Rent-to-own agreements should specify when and how the home’s purchase price is determined. In some cases, you and the seller will agree on a purchase price when the contract is signed – often at a higher price than the current market value. In other situations, the price is determined when the lease expires, based on the property's then-current market value. Many buyers prefer to “lock in” the purchase price, especially in markets where home prices are trending up.
Be sure that maintenance and repair requirements are clearly stated in the contract (ask your attorney to explain your responsibilities). Maintaining the property – e.g., mowing the lawn, raking the leaves and cleaning out the gutters – is very different from replacing a damaged roof or bringing the electric up to code. Whether you’ll be responsible for everything or just mowing the lawn, have the home inspected, order an appraisal and make sure the property taxes are up to date before signing anything.
It’s normally not necessary to commission a home inspection on a traditional home rental, but remember that rent-to-own is not a traditional home rental. This is a short- and long-term investment that requires the utmost attention to detail. And the small upfront cost of a home inspection could save you literally thousands down the road. Therefore, hire an independent home inspection professional to uncover any problems the house may potentially have. It’s important to do this even if the current homeowner furnishes a disclosure statement that attests to the condition of the home. If the independent home inspector points out problems, it’s important to determine whether or not the issues will prevent you from getting a future home loan once the rent-to-own term ends. Therefore, make sure the contract specifies who is responsible for making the necessary repairs discovered during the inspection prior to finalizing the rent-to-own agreement. The homeowner might offer a credit off the final purchase price at the end of the rent-to-own in lieu of payment for damages. Either way, be sure to get everything in writing before finalizing a rent-to-own contract.