screenshot 1:5:13 6:51 PM When a tenant signs the lease and option agreements, they will also be required to pay the rent, the security deposit, AND the “Option Fee.” The Option Fee is an upfront down payment found in most rent-to-own home ownership programs. By paying this fee, the tenant is essentially paying for the right of exclusivity on the home, so only they can buy the home and the seller cannot sell to anyone else. This is what separates a rent to own home from a typical rental home. The amount you charge can be whatever you can reasonably get, but typically is between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on the value of the home. This fee is nonrefundable but will be later applied toward the tenants down payment when they are ready to get their mortgage.

Additionally, a rent to own home ownership program typically will set aside costs per month from the rent to be applied toward the future down payment as well. For example, if tenants Sally and John pay $1000 per month, the seller (you) might want to agree to apply $100 or $200 per month toward that future down payment. If the tenants never end up buying the property – then that extra money each month is forfeited to the seller, along with the option fee discussed in the previous paragraph. It may be wise to add wording in the rental agreement that specifies that this monthly payment is only applicable for on-time payments, giving incentive for the tenant to pay on time.

Seller Benefits to a Rent to Own Home Ownership Program

  • Tenants Do The Repairs

    As stated earlier, with rent to own homes you have the ability to require minor maintenance repairs to be the responsibility of the tenant. After all, they plan on owning this home someday, so this added responsibility will prepare them for that day. However, keep in mind that by shifting responsibility over to the tenant – many repairs may not be fixed or fixed properly.

  • Rent to Own Tenants Treat Houses Better

    While not always 100% true, tenants who live in a home under the assumption they will soon own the home will treat the home with more care than they would a typical rental. This might include higher craftsmanship in repairs, better cleaning, and more responsible choices (removing shoes on carpet, no drinks in the living room, etc.)

  • Incentive for Responsible Payments

    Because the tenant paid a fairly hefty “option fee” to move in and has been accumulating equity each month when part of their rent is being saved for help with their future down payment, the tenant has extra incentive for paying rent on time and eventually buying the home. This typically will translate to more responsibility in performing properly.

  • No Agent Commission Upon Sale

    Normally when you sell a house, it can cost 6% or more for the real estate agent fees. When you find the buyer yourself, through a rent to own home ownership strategy, you are able to keep that 6%. This is true unless you find your tenant through a real estate agent, in which case you may need to pay.

  • Less Turnover and Turnover Costs

    A Rent to Own tenant has a different mindset than a typical tenant: they want to be buyers. This means they are far less likely to quickly move away – giving you less vacancy costs. Additionally, if the tenant does move away, you have a security deposit as well as the “option fee” they paid at the beginning – so you are still in the positive.

  • Possible Higher Sales Price

    When you sell to a rent to own buyer, they typically are less concerned with achieving the rock bottom prices that many buyers seek today. For those looking for a rent to own house, the price is far less important than the terms you can offer.

  • Rent-to-Own: The Ultimate Win Win

    Rent to OwnThe rent-to-own strategy’s strongest benefit is in the ability to structure the ultimate win-win for the seller. The seller is able to lock in a sales price, without real estate fees, at the highest reasonable price. If the tenant ends up buying the home: the seller wins, with the sale. If the tenant does not buy the home and moves out – the seller wins also because they get to keep that option fee and re-do the rent-to-own program with another tenant. If the house is trashed – again, the tenants option fee should cover any damages. All in all – there are far less risks for a seller using a rent-to-own strategy to sell a house.

    What do you think? Have you used a rent-to-own strategy? How did it work out?
    Or have you thought about it but never tried? What’s been holding you back? Leave me a comment below and lets chat.

    Photo: Krystian Olszanski and Christoffer

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    { 42 comments… read them below or add one }

    Paul Beauchemin January 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    I’ve used the rent to own option for years. Its the only model that has consistently worked for me. Tried flipping, but holding costs were always killing me. Also tried buying duplexes and mulit-units but the tenants always seemed to trash the properties.

    Interestingly, I’ve never had anyone follow through and actually buy the houses, but the tenants always seemed satisfied. And the quality of the tenants is definitely higher

    Reply

    Melodee Lucido January 6, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Then it was still a happy win for everyone. People like options and the t/b’s you had exercised their option to not buy but got a wonderful empowering experience through dealing with you. Hope they wrote a nice reference letter for you.

    Reply

    Abdul Rasheed October 24, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Melodee: What is t/b?

    Reply

    Abdul Rasheed October 24, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I think I got it. I guess it is for tenant-buyer?

    Reply

    Karen Rittenhouse January 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Hi Brandon:

    As with all things real estate, find a local real estate attorney to guide you in this process. Here in North Carolina, eviction is handled differently for rent-to-own. They cannot be handled in Magistrate Court, like a normal eviction, but are kicked up to District Court and are more like a foreclosure (though not a foreclosure), because North Carolina sees the rent-to-own “tenant” as having an equitable interest in the property.

    Also, in order for a lender to accept their monthly credits toward purchase, the monthly amount that you are crediting to their purchase for on-time payments must be above the “average” rental price for that market. In one of our early rent-to-owns, we were charging normal rent but giving monthly credit because, as you pointed out could happen, they were paying full retail at purchase. The bank looked into local rental pricing and would not accept that the buyer had any accumulated credits, as they were not paying higher than “normal” rent. I’m not sure how banks have the time to be this picky… but just something to be aware of with rent-to-own.

    Thanks for your post.

    Reply

    Brian Gibbons January 7, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Point 1, every state is different. Especially TX, and LA. See John Jackson for Texas Lease Options. LA has french cajun law. Close in an attorney’s office.

    Point 2. Get a Market Rent Survey from a licensed RE Agent in WRITING and charge market rent plus an additional option payment to be subtracted from the agreed up purchase price. In an uncertain market, you can tie the strike price to a new appraisal, and specify the appraisal company.

    Nice points, Karen!

    Reply

    Melodee Lucido January 6, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks for this article Brandon. I love l/o’s. I find it easier to bring true value to all parties with this method. In the course of marketing tho I always find a wholesale deal in the mix which makes it fun and interesting.

    I look forward to reading more of your articles :>

    Reply

    Dennis January 6, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Great concept on the surface, but I have never had a tenant follow through.
    This is not to say the experience was not still profitable, as the tenant kept the place nice, paid on time each month making the 4 year stay a delight for me. In the end the tenant had built up a sizable down payment credit as the market rent had been increased $100 with a $200 credit towards the down payment if she exercised her option to buy. The option included a renewal fee of $900 each year.

    In the end she was laid off, but found a new job a few States away and needed to rent elsewhere. The fee to purchase the option was the equivalent of 3 months rent, leaving her with no funds to move to the new location. Because I had made an omission on the original option paperwork (it was transferable) I offered to buy the option back as a means to transfer money to her to move into the next house. I thought this a win win as one of her not so nice friends wanted her to transfer the option to him for free.

    I was able to convince the this young lady that her friend was probably going to use the option to extort money from me or as a means to occupy the property. This fellow had just enough money to buy a pack of smokes. Either way if he moved in she would not get a dime, and I would move to evict her and all others.

    She did the smart thing, as will I in making future options non transferable, or transferable upon my approval that will include a fee.

    I am thinking the best way to sell a property to a tenant is via a land contract, tenants would pay a fixed monthly payment for a fixed number of payments for the deed. Just like they buy a car.

    Reply

    Brian Gibbons January 7, 2013 at 10:33 am

    CFDs, AFDs, and LCs are all nice vehicles if the state statutes are good to repossess. Some state statutes need to foreclose, some are simple evictions if there are low equity positions. See your local REIA for an attorney recommendation.

    There is a hybrid of a CFD and a LO I use called a Contract for Option to Purchase (CFO) and a lease.

    - They lease and pay consideration for the CFO contract.
    - They finish the lease then they get the option,
    - no equitable interest until they finish the lease and receive the option
    - option can be placed in escrow
    - you can evict easily.

    Reply

    kyle hipp January 6, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Another informative article Brandon. As I move into more single family homes this is an option that will be more usable for me. The only question I have is you mentioned that in a worst case scenerio and the tenant/buyer trashes the place then the option funds can offset this. Just for clarification, the seller/landlord can still file suit for damages just as in a normal lease. I would guess there might be a difference between lease option and a rent-to-own, as the equitable title could be construed stronger in a rent to own setup compared to lease option

    Thanks again.

    Kyle

    Reply

    Brian Gibbons January 7, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Take a note for option money. Get a total of 3% minimum. Take a note for some down, some every pay period. Get security if you can.

    Condition the tenant buyer that getting the mortgage is your #1 concern, working on their credit, getting their Debt to Earnings ratio down, etc.

    There is a great FICO coaching service. Envision Financial Solutions in TX, 817 605 9545. If they do not get the mortgage, you lose face as a REI in R2Own,

    IMHO You will never get damage if they have skin in the game and tight paperwork, which includes signing in an attorney’s office.

    Reply

    Dennis January 6, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Rent to Own is the blue collar speak, Lease Option is white collar terminology.
    The nuts and bolts of the agreement are exactly the same, kind of like potato, patato, tomato, tamato. :)

    Reply

    kyle hipp January 7, 2013 at 4:51 am

    Thanks Dennis, I did more research on the topic and on correcting the terminology. I should have said lease/option compared to lease/purchase. As another poster stated and the subtle differences between purchase and option. In the end, I guess it depends on state law and court precedent.

    Reply

    Brian Gibbons January 7, 2013 at 10:56 am

    My preference for white collar expensive houses is Lease to Own. Rent to own sounds like a blue collar Rent A Center.

    I’ve been doing LOs since 1986, and try to stay with upper 25% home values, and I work with no equity houses bought in 2006 – 2008. People are scared to rent expensive houses. And they do not want to feed the difference between rent and PITI payment.

    They can rent, sell with an agent, or do a Lease to Own, and get their PITI payment paid, which is usually more than market rent.

    An $800K house in Los Angeles or San Francisco has a market rent of $3k, and PITI over $6K.

    You can structure it so $3K is rent, and an additional $3K in tax deferred option money (totaling $6K).

    The trick is to let the Tenant Buyer know that “if they pay as agreed, the terms will be extended if they need more time to get the home mortgage.” Then they do not mind paying $6K a month, with $3K a month paid to the option contract.

    Reply

    Lee Carney January 6, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    I concur with most of your comments. I am a private lender in the Pacific NW and I can say from personal experience, my borrower’s love this strategy. Borrowers get a loan from my company, obtain a nice rent payment which covers my interest payment, get a large lease option consideration, and have a ‘homeowner’ as a renter.

    In case one of my private lending consulting clients must take a property back, I also teach this strategy. I like the private lending side because I make money like a bank. My borrower puts his time and effort into finding the good deal which I take as collateral, he puts his own capital and money into my collateral in the form of improvements, he takes most of the risk, and he pays me a nice interest payment to do it. I have to take the lease optioned property back, I can sell the property lower than he could because my original basis(the loan amount) is lower than his original basis (capital improvements, time, effort, and loan amount) which he has in the deal. Banks have been making money like this for years…now I teach others to do the same.

    Lee Carney

    Reply

    Jerry Kisasonak January 6, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    Great article as always Brandon!

    I am a fan of lease/opts, but as Karen R. mentioned you have to be careful not to get into a situation where you need to foreclose versus evict (I’ve been in this situation).

    In addition to Brandon’s remark of only applying rent credits to on-time rent payments, I also only offer rent credits for the first year, even if it’s a three year agreement. This gives a TB more of an incentive to stay on top of the purchase and less incentive to drag his or her feet. Furthermore, I don’t use the wording “rent credit” in my agreement. I call it an “additional option deposit.” That way, it cannot get confused or misconstrued as being some sort of principle payment / amortization or credit towards some type of note or land contract that doesn’t exist.

    Judges at the Magistrate level will have their eyes glaze over when a TB comes in saying that they have put a deposit down on a house, have built up substantial equity in the property due to rent credits, and have put $X amount of dollars into renovations. I’m not saying that I’ve mastered all these claims, but I know that how I structure my deals now is much better than when I first started with lease/options.

    And by the way, I would always use a lease/option versus a lease/purchase. Many people say there is no difference between the two, but I disagree. A lease/purchase differs from a lease/option because in the former the TB is stating that they are going to buy. It is like saying, “I want to buy this house but due to the immediate circumstances I can’t. I’ll need to rent it until I can.” In other words, the renting is just a means to an end. A lease/option is less certain, stating, “I would like the option to buy this house if I decide in the future I want to.” There is, at least in my opinion, a big difference. One has already decided, and the other wants the option to decide at some future point in time. Given this, I’d prefer to have to evict on a lease/option versus a lease/purchase.

    Reply

    Gloria July 19, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Thank you Jerry for breaking these definitions down for me–I can certainly see the difference between the two.

    Reply

    Abdul Rasheed October 24, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Jerry, why would you prefer lease/option vs lease/purchase? I know the difference, but is why option is preferred?

    Reply

    John Hoening January 7, 2013 at 7:57 am

    Just complete a sub-2 transaction, And found a tenant buyer for 5k dn option fee, and 800 month rent for 24 month lease option, toke over the mortegage at 71k, sold house on L/O for 85k, its was in move in condition and in a very nice location, Have another house for sale at this time, looking for a buyer , and I have another seller I’m meeting with later this week to see if her property is qualified for my program, we only do pretty house,s in nice area’s of town to so to get the best tenant buyer to complete the program, we create a win-win-win for everyone involued, want to do more of these, been doing a lot of whole saling ugly house’s, will still do them, but this rent-own is even better, JH

    Reply

    Lee Carney January 7, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Good Job John H. That’s how it is done – make money on a win/win. Keep doing that and we will read you name in FORBES. :-)

    Lee Carney

    Reply

    Michael January 7, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Good post Brandon
    I currently have some lease options on single family homes & they are great just like everything you described. Has anyone experienced a situation where you agreed to a lease option price with your tenant/buyer in one year & years later when it came to exercise their option they could not get the financing for the agreed price because the market had continued to decline. For example the agreed price is $210,000 but now that same house comps out at $180,000 & they only have a $5,000 option down payment. If anyone has had this happen or anticipates this I would like to get your comments.

    Reply

    Jerry Kisasonak January 8, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    I’ve heard of this Mike and as far as I know the only real way to get the thing to close is to go back to the seller and renegotiate the sales price. This is the thing with lease/opts: If the market goes up and the value of the house increases, you get to buy the house below market value. If the value of the house drops, you can walk.

    Given your numbers, I don’t know anyone who would even want to close on a house that was $30K over market value. Why would you pay $210K when you could go down the street and get one for $180K? It would be most reasonable to walk from the $5K deposit and save yourself $25K.

    Reply

    Dennis January 7, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Like I said above I love these but never had one work out. The reason we have now is the onerous paperwork required by lenders today. On a recent refinance with 50% equity still in the property and me with a 835 credit score I just about had to give a DNA sample, and the loan is still in the hands of the UW.

    I really don’t know why I even bothered as I could have scored a private loan in a second with no inspection or paperwork on my part. But I might as well solder on to the end.

    I am not sure exactly how a tenant buyer is going to get a loan without good credit and solid employment. The only possible way is via a long term private loan, something most private money lenders do not want to offer.

    Reply

    Linda Adams January 9, 2013 at 10:25 am

    how do you address the tenent`s need to improve their Credit over time to qualify for a loan

    Reply

    Brandon Turner January 9, 2013 at 11:37 am

    I think it comes down to education and accountability. A lot of people simply don’t know how to improve their credit (you mean I can’t open up a new credit card at every department store!?) and those that do usually don’t have the accountability in place to deal with it.

    While I’ve never done this – I think a good strategy would be to get people connected with a local mortgage broker who would meet monthly with them to review their finances and credit situation until they could get the loan. It’s a bit of work for the mortgage guy – but an hour a month for 6 months or so might be a great investment for a future loan and a good lead.

    Reply

    Brian Gibbons January 9, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    National Articles here about lease purchase.

    From Forbes, NY Times, etc.

    https://www.box.com/s/of6ypsjv4hnphtcqtifx

    Let me know if the downloads are ok.

    Brian

    Reply

    george January 9, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    question…. if you do not own the hole outright (still paying mortgage), can you exercise the “rent to own” option?

    Reply

    Lee July 7, 2013 at 7:36 am

    I’m interested in starting in lease purchasing. I’d like to have that be a core part of my business. However, I plan to move out of the state within the next year. How can I best be successful managing rent to owns after I leave the state and I’m still in the sandwich?

    Thanks for your help everyone!!

    Reply

    Brian Gibbons July 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Hi Lee,

    Rent to owns can be managed by a property manager if you are out of town (in a sandwich).

    But I would say to get them into a Credit Improvement Program to motivate them to follow through in getting the mortgage and actually buying. See UpgradeMyCredit.com

    Reply

    Gloria July 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Wonderful article Brandon! I’ve learned a lot not just from the article but from the comments made by other investors. Thanks!

    Reply

    Hugh Hartwig July 20, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    I am curious how people are acquiring the properties that they lease option/purchase. Lee Carney mentioned providing loans to investors who lease option, and John Hoening did a subject-to. Is anyone else doing something different?

    Reply

    Eleanor Claphum September 17, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Rent to own option is actually a very good option for people with less earning. I have seen many of my friends owning their dream house with much financial burden and stress. Great post.

    Reply

    Abdul Rasheed October 24, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Great article Brandon, thanks for pointing me to here.

    Reply

    lauren gilbert November 9, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    I am a 25 yr old single mother. we have tons of rent-to-own homes in my area of Indpls IN. I am looking for ways to invest and add to my streams of income. Would I be allowed to do this without actually living in the home & renting it out to tenants of my own? I am not interested in a home for myself. I am only interested in creating additional income for myself. Please respond with clarity!!!

    Reply

    Brandon Turner November 10, 2013 at 8:09 am

    Hey Lauren, it would be possible, as long as the original owner of the property was okay with it. It’s called a Lease Option Sandwich. For a great book on the topic, check out “Making Big Money Investing in Real Estate: Without Tenants, Banks, or Rehab Projects“. I’d also recommend checking out “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Real Estate Investing” for some other great ideas to get started! (It’s free!)http://www.biggerpockets.com/renewsblog/wp-admin/edit-comments.php?p=35422&approved=1#comments-form

    Reply

    Glen March 26, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Brandon,
    Wow, thank you for this very informative article. Just starting out with lease options here in FL after relocating from TX where I was primarily doing Owner Financed / Wrap mortgage deals. But FL laws are better for L/O’s instead. I picked up a few properties in the pass month and talk to a lot of tenant buyers however I was not agreeing to do rent credit or apply option fee towards their down payment when they exercise the option to buy.

    After reading your article and all of the comments I now understand that I should have been offering these things. now I am hopeful I will find tenant buyers & close on the properties I have fort sale.

    Should I call or email the tenant buyers I spoke to that called from the area bandit signs back and let them know that rent credits and option fee will go towards their down-payment when they buy?

    Thanks

    Reply

    Adam H. April 8, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Hi Brandon,

    Quick question… Can you put a refi on a property that you have a rent to own agreement in place already?

    Reply

    Brandon Turner April 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Hey Adam,

    No, you’d have to do a straight out purchase on it.

    Reply

    Brian Gibbons April 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Brandon I’ll try this..

    Quick question… Can you put a refi on a property that you have a rent to own agreement in place already?

    Do you own it? Are you selling on Rent to Own?

    With the permission of the TBer you have renting from sure, if the option is not recorded. Its hard to refi or sell with the option recorded.

    Are you renting it to buy, you are the tenant buyer? You dont own it. No.

    Hope that helps.

    Reply

    Brandon Turner April 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Thanks Brian! Perfect!

    Reply

    Bryce Witherspoon August 12, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Great article! I am looking to structure my first rent to own deal, but it is a bit more complicated as I would like to convert one of my buy and hold duplexes into a rent to own as I am looking for a profitable exit strategy for this one in particular. Does anyone have any advice on structuring a rent to own deal for a duplex in terms of who will be responsible for managing the tenants and repairs in the other rental unit, and the water and gas is in my name as it is not split between the two units, so should this stay in my name? Any tips or links to articles for something like this would be great.

    Reply

    Jerry August 12, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Bryce, just treat the duplex as if you had two tenants in there. The only difference is one tenant has a lease with an option to buy. Stay in control of the other tenant and keep the utilities in your name and pass the expense on to the tenants. If the tenant ends up buying, then they would take over the management and utilities. You’re giving up too much control if you structure it otherwise.

    Reply

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