Finding a rent-to-own option can be challenging in a market in which prospective home buyers are competing for limited listings.

Homeowners are more likely to want to sell rather than rent out their property to a potential future buyer when they know the property will be snapped up if they put it on the market immediately. Alternatively, some homeowners who decide that they want to be landlords are holding on to their property for rental income and long-term appreciation rather than committing to a sale in a year or two.

At the same time, first-time buyers struggling to pay down student-loan debt and to save for a down payment may have dwindling hope for homeownership when prices go up. Prices rose nationwide by 5.8 percent between December 2016 and December 2017, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The Ownership Conversion Pilot, a program of Home Partners of America and New Penn Financial, combines traditional lease-to-own programs with the potential ability for renters to use any price appreciation of the home they rent toward the down payment when they purchase that property.

The pilot program, available in 40 markets across the country, including the District of Columbia area, allows approved applicants to work with a real estate agent to choose a home from a portfolio of properties available for sale and meeting Home Partner’s criteria.

The program purchases the home and leases it at a predetermined rent and provides a right-to-purchase agreement for a preset price in three to five years. Tenants sign a one-year lease that they can renew for additional one-year terms.

If the home goes up in value during the rental period, the resident can receive the benefit of the price appreciation. Residents may need as little as their security deposit for down payment and closing costs. Participants need to take homeownership education classes or counseling.

For details about the program or to apply, visit

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