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For many would-be homebuyers, saving for a down payment is a challenging proposition. Less-than-stellar credit history can create an obstacle to getting a mortgage, making the whole process even more daunting. For a homebuyer in this situation, a rent-to-own arrangement can be an appealing option as a pathway to pursuing homeownership.
So let’s say this sounds like your situation — and you like the idea of rent to own. But you aren’t sure whether such a program exists to help you get your foot in the door — or even how to find a rent-to-own home that works for you.
Well, here’s some good news: there are multiple rent-to-own programs and lease-to-own options available to prospective homeowners. We’ve reviewed a variety of programs and sought advice from an experienced agent to help you understand your options.
Ahead, we compare four of the most reputable rent-to-own programs to help you answer the question, “Is rent to own a good idea?”
Home Partners of America
Through the Home Partners program, prospective rent-to-own homebuyers start by filling out a pre-qualification application. There are certain qualifications like an annual household income of over $40,000, no open Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and no disqualifying criminal history.
If approved, they’ll then be asked to submit a full application and pay the $75 fee. This step includes a soft credit pull, background checks for household members over 18, and reviewing income verification documents.
“Home Partners is affiliated with various brokerages and can get them connected to a Realtor® — I happen to be on their list,” explains Ellen Williams, a top-selling agent who works with 66% more single-family homes than the average agent in Joliet, Illinois. “So after they are approved, I call the client, and we talk about the process, and we go shopping and look for a house they like.”
You can either search for homes on the program’s website or choose from a wide variety of properties in communities that Home Partners serves — as long as they fit the program’s investment criteria and your budget as the home-seeker. These are the criteria for properties within Home Partners’ parameters:
- Homes must be located in approved communities around the country.
- Properties must fall into the categories of single-family homes and fee-simple townhomes.
- They must be traditional sales or for sale by owner (FSBO) homes.
- Homes must be listed at a price point between $250,000 and a metro’s designated maximum purchase price (which Home Partners sets).
- The home must have two or more above-grade bedrooms on a lot of two acres or less.
“Home Partners doesn’t really want to purchase homes that back up to big tension wires, or homes that might be difficult for them to sell in the future,” Williams notes based on her experience working with the company.
When you find a home you love that meets the criteria, your agent will submit it to Home Partners for review. If everything checks out, Home Partners will make an offer to the seller. And if the seller accepts, the company buys the home.
Next, prospective residents must sign a one-year lease for the home as well as a “right to purchase” agreement, similar to a lease purchase option agreement, that gives you the right to buy it later if you want to. You’ll pay a security deposit and the first month’s rent.
Home Partners property management company, Pathlight Property Management, prepares the home for tenants to move in. Residents can purchase the home at any time during the one-year lease, which can be renewed for up to five years (three years in Texas). If you do not renew the lease and don’t choose the ‘rent to buy’ option, you can then move out without penalty.
Unlike other programs on this list, Home Partners of America locks in rents and purchase prices. They offer no hidden fees, non-refundable deposits, or unexpected price increases.
Divvy is currently only buying “Divvy Ready homes” from their preset inventory list. You can browse approved homes in select cities in Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Minnesota, Tennessee, Ohio, Georgia, and Florida.
“This helps us ensure the homes we buy are move-in-ready while giving our customers the best chance of buying their homes back at the end of their lease,” Divvy Homes co-founder and C.E.O. Adena Hefets told HomeLight.
To get started, prospective participants must get prequalified; a painless process that’s free and doesn’t impact your credit score. (Note: Divvy requires a minimum FICO score of 550.) Next, they’ll need to run a background check on you and get copies of your income documents and photo ID. It typically takes one to two days for the team to let you know if you’ve been approved to go home shopping. If you are, you’ll receive an approved monthly budget and an estimated home budget range.
Next, approved home shoppers can tour qualifying homes in Divvy’s operating markets with their real estate agent (if you don’t have one, you can go with one of Divvy’s partner agents). When searching online, the listings look similar to any other real estate website, but you’ll find important information like the starting rental price, down payment, and home price.
When you find the home that’s right for you, Divvy will submit an offer. If it’s accepted, the company will pay for it in cash and cover all fees, closing costs, taxes, and insurance. You’ll be asked to put down one full month’s rent plus 1%-2% of the purchase price as an initial home savings contribution, similar to a down payment. (In rent-to-own scenarios, this is known as an “option fee.”)
During the three-year lease, about 25% of each monthly payment goes toward the program participant’s home savings, building to between 3% and 10% of the home’s purchase price — enough for a mortgage down payment.
The tenant can buy the home at any point during their lease with no penalty or fee. If the program participant chooses not to buy their home, Divvy will return their home savings, minus a relisting fee (2% of the home’s original purchase price).
Dream America accepts applicants who have the income and funds needed for an FHA or VA loan, but who can’t qualify because of low FICO scores or other issues that make it too challenging to get a mortgage. To qualify for this program, you’ll need a minimum FICO score of 500, a monthly household income of at least $4,000, 12 months of on-time rent payments, and $8,000 in savings that can be used toward a home purchase.
Dream America operates in Atlanta, Georgia, Dallas Texas, and the Florida metro areas of Jacksonville, Orlando, Sarasota, and Tampa. Approved participants can pick any single-family home or townhouse for sale in these communities, so long as it’s priced between $150,000 and $400,000 and fits within the applicant’s monthly budget. The home can be new construction or resale but has to have been built or renovated in the last 15 years.
Dream America buys the home in all cash and leases it to the home seeker for 12 months (although you can renew your lease and purchase contract if necessary). An onboarding fee equal to 1% of the home price will be due at the time of closing, and the first month’s rent is due before move-in.
At any time that the participant qualifies for a mortgage, they can cancel the lease with no penalty and buy the home. Dream America will apply 10% of rent paid as a closing credit. It’s important to note that the longer you rent, the more you will pay when you buy the home. For example, if you buy the home within six months, you’ll pay 6% more than Dream America originally paid for it including closing costs.
If the renter decides not to buy the home, Dream America will sell it. If the company can recoup their costs, your earnest money will be returned after it’s sold and you will be charged a 2% processing fee.
Founded in 2018, Landis is a real estate tech startup with the goal of helping renters become homeowners. The company has raised over $200 million in two rounds of funding from investors like Arrive (Jay-Z’s investment firm) and Dreamers VC (co-founded by Will Smith).
Landis currently operates in eight states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee. Prospective homeowners must first apply to the Landis program, which is 100% free and won’t affect your credit score. After that, their underwriting team reviews your financial documents to determine your approved home budget.
When you join the Landis program, you’ll be assigned a Client Advisor to help you through your home buying journey. You have the option to choose your own real estate agent, but if you don’t have one in mind, Landis can connect you with one of their partner agents in your area.
When you find a home you like, Landis will make a competitive, all-cash offer on your behalf and pay all closing costs and fees. You’ll need to put down an initial deposit of 2%-3% of the home’s price, which will contribute to your security deposit and savings for the down payment.
While renting the home from Landis, you’ll work with a Homeownership Coach to boost your credit score and save for a down payment. Your monthly rent is determined by the market value, but it can vary depending on the home’s purchase price and its location. When you’re ready, you can buy the home back, and Landis will assist you with the mortgage process.
Local and regional programs
Williams advises that there may be an array of additional programs available to prospective rent-to-owners in their local areas. She suggests searching online to identify potential local programs — and even keeping your eyes peeled for billboards or other print advertisements.
If you pair up with a national, regional, or local program that suits your needs, you might just find a rent-to-own home that puts you on the path to homeownership!
FAQs on rent-to-own homes programs
A rent-to-own program allows tenants to rent a property with the option to purchase it at a later date. It combines a rental agreement with a purchase agreement, offering tenants the opportunity to build equity over time while living in the property.
In a rent-to-own program, tenants typically pay a higher monthly rent, with a portion going towards a down payment or credit for the future purchase. At the end of the agreed-upon term, tenants can exercise their option to buy the property based on predetermined terms.
Rent-to-own programs provide several benefits. They allow tenants to test the property and neighborhood before committing to a purchase. It offers the chance to build credit and save for a down payment while renting. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for individuals with less-than-ideal credit to work towards homeownership.
Rent-to-own programs come with potential downsides. The purchase price is typically set at the beginning of the agreement, which means tenants may end up paying more if property values decline. If tenants don’t exercise their option to buy, they may lose the extra rent paid towards a down payment. Additionally, tenants may be responsible for repairs and maintenance during the rental period.
When considering a rent-to-own program, it’s crucial to review the terms and conditions carefully. Understand the purchase price, option fee, and the portion of rent allocated towards the down payment. Work with a real estate attorney or trusted advisor to ensure the agreement is fair and favorable. Assess your financial readiness and explore alternative financing options to make an informed decision.
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