Deciding Whether To Pursue A Lease-to-Own

If the price is right, a ‘rent to own’ option can be the best way to secure the right to buy from a willing property owner, and still keep your ‘options’ open. One way to look at the situation is that you are paying the owner a premium rent for the option to purchase if you choose. The risk that the owner could back out of the sale is offset by the rule of “specific performance” that empowers courts to force a property sale after the buyer meets his obligations.

Logistics of Lease-to-Own Agreement

To make sure that your option (right to purchase) is “certain” in the eyes of the law and therefore enforceable, it is recommended that you physically attach a copy of a completed property purchase contract (but unsigned) to the lease itself. This will ensure that both you and the owner are on the same page with regard to all purchase terms (i.e., purchase price, allocation closing costs, character of title conveyed, whether option payments go toward the purchase price).

One item to beware is landlords who request an exorbitantly high non-refundable deposit for the lease-to-own option.

A local realtor can assist you by using the applicable ‘CAR forms’. Or hire a real estate attorney such as myself (with purchase option experience) to draft these documents for an affordable flat fee.

Some common terms of a purchase option agreement (added to the lease): (1) date the option begins, (2) date option expires, (3) consequences of accepting option, (4) consequences of not accepting option, (5) method of accepting option, (6) whether previous option payments offset the purchase price, (7) consequences if property is destroyed during existence of the option.  Here is a sample contract I drafted for illustrative purposes:

Helpful tip for 2013: Try to find ‘rent-to-own’ situations for homestead acreage with water rights, then farm the land organically and watch the income not only pay for the option but also increase the value of the land, thereby making it more purchasable at a fixed option price. Steps: (1) Find a Property with accessible water (pond, natural spring, or underground water): You can find these properties on Craigslist or  (2) Apply Basic Organic Farming Techniques.  For organic heirloom seeds, use Sustainable Seed Co and for sustainable farming books, check out Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm.

Compare Seller Financing

Another option you may wish to consider is “seller-financing.” With seller-financing you pay your monthly mortgage to the seller, but you receive the deed immediately. Generally, a seller will only finance for 3-5 years (at small monthly payments), after which the whole loan amount becomes due, so the buyer needs to refinance or sell the property before the 3-5 years are up.

Assistance Starting an Organic Homestead

For assistance buying or renting an organic homestead, please contact me for free legal services:

Greg Glaser, Attorney at Law
Serving all of California
(925) 642-6651
[email protected]

Flat Fee Packages Available for Buyers and Sellers Without a Realtor 


    1. Yes, with a rent-to-own contract it is common for the rent (or a % of the rent) to credited toward the buyer’s purchase (and thus become part of the downpayment at closing).

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