How Do Rent-To-Own Homes Work? Everything You Need to Know! | House Grail (2023)

If you have enough money for a down payment, your best bet is to go ahead and buy the home you like. And if you’re on a limited budget, you can always rent the property. However, that won’t get you anywhere because, essentially, the rent will be money down the drain. But that’s when rent-to-own contracts come in to offer a third option.

These agreements give the opportunity of buying that property after renting it. True, you’ll have to pay a bit more. But in the long run, you’ll get a much better deal versus regular renting. That’s not all there is to rent-to-own homes, of course. It’s important to know in advance what exactly you’re getting yourself into to avoid unpleasant surprises. Let’s get to it!

How Do Rent-To-Own Homes Work? Everything You Need to Know! | House Grail (1)

How Does It Work?

Just like the name suggests, a rent-to-own contract allows you to buy a house after renting it. By signing the deal, you automatically “book” the property: nobody else will be able to purchase it while the agreement is in effect. More importantly, the cost of a rent-to-own home doesn’t change over time. Once you agree on a purchase price with the homeowner, it becomes final.

That said, the rent will be higher compared to the market value. Over time, it will accumulate and turn into a down payment1 for the property. You’ll also have to pay the owner a fixed fee (usually 1–7% of the home’s market value). What’s the purpose of this? That fee will “unlock” the option of buying the house later when the lease comes to an end, and you have a big enough down payment for that.

When the seller signs a rent-to-own contract, they thereby agree to rent you the house and give you an exclusive right to buy it. You, as the buyer, agree to pay the rent in full (plus the extra for the down payment) and to make an initial investment of up to 7% of the property’s market price. In many ways, it’s a win-win deal for both parties, but only as long as you make those monthly payments.

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What Are the Different Types of Rent-To-Own Agreements?

With rent-to-own homes, you have a choice between two contracts: lease-option and lease-purchase. In some ways, they are similar, as both agreements give a potential homebuyer the opportunity to lease a property for 1–3 years and then buy it for a fixed price. That said, these options are NOT the same. While the concepts are similar, the requirements are very much different. Here’s a closer look at what you can expect from both leasing contracts:

Lease-Option Contract

With this agreement, you’re required to pay the owner of the property an option fee upon signing the deal. This might bring the cost of the house down, but that’s not guaranteed. It all depends on how you negotiate the details of the contract with the homeowner. As for the rent, it’s going to be above the market average (like 20–30% higher). That extra portion of the rent will go into the down payment.

It’s important to talk about the exact numbers (both the initial payment and the monthly rent) with the homeowner in advance. The best thing about lease-option rent-to-own homes is that you’re not obligated, in any way, to buy that house once the leasing period is over. There won’t be any penalties. More than that, your refusal to pay the rest to own the house won’t hurt your credit score in any way.

On the downside, you’ll lose the option fee and the rent credits. Lease-option contracts are perfect for people that want to live in a house or apartment for some time to see whether it’s the perfect choice for them or not. Sometimes, they end up living there for 4–6 months or even years. And knowing that the initial investment and the rent are going to help them strike a better deal is an even bigger pro.

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Lease-Purchase Contract

The basics here are almost identical to the previous option. You sign a contract that allows you to lease a property for a few years and pay a bit more for the rent to build up a down payment. There is one major difference, though: with a lease-purchase contract, you’re legally obligated to buy that house once the lease expires. The first step is talking to the homeowner and negotiating the purchase price.

This way, you’ll know exactly how much you’ll have to pay and how big of a loan you’ll need. The second step is when both you and the owner come to an agreement and you sign the contract. That’s when the lease starts. So, what will happen if you don’t have enough funding to buy the house by the end of the lease? The homeowner will, most likely, sue you. This is why it’s absolutely imperative to be 100% sure you can pull this off!

Where Are They Used?

The housing market is highly volatile, and the prices keep going up. Unfortunately, for many Americans, that makes it almost impossible2 to buy a house. Even getting a loan or making a down payment upfront is difficult. Renting is an option, of course, but it makes you feel like all that money is going to waste. In contrast, rent-to-own homes give potential buyers a chance to make every single penny count by investing a bit into their dream house.

That’s right: rent-to-own agreements are primarily aimed at working-class US citizens that are torn between renting a nice house and saving up for a down payment. However, there are certain risks involved here, especially if you opt for a lease-purchase contract. Before you go ahead and put your name on it, put together a detailed financial plan and make sure you can keep up with it.

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Rent-to-own homes are often used by people that want to fix their credit scores and put some money aside for a down payment. As a “bonus”, they get to freeze the price of the house. The credit score has a huge impact on your ability to get a good mortgage. And the higher the score, the lower the interest rates will be, not to mention you’ll get access to different loan opportunities.

More than that, the agreement helps you be more financially organized. If you’re used to spending half of your salary in the first two days, opting for a rent-to-own home will help put the money where it counts. Again, the real estate market is not very stable, which is why the idea of locking the price and knowing that it won’t go up is so popular among millions of hard-working Americans.

And one more thing: for this to work, you need to be sure that you do, indeed, want to live in that house. And that includes not only the actual property but also the neighborhood: the local school, public transportation, safety, and more. Otherwise, if you change your mind halfway, there will be no point in going for any type of rent-to-own deal!

Advantages of Rent-To-Own Homes

  • A percentage of the rent goes into the purchase. A rent-to-own contract allows you to save money for a down payment while renting. This is called a rent credit. The price will be steep compared to what you’d normally pay for the house, but it will turn into a down payment and get you one step closer to owning the property. The exact margin will be specified in the contract.
  • You get to split the maintenance cost. Most sellers agree to pay for the expensive repairs while you take care of the smaller fixes. The landlord will keep the house in prime shape, and you won’t have to pay a pretty penny for that. Large repairs do tend to cost a lot, so a rent-to-own deal will save money instead of spending it.
  • You can lock the price of the property. Homes aren’t cheap today, and the prices are only going up. To build equity and protect yourself from sudden price spikes, opt for a lease-to-purchase contract. While it does come with a big responsibility, in an unstable market, it will be a reasonable choice. Consider discussing this with a real estate attorney.
  • Renters can “test-drive” the house. Lease-option contracts have one big advantage: they don’t force you to buy the house if you don’t feel like it’s the right option. Look at it as a way to “test-drive” the property with an opportunity to buy it at a great price later. There’s a caveat, though: the rent will be high.
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Disadvantages of Rent-To-Own Homes

  • The rent will be significantly higher. To be credible for a rent-to-own agreement, you’ll have to pay an extra 20–30% each month for rent. While that’s a fair deal, if you’re chronically late on rent, this won’t work. Even if you miss the payment for a day or two, the repercussions may be severe. So, only go for it if you have enough money to pay for 2–3 months upfront.
  • You might lose all your investments. There’s no sugarcoating this: if you decide not to move forward with the purchase at the end of the leasing period, you won’t get any money back. The extra rent and the option fee that you’ve been paying for all this time will not be compensated in any way. This may also happen if you miss a payment or two.
  • Failing to get a loan will cost you. Make sure there’s a mortgage company that will give you a loan. Otherwise, if you don’t qualify for it, you won’t be able to buy that house. Then, it will be up to the owner of the house to rent or sell it to someone else. So, a rent-to-own contract will only be of help if you have the means to buy the home once the lease is over.
  • Maintenance costs could add up. Not all homeowners are ready to pay for repairs. And, if you’re barely able to pay the rent on time, the extra $100–$200 (or more) on repairs won’t be easy to pay. This will be an even bigger deal-breaker if your position at your current job is a bit “shaky” and you have zero saved-up cash.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Should you hire an appraiser and inspector before signing the deal?

The answer is yes, and this can be done before putting your signature on the contract or at the end of the lease. You will have to add this to the agreement, of course, but most homeowners won’t mind it. Both appraisers and inspectors can help you get the best bang for the buck.

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What is the difference between an appraiser and an inspector?

The home inspector will give you the “ins and outs” of the house, including the condition of the roof, attic, walls, floors, windows, basement, and the HVAC and electricity systems.

The appraiser, in turn, will evaluate the property based on the location, recent sales in the area, the neighborhood, and other factors and send a detailed report. So, yes, both services are well worth it if you’re serious about buying the house and want to negotiate the price before signing the contract or while the lease period hasn’t expired.

What if I am looking to sell?

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum (you’re the homeowner looking to sell), rent-to-own agreements do have their pros. First, they make it easier to attract high-quality, reliable tenants that won’t mind investing a bit into maintaining the property. Secondly, the rent credit will put extra money in your pockets at absolutely no expense. On the downside, if the potential buyers refuse to go ahead with the deal and purchase the house, you’ll be left “hanging”.

Another issue: some rent-to-own contracts last for many years. That means you’ll have to wait for that long before you can sell the property (which isn’t guaranteed). Lastly, while lease-purchase agreements are mostly beneficial, if you agree on a purchase price in advance, there will be a 50/50 chance that the price will either go up or down in the future.

How Do Rent-To-Own Homes Work? Everything You Need to Know! | House Grail (7)
When to Go for a Rent-To-Own HomeWhen Not to Go for a Rent-To-Own Home
Locking the price on the house is a priorityHigher rents are a big turn-off
You like the freedom of a lease-option dealYou have enough for a down payment
Putting part of the rent into a down payment is an important factorYou’re not sure you want to live in that house for a long time
You want to build up your credit score and save some moneyMeeting the terms of the agreement is a tough challenge

How Do Rent-To-Own Homes Work? Everything You Need to Know! | House Grail (8)


Rent-to-own homes are a relatively new concept, and they’re not totally risk-free. Now, if you’re looking for the golden middle between buying a house and renting it, this agreement will be the best bet for you. By being able to “freeze” the price of the property and putting the rent money to good use, you’ll get the best bang for the buck.

You will have to be confident in your own ability to pay on time and consider all the pros and cons before signing the agreement, though. Failure to pay in time might leave you with a lawsuit and/or cancel all your previous efforts. Still, for the right person, rent-to-own homes are a great option!

Featured Image Credit: Travelpixs, Shutterstock


  • 1 How Does It Work?
  • 2 What Are the Different Types of Rent-To-Own Agreements?
    • 2.1 Lease-Option Contract
    • 2.2 Lease-Purchase Contract
  • 3 Where Are They Used?
  • 4 Advantages of Rent-To-Own Homes
  • 5 Disadvantages of Rent-To-Own Homes
  • 6 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
    • 6.1 Should you hire an appraiser and inspector before signing the deal?
    • 6.2 What is the difference between an appraiser and an inspector?
    • 6.3 What if I am looking to sell?
  • 7 Conclusion


What are 3 advantages to owning your own home as opposed to renting? ›

Top 10 Benefits of Owning vs. Renting
  • Pay Your Mortgage Instead of Your Landlord's. ...
  • Control Your Own Space. ...
  • Build Personal and Generational Wealth. ...
  • Enjoy More Home Options. ...
  • Put Down Roots for Yourself and Your Family. ...
  • Enjoy the Emotional Benefits of Ownership. ...
  • Experience Greater Financial Stability.
Aug 10, 2021

What is one advantage of renting your home versus owning? ›

Unlike homeowners, renters have no maintenance costs or repair bills and they don't have to pay property taxes. Amenities that are generally free for renters aren't for homeowners, who have to pay for installation and maintenance.

What are a few things to consider when deciding between renting vs buying a house? ›

Renting offers flexibility, predictable monthly expenses, and someone to handle repairs. Homeownership brings intangible benefits, such as a sense of stability and pride of ownership, along with the tangible ones of tax deductions and equity.

What are 2 things to think about when choosing to rent? ›

Apartment Hunting? 10 Important Things to Consider When Renting
  • The Price. First and foremost, can you reasonably afford to live here? ...
  • The Quality. Don't trust those pretty pictures you see online. ...
  • The Landlord. ...
  • The Roommates. ...
  • The Neighbors. ...
  • The Neighborhood. ...
  • The Lease. ...
  • The Pet Policy.
May 30, 2017

What is a major disadvantage of owning rental property? ›

The drawbacks of having rental properties include a lack of liquidity, the cost of upkeep, and the potential for difficult tenants and for the neighborhood's appeal to decline.

What are the disadvantages of the rent-to-own form of payment? ›

Here are the downsides to a rent-to-own contract:
  • You might lose money. Due to fees and rent credits, you might end up losing money in the deal if you don't purchase the house in the end. ...
  • You might have to pay more fees. ...
  • You might have to purchase the house. ...
  • You aren't guaranteed financing.
7 days ago

Why owning is always better than renting? ›

As a renter, you don't build equity over the long term and if you leave, you don't get to take any profits with you. Owning a home can be empowering and emotionally rewarding. The money you spend on your mortgage every month and improving your home yields a long-term investment benefit for you instead of a landlord.

What are 3 advantages of rent to own? ›

Let's take a look at some of the benefits of rent-to-own homes:
  • It allows you to save money for a down payment. Renting-to-own can be a great way to save money for a down payment and give that home a test drive to make sure you like it. ...
  • You can save on repair costs. ...
  • It offers you the option to buy or move.
Jan 13, 2023

What are the three factors most important to deciding which home to buy? ›

You should examine your income, savings (for a down payment and closing costs), and recurring debt to figure out how much house you can afford to buy.

What is the 5 rule when comparing renting vs buying? ›

Multiply the value of the home by 5%, then divide that number by 12 to get your breakeven point. If the monthly rent on a comparable home is below the breakeven point, it makes financial sense to rent. If the monthly rent is higher than the breakeven point, it makes financial sense to buy.

What are the four monthly costs that a homeowner needs to pay? ›

What Monthly Costs Are Included In Home Ownership? Most homeowners pay a monthly mortgage. Other potential monthly costs include taxes, homeowners insurance, private mortgage insurance (if you have an FHA mortgage), and HOA fees, if applicable.

Is it smarter to rent or buy? ›

Buying a house gives you ownership, privacy and home equity, but the expensive repairs, taxes, interest and insurance can really get you. Renting a home or apartment is lower maintenance and gives you more flexibility to move. But you may have to deal with rent increases, loud neighbors or a grumpy landlord.

When searching for a rental property what is the most important factor to consider? ›

Property appreciation - When searching for properties, you want to look in areas with strong growth in their employment rates, a household income where spending 30% of your earnings on rent is comfortable, or big development projects taking place, such as new transportation.

What is the biggest risk of owning a rental property? ›

#1: Vacancy Rates

The biggest and most common risk that real estate investors need to consider is high vacancy rates! Tenants will be the primary income source for all your rental properties. So, if you want them to make money, you need to keep your property occupied!

What four risks are associated with owning rental property? ›

4 Risks of Managing Your Own Rental Property
  • Screening of the Tenant. Many private landlords don't have the expertise and resources to properly screen the tenants and determine whether they're able to pay their rent on time. ...
  • Legal Implications of Being a Landlord. ...
  • Security Deposit. ...
  • Regular Inspections.

What is the advantage of owning a rental property? ›

Main tax benefits of owning rental property include deducting operating and owner expenses, depreciation, capital gains tax deferral, and avoiding FICA tax. In most cases, income from a rental property is treated as ordinary income and taxed based on an investor's federal income tax bracket.

Does rent to own affect credit score? ›

Does Rent-to-Own Affect Your Credit Score? Rent-to-own agreements are not reported to credit bureaus so your credit score is unaffected.

Why do people want to own a home? ›

Historically, the biggest advantage of owning a home is long-term financial security. For decades, home ownership in America represented stability because the housing market almost always went up in value, rewarding homeowners with equity and also a way to borrow money, should the need arise.

Is it financially smart to buy a house? ›

If you're financially stable and need a place to live, buying a home can be a great investment. With fixed mortgage rates, you could save money on rent, build equity and enjoy the tax deductions of being a homeowner.

What are 4 advantages of owning a home? ›

4 Benefits of Owning a Home
  • You Can Build Equity Over Time. Equity is the difference between how much your home is worth and how much you owe on your mortgage. ...
  • Your Monthly Payments Can Be Stable. ...
  • Owning a Home May Offer Tax Benefits. ...
  • You Can Create the Home You Want.
Aug 25, 2022

What does rent to own mean Canada? ›

A rent-to-own plan is typically an agreement for the rental of an item. You will not own the item until you have met the conditions in your rent-to-own agreement. In addition to your monthly payment, you may have to pay fees. These can include an additional amount to pay if you want to purchase the item.

Should you rent or own and why? ›

Renting provides much more flexibility. However, if you have returned to the office, either full-time or partially, and assume you'll remain in your current job for a few years, then buying might be wiser. A common rule of thumb is if you plan to stay in the home for five to seven years, then buying is a good option.

How can I build equity without buying a house? ›

You can build wealth while you rent by directing some of your available cash flow to savings, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, or even other investments like education or a business startup.

What is the #1 feature to consider when buying a home? ›

1. The Location. They say the three most important things to think about when buying a home are location, location, location. You can change almost everything else, but you can't change your home's location.

What is the most important thing to buy a house? ›

Here's why each of those things should be critical to your home search.
  1. Location, location, location. You've probably heard it before. ...
  2. Price. ...
  3. Home style and size. ...
  4. Home amenities. ...
  5. Quality of nearby schools. ...
  6. Taxes and cost of living. ...
  7. Size of the property. ...
  8. Homeowners association (if applicable)
Jan 3, 2022

What are five things to consider before buying a house? ›

Learn everything to know about buying a home with our first-time home buyer guide.
  • Understand Your Monthly Costs. ...
  • Keep Your Eye on Interest Rates. ...
  • Commute Times Are Key. ...
  • Get Educated about Local Schools. ...
  • Check Out Local Community Life. ...
  • Take Noise Levels into Account. ...
  • Get an Experienced Real Estate 'Advocate'

What is a good rule of thumb for buying a rental property? ›

The 1% rule of real estate investing measures the price of the investment property against the gross income it will generate. For a potential investment to pass the 1% rule, its monthly rent must be equal to or no less than 1% of the purchase price.

What is the 5% rule in Canada? ›

For owner-occupied homes, you would pay a minimum down payment in Canada of 5% on the first 500,000 and 10% on the amount above $500,000. The total of those two numbers equals your minimum requirement on a down payment.

What is a major expense associated with home ownership? ›

One-time costs include items such as a down payment, closing costs, escrow prepaids, and mortgage points you may pay to a lender to secure a lower interest rate. Ongoing costs include your monthly mortgage payment, property taxes, homeowners insurances, utilities, and maintenance costs.

How much should monthly home cost be? ›

The 28% rule

To determine how much you can afford using this rule, multiply your monthly gross income by 28%. For example, if you make $10,000 every month, multiply $10,000 by 0.28 to get $2,800. Using these figures, your monthly mortgage payment should be no more than $2,800.

How much should monthly house expenses be? ›

As a general rule, you shouldn't spend more than about 33% of your monthly gross income on housing. If you choose to spend over that amount on your mortgage each month, you run the risk of becoming what's known as house poor, which is when you spend a large portion of your monthly income on your home.

What question should I ask to landlord? ›

12 questions to ask a landlord before renting
  • How long is the lease term? ...
  • What's included in the rent? ...
  • When is rent due and how do I pay it? ...
  • Is the security deposit refundable? ...
  • Is renters insurance required? ...
  • How much notice do I give before vacating? ...
  • What's the penalty for breaking my lease?

How much should you have before renting? ›

Based on the above categories, you should save an amount equal to at least 3-4 months' rent. That will cover paying rent for the first month, security deposits and last month's rent.

What do you say when you want to rent a house? ›

Dear (Landlord name), My name is (Your name), and I'm writing to you to express my interest in the home at (address or property name). I would love to live in this place because (reasons you want to rent the property). I currently am a tenant at (current address) but am ready to move because (reason for moving).

At what age should seniors downsize? ›

As adults age into their 50s and 60s, many of them are ready to downsize. That often means purchasing a townhouse to trim maintenance or a smaller one-story home to keep stair climbing to a minimum.

Is renting really throwing money away? ›

Key points. Renting a property is often referred to as throwing away money. That's because, unlike with a mortgage loan, renting doesn't help you build equity. Renting isn't necessarily the wrong move for everyone though.

What are two disadvantages of renting? ›

Cons of Renting:
  • Your landlord can increase the rent at any time.
  • You cannot build equity if you're renting a property. ...
  • There are no tax benefits to renting a property.
  • You cannot make any changes to your house or your apartment without your landlord's approval.
  • Many houses available for rent have a “No Pets” policy.
Oct 31, 2019

What is the most common type of rental? ›

The 3 Most Popular Types of Rental Properties
  • Single-family rental houses. ...
  • Workforce multifamily apartment buildings. ...
  • NNN property leased to a single tenant. ...
  • Market trends. ...
  • Supply and demand. ...
  • Location of property. ...
  • Cash flow and appreciation. ...
  • Landlord tenant laws.
May 15, 2020

What is the best way to evaluate a rental property? ›

Also known as GRM, the gross rent multiplier approach is one of the simplest ways to determine the fair market value of a property. To calculate GRM, simply divide the current property market value or purchase price by the gross annual rental income: Gross Rent Multiplier = Property Price or Value / Gross Rental Income.

What is the advantage of owning over renting? ›

Most everyone knows the advantages of buying over renting: Equity that builds over time. A safeguard against inflation. Tax-deductible mortgage payments. The satisfaction of living in a home that you can improve or modify to your liking without worrying about a landlord.

What are the advantages of owning a home? ›

Here are seven benefits of owning a home:
  • More stable housing costs.
  • An appreciating investment.
  • Opportunity to build equity.
  • A source of ready cash.
  • Tax advantages.
  • Helps build credit.
  • Freedom to personalize.
Feb 9, 2023

What are 3 disadvantages to renting a home? ›

Cons of Renting:
  • Your landlord can increase the rent at any time.
  • You cannot build equity if you're renting a property. ...
  • There are no tax benefits to renting a property.
  • You cannot make any changes to your house or your apartment without your landlord's approval.
  • Many houses available for rent have a “No Pets” policy.
Oct 31, 2019

What are the 4 most important things you need to buy a home? ›

What Do You Need To Buy a House? 7 Requirements for 2023
  • → 1. Qualifying Credit.
  • → 2. Proof of Income and Finances.
  • → 3. Cash Needed to Close On Your Home.
  • → 4. Home Buying Budget.
  • → 5. Mortgage Loan.
  • → 6. Mortgage Pre-Approval.
  • → 7. Real Estate Agent.
  • → Final Thoughts.
Jan 5, 2023

What is a common disadvantage of owning a home? ›

The disadvantages of owning a home mostly fall into the category of permanence, with a dash of financial uncertainty. Buying a new house costs money, and a lot of that money comes out of your pocket at the time of the purchase. Later, there are no guarantees that home prices will rise.

What are two disadvantages of owning your own home? ›

Disadvantages of owning a house
  • Large upfront investment. With the median home price breaking $400,000 for the first time ever in 2021, buying a house is a sizable investment that not everyone can afford. ...
  • Requires a commitment. ...
  • High cost of homeownership. ...
  • More difficulty relocating. ...
  • Chance of decreased home value.
Apr 14, 2023

Is it smarter to rent or own? ›

Buying a house gives you ownership, privacy and home equity, but the expensive repairs, taxes, interest and insurance can really get you. Renting a home or apartment is lower maintenance and gives you more flexibility to move. But you may have to deal with rent increases, loud neighbors or a grumpy landlord.

What are two tax advantages of owning a home? ›

The two main tax benefits of owning a home in terms of credit include the mortgage credit certificate (MCC) and the potential for a residential energy credit.

What is the rule of thumb for rent vs buy? ›

The price-to-rent ratio: Take a monthly rent figure and multiply it by 12, so it's an annual number. Divide the purchase price of a similar property by that annual rent number. A ratio greater than 20 generally weighs in favor of renting, while a figure less than 20 generally favors buying.

What is a financial risk of being a homeowner? ›

Properties can lose value

A common financial risk of homeownership is that the home's value decreases. As a result, the homeowner loses equity, and might end up owing more on their mortgage at some point than the home can be sold for. The homeowner then would be unable to refinance or borrow cash against their equity.

What is the biggest monthly expense as a tenant? ›

Landlords usually consider little more than your monthly income and employment longevity. Renters' most significant expenses are rent, insurance, and utilities. Homeowners have housing expenses that are much higher and include items that should be considered.

What are 5 factors you should consider before buying a house? ›

There are a lot of factors to consider when buying a property. Location, size, age, condition, value, and your budget are all important things to keep in mind. It's important to do your research and make sure that you're getting a good deal on the property.

Is renting ever better than owning? ›

If you're only going to live in a place for only a year or two, renting makes more sense. However, if you're going to stay there for three years or more, then buying would be a good idea and it becomes a better idea the longer you stay.


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