Chico Buyers and Sellers: Is a Lease Option the Right Option?


by Mike Wiegert

“Mortgage Meltdown” or “current mortgage crisis” are terms we commonly hear these days to describe an astonishing lack of real estate financing options. 100 percent financing, stated income and loans for borrowers with marginal credit, once common two or three years ago are now a thing of the past. In fact, these frivolously used loan programs were largely responsible for the hyperinflation in real estate prices seen during the first five years of the new millennium and the now subsequent alarming rate of foreclosures and short sales. Due to a lack of “easy” financing programs, we’re starting to see some of the creative techniques of home selling once popular in similarly slow real estate markets creeping back into use. One of the most commonly used methods of acquiring real property in times of stringent financing requirements has been the Lease Option Purchase.

A lease option basically means you are leasing or renting a Chico property with an option to buy it at a future date. The future price of the property should be fixed at the time the lease-option is signed.

Usually there is an up-front payment of some amount to purchase the option. The amount can vary. Sometimes the monthly payment is larger than normal and the excess is used to purchase the option. In some cases, the option money can be applied toward the down payment for the later purchase of the home.

The problem with most lease option agreements is that although most buyers using this type of sales agreement actually do intend to purchase or execute the agreement within the stipulated period of time, they rarely end up buying the home. Buyers using the lease option agreement most often do so because they cannot qualify for a home loan. Although they expect their financial issues to change, most of the time they find that they still cannot qualify. The process of qualifying for a mortgage requires a gamut of components, ie., credit, documentable income and savings verification. A would be buyer using the lease option agreement means well, but frequently is unable to resolve adverse credit issues and subsequently is unable to complete the transaction and loses the option money consideration.

BUYER BEWARE: A buyer wishing to enter into a lease option agreement may do so with all good faith. A well written lease option agreement will include a provision whereby upon the onset of the agreement, a Preliminary Title Report is issued by a Chico Title Company disclosing all the known liens, encumbrances and legal claims that may be attached to the property. The best title report in the world isn’t going to reveal that the Seller may be in financial trouble and a foreclosure may be just around the corner. Although the lease option agreement will stipulate that the Seller is to continue to make the monthly payments and taxes and maintain the property insurance, it’s certainly conceivable that a less than honest Seller may elect to accept a buyer’s option money and discontinue paying on the property.

A few months down the road, an unsuspecting buyer may find that the home in Chico is now in foreclosure and after the title reverts to the bank or an auction buyer, they may be faced with an eviction notice.

Of course, the buyer will have legal recourse against the seller but may not have the financial means to proceed against the him. In most cases, the seller will have used the option money deposit to resolve other financial difficulties and not have the resources to remedy a judgement against him. A possible solution to this dilemma, is for the parties to agree to leave the option money in a neutral escrow, until such time that the option is either executed or the lease option agreement is terminated.

Whatever creative proposals are considered, as always, when engaging in a complicated real estate transaction, do so with a trusted real estate professional or attorney who can explain all the ramifications of the sale.

Sandi Bauman (Chico Homes): Real Estate Agent in Chico, Butte County, California
Tomato University Graduate Real Estate Tomato

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