By the ZeroDown Team
October 11, 2022 / 9 minute read

Rent-to-Own Homes:
How the Process Works

For many, homeownership is a life-long dream that may seem impossible to achieve. To overcome the hurdles of buying a house, one option is to look at rent-to-own homes.

Many people who are interested in becoming homeowners aren’t financially prepared to take on a mortgage, or can’t afford high down payment requirements. Done correctly, rent-to-own allows you to ease into homeownership without having to lock away all your savings at any one point in time.


What does rent-to-own mean?
How does rent-to-own work?
Should you consider rent-to-own?
Understanding rent-to-own home contracts
What are the advantages of rent-to-own homes?
What are the disadvantages of rent-to-own homes?
Are rent-to-own properties worth it?
What to know before signing a rent-to-own contract
Other FAQs
Key takeaways

What does rent-to-own mean?

Rent-to-own, or lease-to-own, refers to the method of buying a property by first renting the property with the option of buying it before the lease expires.

A rent-to-own home could be the perfect alternative if you’re motivated to jump into the housing market. This special agreement gives renters the possibility to build credit while saving for a down payment.

It’s a great way to ease into home ownership. Every month, a small amount of your rent payment goes towards the down payment of the house. After a few years renting you can be the proud owner of a new property.

Rent-to-own breakdown
$4,196 /month
$2,733 goes to rent
$2,184 goes to down payment

How does rent-to-own work?

It’s easy to understand the concept behind rent-to-own properties. Each month, you pay a bit more in rent than the rental value. If you so choose, this extra money then becomes your down payment at the end of the rental lease.

The ZeroDown rent-to-own process

  1. Look for your new home.
  2. Go shopping for homes with a ZeroDown partner agent. Have your own agent you want us to work with? No problem, just let us know!

  3. ZeroDown buys a home on your behalf
  4. Once you select a qualifying home, ZeroDown buys it with a cash offer. We cover all related fees and taxes. You’ll provide only a 2-3% Starter Payment.

  5. Move in.
  6. Move into your dream home. You’ll pay a monthly rent. With each rent payment, you’ll earn Purchase Credits (think of this as your future down payment savings) for the home.

  7. Buy when you’re ready
  8. Over the next 3 years, you can buy the home using the Purchase Credits you’ve been earning each month. If you decide you don’t want the home, you can walk away from the deal when your lease ends.

Read more on the Zerodown rent-to-own process and how we can help you become a homeowner.

Should you consider rent-to-own?

Here are a few scenarios where a rent-to-own home could be a great solution:

  • You’re hoping to be a homeowner but you aren’t quite ready financially to make a large down payment

  • You’re not currently eligible for loans or pricey mortgages

  • You have a normalized stream of income and anticipate being in a stronger financial position for a downpayment in 2-3 years time

  • You have a low credit score due to some past difficulties, but have been steadily improving your score

  • You want to build credit for a couple years before negotiating a mortgage

Speak to a rent-to-own specialist and communicate your unique situation and needs. They will be able to guide you in the right direction and help determine if a rent-to-own property could benefit you.

Looking for rent-to-own homes for sale near you, look no further

Understanding rent-to-own home contracts

There are normally a lot of variances in rent-to-own contracts, but they still fall under two principal structures: lease-option and lease-purchase. Understanding the general principles behind these structures will help you move forward in your search for the perfect rent-to-own home.

Lease-Option Agreement

A lease-option agreement will routinely entail paying the homeowner an option fee when you sign the contract. This amount could be anywhere between 2 – 6% of the total property value.

As the name suggests, lease-option agreements don’t oblige you to purchase at the end of the lease period. This is a bonus if you are still unsure and don’t want to make an upfront decision. Although you will still pay an option fee in most cases even if you don’t proceed to buy.

Lease-option fees can allow you the flexibility to negotiate after the lease period depending on the contract you finalized. A final home appraisal will need to be done to determine the home’s value.

Lease-Purchase Agreement

A lease-purchase agreement is similar to lease-option agreements with one key difference: the renter is obliged to buy the property at the end of the lease period. In this case, it’s normal that the price of the house is determined before you move in and start renting.

Often, if you cannot get funding for the house at the end of your lease period you give up your claim to all the money that you have accumulated. This type of agreement takes a bit more certainty before signing.

Should you choose a Lease-Option or Lease-Purchase contract?

Not sure which agreement structure is right for you? Make sure you consider the housing market. Are you buying in a market where prices are quickly rising? If so, it might be smart to commit to a price as soon as possible. Are you 100% sure you have found the home of your dreams? In these cases you should choose a lease-purchase agreement.

If you are more comfortable with flexibility and are worried about unexpected circumstances. Then you are going to be more comfortable with a lease-option structure. In any case, contracts will need to be negotiated. It’s important to maintain clear communication with all parties involved. Talk to a specialist in rent-to-own structures and a real estate lawyer before signing any contracts.


Down Payment

0% down payment.

You can stay liquid and access your cash as needed.

Note there is a one-time closing cost that represents 2% of the home price.
Up to 20% down payment
(as a percentage of home price depending on the type of mortgage).


ZeroDown holds the title until you buy it from us.
You hold the title from the beginning.


Short term.
You'll use ZeroDown for a few months or years.
Long term.
Most Americans use a 30-year mortgage.


We're here to help you ease into homeownership.
Full-on homeownership.

Property Taxes

We pay property taxes.
You pay property taxes.

Service and Repair

We handle repairs necessary for habitability (like roof, HVAC, etc.), you handle daily home maintenance.
You handle all service, repairs, etc.
Prequalify for rent-to-own

What are the advantages of rent-to-own homes?

If you’re contemplating a rent-to-own structure, consider the following advantages. They may help you decide if you’re the right candidate and ready to commit to a contract.

You pay your down payment over time

A key advantage to rent-to-own homes is building equity over time by paying a bit more each month. This eases the financial burden and saves you some of the difficulty of trying to save.

Keep in mind that this method doesn’t always cover your entire down payment. You may still have to save to reach the down payment threshold of 5% required of most home buyers. These are details that you will have to be aware of before engaging in any contract.

You can start investing immediately

One of the biggest complaints that renters have is they feel they are “throwing away” money on a property that they will never own. Most renters are aware they are covering the mortgage payment on somebody else’s investment.

Rent-to-Own homes are a great way to get your footing in the housing market and start investing in your future.

You don’t need to qualify for mortgage

Another reason people are drawn to a rent-to-own program is because you don’t qualify for a mortgage yet. Perhaps you have been working through student loan debt, but you’re nearly done paying it off.

If you had bad finances in the past but have a bright financial outlook, then rent-to-own could be a valid way to enter the housing market. Many people can relate to situations where they were laid off or had some sort of financial turbulence. You don’t want to be penalized for a temporary setback.

It’s important to note that if you’re not in a good financial situation now and don’t see the tides changing in your financial forecast, you probably shouldn’t be considering a rent-to-own as you won’t be eligible for a mortgage when the lease period ends.

It keeps your options open

Participating in a rent-to-own program keeps your options open. At the end of the predetermined lease period, you typically have the option to buy the home or to move to another property.

Depending on your situation you could still qualify for a mortgage and choose another home because the money you accrued in your down payment will go to your lender. This will depend on the predetermined deal you have.

Rent-to-own structures are usually open to negotiation. There are often less regulations on these agreements than the traditional path of home ownership. There is also no one-size-fits-all rent-to-own contract.

You can use this to your advantage and negotiate terms that suit your unique needs. But be careful - it could also work against you if you don’t read or understand the contract.

If you’re thinking about renting-to-own, you will need to talk to a reputable sales agent and make sure you agree with the terms of your contract. You should consult with a lawyer specializing in real estate on your behalf.

How much house can I afford

What are the disadvantages of rent-to-own homes?

Every path to home ownership is going to come with its own set of unique obstacles. Rent-to-own structures are no different. It’s essential that you have a clear and balanced perspective when considering renting-to-own.

Your house could lose value

Keep in mind that your house could lose value over time. Before signing anything, research the area and property. Are there any potential factors that could radically change the properties value? For example, is there a proposal for new industrial zoning nearby? Does the house have a view that could be obstructed by a future development? These are key considerations you will want to know before committing to any sort of home ownership.

You could lose money if decide not to buy

If you choose not to buy after your lease period, you could lose money. The money that you paid in rent doesn’t go towards a property you plan on investing into. This defeats the primary reason you engaged in the rent-to-own program to begin with. You probably will end up paying an option fee as well, depending upon your agreement.

It may be possible that you are not able to qualify for a mortgage at the end of the lease. Perhaps you ran into unexpected financial difficulties? It’s also possible that you simply decide the house isn’t a good fit for you. In both these scenarios you could end up paying thousands of dollars in option money depending upon your contract.

Are rent-to-own properties worth it?

It’s helpful to approach a rent-to-own home like purchasing a traditional property. Make sure your finances are in order and that you will be able to make all payments on time.

Renting-to-own may postpone the mortgage process, but it won’t avoid it all together. Eventually you will need to make sure that you are eligible to finance the purchase of the house.

Individual factors will play a big role in deciding if renting-to-own is worth it. Do you know that your previous debts are about to be paid off? Does your credit score only need a small boost?

Make sure you are in love with your rent-to-own property. In any buying situation you are going to put a lot of work into the process, and you want to make sure you are making the right decision. Does the property meet your needs and more? Make sure it checks as many boxes as reasonably possible.

How much house can I afford

What to know before signing a rent-to-own contract

Don’t go into a rent-to-own property agreement without taking the necessary steps to educate yourself. Taking a bit of extra time in the beginning can save you time and money in the long run.

Do your research

It is important to research both the seller and the home. The property should be appraised before you sign any contracts. As rent-to-own contracts are less regulated and can vary greatly, you will be required to perform due diligence. Make sure you are comfortable and confident with the terms that you have decided upon.

Read the fine print

Never skip over the fine print when committing to any home buying situation. For example, do you need to provide advanced notice if you intend to buy? How long in advance is that due? Knowing these fine details could save you a lot of headaches in the future. You should know under what circumstances you could lose the opportunity to buy the property.

Maintenance and fees

It may seem like a small detail but understanding who oversees maintenance costs is important. Simply keeping the property clean and maintaining the lawn is one thing, but what happens if there is a more serious leak? Things like homeowners’ association dues, condo fees, properties taxes or any other fees should be sorted out before signing the contract.

Prequalify for rent-to-own

Other FAQs

Is rent-to-own a scam?

Rent-to-own homes are not a scam. 'Rent-to-own' simply refers to the method of buying a property by first renting it, with the option of buying it before the lease expires.

It’s important to do your research to ensure the listed price of the property offers good value to ensure your rent repayments are fair. You should also calculate whether you will be able to afford the property once the lease expires - consult a mortgage advisor if you are unsure.

You should also find a reliable rent-to-own provider by reading reviews, and read any small print in contracts.

How can I find rent-to-own homes near me?

There are several easy ways to find rent-to-own homes near you:

  • Talk to a buyer’s real-estate agent
  • Find a brokerage with dedicated rent-to-own programs
  • Use Zerodown’s search function to find rent-to-own homes nearby

Key takeaways

If you are an inspiring homeowner a rent-to-own agreement could be a great option to get into the property game while building your credit. Any home ownership situation involves preparation. You should approach a rent-to-own property with the same diligence you would if you were considering a traditional property purchase.

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages to this unique structure puts you in a better position to negotiate and will leave you feeling confident when you decide to sign a contract. Renting-to-own could finally put you on the property ladder where you belong.

More from ZeroDown

City Guides

Answers to all of your burning questions on local demographics and communities, nearby schools, amenities, public transport, market trends, homes for sale, and more - so that you can make an informed decision.
City Guides

The LowDown Blog

We're constantly keeping up with the latest real estate trends and news - let us keep you in the loop!
The LowDown Blog

Cost of Living Calculators

Use our cost of living calculators to assess how much you’ll need to earn to live comfortably in key cities.
Cost of Living Calculators

Housing Market Analysis

Browse up-to-date, reliable, and comprehensive information on housing markets.
Housing Market Analysis

Quality of Life

We analyze living conditions, demographics, transit options, schools, daycares, things to do, and more in key cities - so that you can make great decisions and live your best life.
Quality of Life