The popularity of Rent-to-Own arrangements has grown during the past few years. Because some would-be Santa Barbara home buyers have suffered the direct consequences of the widespread economic downturn and slow recovery, rent-to-own deals can rescue transactions that would have been impossible through regular purchase and mortgage financing arrangements. If a potential buyer’s cash flow seems strong enough to support an eventual purchase, rent-to-own can overcome credit or cash shortfalls.
In a typical rent-to-own deal, the landlord and tenant execute both a lease and a sales contract at the same time. The tenant usually pays an option fee upfront as well as an agreed-upon amount in excess of the rent payment each month. The landlord applies these additional payments toward the tenant's eventual down payment. As a result, the tenant no longer has a feeling that he has nothing to show for his monthly rent payment, and the landlord has current cash flow plus the warm feeling that at a time certain his property sale will be completed. Everybody is delighted.
However, there is always some potential for less than smooth sailing in a rent-to-own deal, and all parties should be clear about what they are.
The primary risk to the tenant/buyer in the kind of rent-to-own structure I have just outlined is the possibility that the tenant might not be able to complete the purchase at the end of the option period. When this happens, it usually results in the tenant's forfeiture of both the option fee and the payments made in excess of the rent amount -- money the tenant could otherwise have saved or used to resolve credit issues.
There are also a number of ways to make a rent-to-own deal more favorable to the tenant. The first is to make the option fee applicable to the down payment if the tenant purchases at the end of the option period. In addition, the contract can allow the tenant to assign the purchase option in the event that he is unable to make the purchase. This way, if his real estate agent can find another buyer, he may recoup some of his investment. Such a contract might also entitle the tenant to a refund of a portion of the value of improvements he may have made in anticipation of purchasing if he is unable to complete the purchase.
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