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Inquilinos Ahora, Dueños Después

Renters Now, Homeowners Later 

by Anna Haug

If you can't qualify for a mortgage, you might consider another path to home ownership: renting a house now with the option to buy later. During this lease-option period, you could save for a down payment and repair credit problems that might currently block your mortgage eligibility.

How a Lease Option works

Say the house would sell for $100,000, and your monthly rent is $800. "You could work out an arrangement with the seller," says Wendy Patton, a real estate agent in Clarkston, Mich., and author of "Rent-to-Buy: Your Hands-on Guide to Buy Your Home When Mortgage Lending Is Tight," "so that the $800, or a good portion of it, gets applied every month toward the purchase price. You'll build equity in that home before you even purchase it."

If you are considering this option you need to know what you're getting into and take steps to minimize the risks.

Mortgage in Good Standing

One risk is that the seller might have financial woes that could make your lease option worthless down the line. "As a buyer, you want to make sure the seller is not in foreclosure or upside down," Patton stresses. "I wouldn't touch either with a 10-foot pole. There's too much risk."

Pay to the Lender

Even if the seller is current on the mortgage now, that could change and you could lose what you've invested. Patton recommends setting up the deal so you write your rent check to the seller's lender, not to the seller.

Get to Know the Seller

Before entering into a lease option, learn all you can about the seller. Get a credit report. Ask about reasons for selling. Is it due to a job loss or promotion? If the seller is moving because of buying a new home, is it a move up or down? The answers give clues to the seller's financial situation.


Like a sales contract, a rent-to-own contract triggers disclosure requirements for the seller in some states, says Janet Portman, a real estate attorney, author, and managing editor at Nolo, a publisher of do-it-yourself legal books and software in Berkeley, Calif. The disclosures cover the sorts of things you'd want to know if you were buying the house, such as the age of the roof and the presence of lead paint.

Home Inspection

"You also need to get a professional inspection of the house," Portman says, "just as you would if you were buying." Negotiate with the seller about who will pay for home repairs and maintenance during the rental period.

Selling Price

One of Portman's key cautions in fashioning the lease option is to include a way to determine the ultimate selling price for the house. A solution is to stipulate in your contract that, at the time of sale, the buyer and seller each will pick a broker and those two will determine the sales price.

Everything in Writing

Everything in the lease-option agreement should be in writing. This article covers just a few points to consider in these complex deals. State and local laws vary considerably. Legal help is essential, Portman and Patton advice. Find an attorney who has experience with lease-option arrangements; not all real estate attorneys are familiar with them.

Ready to Buy

Be sure, too, that you'll be ready to buy by the time the lease option expires. Will you qualify for a mortgage? Will you be able to afford all the costs of home ownership, beyond just mortgage payments? Your credit union lender can help you devise a plan so that, when the time comes, you'll be able to answer yes on both counts.

Published 9-20-2012.


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