Tampa Bay area residents use rent-to-own program to access homes

TAMPA, Fla. — For Zach Jenkins, buying a home in the Tampa Bay area seemed out of reach at the start of 2020.

“I wanted to buy, but my credit score needed to be improved,” he said.

And two years later, that’s impossible for many. But Jenkins says he was able to repair his credit and recently closed his Spring Hill home by joining a “rent-to-own program” through the California-based company called Divvy.

“Looking at the market, it was skyrocketing. So we were able to lock in the house we wanted at a price two years ago,” he said.

We caught up with the company’s co-founder, Adena Hefets, who walked us through how the process works.

She tells ABC Action News that once someone is approved, they work with a real estate agent to find a home within a pre-approved price range, and then Divvy bids for you.

If they win, you pay a deposit equal to 1-2% of the cost of the house. Divvy then helps with closing costs and inspections, then establishes a rental agreement with you.

“You move in and make a monthly payment, it’s part rent and part equity and part equity strengthens your ownership and your savings in the property,” he said. she stated.

Jenkins says those equity payments Hefets mentioned raise the price of your rent, but adds that in his case, it helped him save money he could have otherwise spent.

“The rent you’re going to pay with divvy is more than you would normally pay because in your rent you’re saving for your down payment,” he said.

As part of the lease, you also have up to three years to decide whether you want to take over the mortgage or walk away with the equity you’ve saved.

It’s a process that may sound too good to be true, and Hefets tells ABC Action News she understands.

“If you’re nervous because the history of rent-to-own has been predatory, that’s absolutely the right emotion to have,” she said.

She adds that the process doesn’t always work for their clients. But to help avoid problems, she says, Divvy regularly checks their rental contracts and will work with customers who miss payments, to help bring homeownership a little closer to as many people as possible.

“It’s safety, it’s a place to send your kids to let them grow, save in an appreciating asset, and know you’re not doing it alone,” she said.

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