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Alternative Housing: Land Contracts

Sold HouseIn 1991, we moved thousands of miles away to Boca Raton, Florida. We had two little kids and — after years of college — were flat broke.

Our first home was a three-bedroom townhouse in a development called Cypress Lakes. It was a huge step up from college apartment digs. But still we longed for a home for our little girls with a yard and a neighborhood full of kids.

As we took our first serious steps toward home ownership, we realized that the down payment typically needed was well out of our reach. So I began researching other paths toward home ownership. One of the creative financing methods I learned about was the rent-to-own arrangement, also called “lease-to-own” or “land contracts.” With this setup, the owner allows you to move into the home, pay rent for a specified period of time (generally a year). You then have the option to buy the property after the indicated time for a pre-negotiated price. Sometimes — as in our case — a portion of the rent is credited toward the down payment or purchase price. You can also walk away from the deal at the end of the specified time period.

We found a three bedroom FSBO (for sale by owner) home, in need of cosmetic repair, that had been on the market for a number of months. (In the early 90’s, it was unusual to take so long to sell.) The owners had moved up north for a job and were willing to deal. After some negotiation we worked out a reasonable one-year land contract.

One year later, we closed on the house. For the first time in our lives we were home owners. And it was made possible with some creative mortgage financing and eager sellers.

With the housing market like it is now, there are more flexible sellers than ever. The biggest barrier to creating such a deal is finding properties with sellers open to a rent-to-own contract. Fortunately, there are now some services catering particular to this market. TheLandContract.com is one such company. Their site pulls in listings from many sources around the country. You can, for example, see a list of Arlington Land Contract Homes. Or you can search by zip code. There were dozens listed in my city. The first one is in my neighborhood.

Keep in mind the vast array of government services for new and prospective homeowners on the internet. You can even get a list of government homes for sale.

If you’re looking for creative financing on a home, rent-to-own might be a great way to go. It was for us.

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