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Renting with a Plan: The Concept of Rent-to-Own Properties

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Many Nigerians dream of owning their own home, but saving for a down payment and qualifying for a traditional mortgage can be tough.  If this sounds familiar, there’s another option to consider: rent-to-own agreements.

Here’s how it works: you enter into a lease agreement to rent a property for a set period, typically 1-5 years.  The unique aspect is that the agreement also includes an “option to buy” the property at a predetermined price by the end of the lease.  A portion of your monthly rent often goes towards the eventual purchase price, giving you a head start on saving for that down payment.

Key Takeaways: 

  • A rent-to-own agreement is a deal in which you commit to renting a property for a specific period, with the option of buying it before the lease runs out.
  • Rent-to-own agreements include a standard lease agreement and also an option to buy the property at a later time.
  • Lease-option contracts give you the right to buy the home when the lease expires, while lease-purchase contracts require you to buy it.
  • You pay rent throughout the lease, and in some cases, a percentage of the payment is applied to the purchase price.
  • With some rent-to-own contracts, you may have to maintain the property and pay for repairs.

What are Rent-to-Own Properties?

Rent-to-own homes are homes that include a clause in the rental agreement which either gives you the option to buy or an obligation to buy after a certain period. You make rent payments each month and a portion of those payments can count toward your down payment. Should you decide to buy, the excess money can be applied to the home purchase.

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Renting to own can be an appealing concept for people who are interested in owning property but have thus far been shut out of the traditional homebuying process. If you don’t have a sizable down payment, for instance, or your credit score is too low to qualify for a mortgage, renting a property to buy it can give you time to save and work on improving your credit rating.

Nonrefundable Upfront Fees

In a rent-to-own agreement, you (as the buyer) pay the seller a one-time, usually non-refundable, upfront fee called the option fee, option money, or option consideration. This fee is what gives you the option to buy the house by some date in the future. The option fee is often negotiable, as there’s no standard rate. Still, the fee typically ranges between 1% and 5% of the purchase price

Key Components

Several essential components define the dynamics of a rent-to-own agreement. The tenant typically pays rent to the landlord, as in a traditional lease, but a portion of the monthly payments may contribute toward building equity or serve as a future down payment. An option fee, paid upfront, secures the right to purchase the property later. 

The purchase price is agreed upon at the outset, providing a fixed amount for the tenant to buy the property when the option is exercised. Lease terms encompass the duration of the rental period and the timeframe during which the tenant can decide to purchase the property.

Flexibility and Advantages for Both Buyers and Sellers

Rent-to-own arrangements offer flexibility that appeals to both buyers and sellers. For buyers, it provides an opportunity to live in a home they aspire to own while testing the waters of homeownership. Sellers benefit from potentially higher rent, securing committed buyers, and mitigating the risk of prolonged vacancies.

Lease-Option vs. Lease-Purchase

It’s important to note that there are different types of rent-to-own contracts, with some being more consumer-friendly and flexible than others. Lease-option contracts give you the right, but not the obligation, to buy the home when the lease expires. If you decide not to buy the property at the end of the lease, the option simply expires, and you can walk away without any obligation to continue paying rent or to buy. This is not always the case with lease-purchase contracts.

To have the option to buy without the obligation to buy, it needs to be a lease-option contract. Because legalese can be challenging to decipher, it’s always a good idea to review the contract with a qualified real estate attorney before signing anything, so you know your rights and exactly what you’re getting into.

Pros and Cons of Rent-to-Own

Rent-to-own arrangements offer a unique set of advantages and disadvantages for both buyers and sellers, which should be carefully considered before entering into such agreements.

Advantages for Buyers

Firstly, tenants have the opportunity to build equity over time, as a portion of their monthly rent payments may contribute towards the eventual purchase of the property. This gradual accumulation of equity can help prospective buyers overcome financial barriers to homeownership.

Additionally, rent-to-own agreements allow tenants to test the waters of homeownership before fully committing to the purchase. Living in the property enables renters to experience the neighbourhood, assess the property’s condition, and determine if it meets their long-term needs and preferences.

Furthermore, timely rental payments can have a positive impact on the tenant’s credit history and score. Consistently meeting financial obligations under the rent-to-own agreement demonstrates responsible financial behaviour, potentially improving the tenant’s creditworthiness and qualifying them for more favourable mortgage terms in the future.

Benefits for Sellers

From the seller’s perspective, rent-to-own arrangements offer several benefits. Sellers may command higher rental rates compared to traditional leases, as tenants are willing to pay a premium for the option to purchase the property in the future. 

This higher rental income can provide additional cash flow and potentially increase the property’s overall return on investment for the seller. Moreover, sellers benefit from securing committed buyers who have a vested interest in the property. 

Unlike traditional rental agreements where tenants may come and go, rent-to-own tenants are more likely to treat the property with care and make improvements, as they envision themselves as future homeowners.

Additionally, entering into a rent-to-own agreement reduces the risk of prolonged vacancies for sellers. By securing a tenant to purchase the property, sellers can avoid the costs and inconveniences associated with marketing the property, screening new tenants, and covering mortgage payments during periods of vacancy.

Considerations and Risks

Despite the advantages, rent-to-own arrangements also come with potential risks and considerations. Rent-to-own tenants often pay higher monthly payments compared to traditional renters, as a portion of the rent goes towards building equity and securing the option to purchase the property. 

These higher payments may strain the tenant’s budget and limit their ability to save for a down payment or handle unexpected expenses.

Furthermore, tenants typically pay a non-refundable option fee upfront to secure the right to purchase the property in the future. If tenants decide not to exercise the option or fail to qualify for financing when the option period expires, they forfeit the option fee, resulting in financial loss.

Moreover, rent-to-own agreements involve contractual obligations that both parties must adhere to. Tenants must comply with the terms of the lease and maintain the property in good condition, while sellers are obligated to uphold their end of the agreement and facilitate the purchase process if the tenant decides to exercise the option.

Qualifications and Eligibility

Rent-to-own arrangements typically require applicants to meet certain qualifications and eligibility criteria before agreeing. Understanding these requirements is essential for both buyers and sellers to ensure a smooth and successful transaction.

Criteria for Rent-to-Own Applicants

Prospective tenants interested in rent-to-own properties are often subject to rigorous screening processes similar to those for traditional mortgage loans. One of the primary factors considered is the applicant’s credit score, which serves as an indicator of their financial responsibility and ability to make timely payments.

In addition to creditworthiness, income stability and financial responsibility are crucial considerations for rent-to-own applicants. Lenders and sellers assess the applicant’s income sources, employment history, and debt-to-income ratio to evaluate their ability to afford the monthly rent payments and eventually qualify for mortgage financing.

Furthermore, tenants must demonstrate a commitment to maintaining the property and fulfilling their obligations under the lease agreement. Responsible financial behaviour, such as timely bill payments and adherence to contractual terms, enhances the applicant’s credibility and strengthens their eligibility for a rent-to-own arrangement.

Importance of Legal Consultation and Due Diligence

Given the complexities involved in rent-to-own transactions, prospective participants are strongly encouraged to seek legal consultation and conduct thorough due diligence before entering into any agreements. 

Legal experts can review the terms of the lease-option contract, clarify rights and responsibilities, and identify any potential pitfalls or ambiguities that may arise during the transaction process.

Furthermore, due diligence involves researching the property’s title history, verifying ownership rights, and assessing the property’s condition and market value. Buyers should conduct property inspections, obtain appraisals, and assess comparable sales data to ensure they are making an informed decision and negotiating a fair purchase price.

By investing time and resources in legal consultation and due diligence, participants in rent-to-own arrangements can mitigate risks, protect their interests, and ensure a transparent and mutually beneficial transaction for all parties involved.

Common Misconceptions and Pitfalls

Despite the potential benefits, rent-to-own arrangements are not without their misconceptions and pitfalls. Understanding these common misconceptions is essential for both buyers and sellers to navigate the process effectively and avoid potential pitfalls that may arise during the transaction.

Misunderstandings about Rent-to-Own Arrangements

One common misconception about rent-to-own properties is that they are a quick and easy path to homeownership for individuals with poor credit or insufficient savings for a down payment. 

While rent-to-own arrangements offer flexibility and alternative financing options, they require careful planning, financial stability, and adherence to contractual terms to succeed.

Potential Risks and Red Flags for Buyers and Sellers

Participants in rent-to-own transactions should be aware of potential risks and red flags that may indicate underlying issues or challenges with the property or the agreement itself. 

These risks include undisclosed property defects, unrealistic rental rates, ambiguous contract terms, and unscrupulous sellers or landlords seeking to exploit vulnerable tenants.

By recognizing these potential risks and conducting thorough due diligence, buyers and sellers can protect themselves from adverse consequences and ensure a transparent and mutually beneficial transaction process.

Steps in a Rent-to-Own Transaction

Navigating a rent-to-own transaction involves several key steps that both buyers and sellers must follow to ensure a smooth and successful process. Understanding these steps can help participants navigate the complexities of the transaction and make informed decisions along the way.

Initial Agreement and Option Period

The rent-to-own process begins with the negotiation and signing of a lease-option agreement between the buyer and seller. This agreement outlines the terms and conditions of the lease, including the monthly rent amount, duration of the lease term, option fee, purchase price, and rights and obligations of both parties.

During the option period, which typically ranges from one to three years, the tenant has the exclusive right to purchase the property at the agreed-upon price. This period allows the tenant time to improve their credit, save for a down payment, and assess whether the property meets their long-term needs and preferences.

Rent Payments and Equity Building

Throughout the lease term, the tenant pays monthly rent to the landlord, as outlined in the lease agreement. A portion of the rent may be allocated toward building equity in the property, either as a credit toward the purchase price or as a separate escrow account for the tenant’s future down payment.

By making timely rent payments and fulfilling their financial obligations under the lease, tenants have the opportunity to accumulate equity in the property and strengthen their position as prospective homeowners.

Exercise of Purchase Option and Closing Process

As the option period nears its expiration, tenants have the option to exercise their right to purchase the property at the agreed-upon price. To exercise the purchase option, tenants typically provide written notice to the seller and proceed with the closing process.

During the closing process, buyers secure financing, obtain a home inspection, and complete any necessary due diligence to ensure the property meets their expectations and is free of any undisclosed defects or issues. Once all conditions are met, the sale is finalized, and the tenant becomes the rightful owner of the property.

Before You Sign the Contract

Signing off on a rent-to-own agreement can create certain legal obligations both for you and the property seller. Here are a few additional tips to consider before you sign.

Choose the Right Terms

It’s important to read the fine print on a rent-to-own agreement to understand whether it’s lease-option or lease-purchase. Again, a lease-purchase agreement could put you in the position of being forced to buy the home, which may be problematic if you find later that you’re unable to afford it or don’t want to own it.

Get Help 

Hiring a qualified real estate attorney to explain the contract can help you understand your rights and obligations in a rent-to-own agreement. You may want to negotiate some points before signing or avoid the deal if it’s not favourable enough to you.

Research the Contract 

Rent-to-own contracts can be complicated and you must understand all the finer details. For instance, take time to review:

  • The deadlines (what is due when)
  • The option fee and rent payments–and how much of each applies toward the purchase price
  • How the purchase price is determined
  • How to exercise your option to buy (for example, the seller may require you to provide advance notice in writing of your intent to buy)
  • Whether pets are allowed
  • Who is responsible for maintenance, homeowner association dues, property taxes, and the like
  • What “maintenance” means: just mowing the lawn and raking, etc. or serious repairs, such as fixing a roof.

Research the Home 

It’s essential to perform certain due diligence before buying any home, including rent-to-own properties. Ordering an independent appraisal, obtaining a property inspection, making sure the property taxes are up to date, and ensuring there are no liens on the property can help you make an informed decision about whether you should buy the home.

Research the Seller 

Working with the right seller can make a rent-to-own experience a positive one and it’s helpful to look into the property owner’s background before committing. For instance, you may want to check the seller’s credit report to look for signs of financial trouble and obtain a title report to see how long the seller has owned the property—the longer they’ve owned it and the more equity, the better.

Ask the Right Questions

If there’s anything you’re unsure of with a rent-to-own agreement, it’s better to ask questions sooner rather than later. later. For instance, it’s a good idea to know under which conditions you could lose your option to buy the property. Under some contracts, you lose this right if you are late on just one rent payment or if you fail to notify the seller in writing of your intent to buy.


A rent-to-own agreement allows would-be home buyers to move into a house right away, with several years to work on improving their credit scores and/or saving for a down payment before trying to get a mortgage. Of course, certain terms and conditions must be met, by the rent-to-own agreement. 

Even if a real estate agent assists with the process, it’s essential to consult a qualified real estate attorney who can clarify the contract and your rights before you sign anything. If you decide that you’d like to buy outside of a rent-to-own agreement, it may be helpful to compare the best mortgage rates to find a great deal on a home loan.

However, participants in rent-to-own transactions must navigate potential risks, including higher monthly payments, non-refundable option fees, and contractual obligations. Thorough due diligence, legal consultation, and expert guidance are essential to mitigate risks and ensure a transparent and mutually beneficial transaction process.


How Is Rent to Own Different Than Buying a House?

Renting to own is a hybrid approach to buying a home where all or a portion of a lease payment goes to building equity in a home over time. It is usually a process by which the owner of a home allows a renter to build equity without having to make a down payment or secure a mortgage.

What Are the Advantages of Rent-to-Own Agreements?

Renting to own can allow a person to begin building equity in a home they like without having to take out a mortgage or come up with a large down payment. This can be especially beneficial for those without the financial means to make a down payment due to a lack of savings or qualify for a mortgage due to low credit scores.

What Should Be Considered When Renting to Own?

Rent-to-own contracts can vary significantly and require due diligence on the part of the renter. It’s important to research the contract (possibly with the assistance of a real estate attorney), research the home (with an appraisal and inspection) and research the seller.

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