Is Lease-to-Own Home Purchase Worth the Risk?

A lease-to-own house purchase (also "rent-to-own purchase" or "lease purchase") is a lease combined with an option to purchase the property within a specified period, usually three years or less, at an agreed-upon price. Such arrangements have proliferated in the post-crisis market because many potential homebuyers can't meet the tougher loan qualification requirements today, and many potential sellers are unable to realize a satisfactory price in any other way. Lease-purchase plans can be structured in such a way that both parties benefit. They can also be structured so that all the benefits flow to one of the parties and none to the other. Buyers especially need to be careful because they usually know less about the market than sellers, and the seller usually provides the contract.

Contract features of a lease-purchase

In a typical arrangement, the borrower pays an option fee, 1 percent to 5 percent of the price, which is credited to the purchase price. The borrower pays a market rent, and an additional rent premium that is also credited to the purchase price. The option fee, option period, rent, rent premium, and purchase price are all negotiable items. If the purchase option is not exercised, the buyer loses both the option fee and the rent premium.

Jack Guttentag, Inman News, November 14, 2011