Rent-to-own: Little ticket to financial freedom

ADDRESS: 1111 Cottonwood Road

ASKING: $194,900

BUILDING: 1120 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.126 acres



CURB APPEAL: 5 of 10

LISTED BY: Win Wood, 962-5685

It's a huge step from renting an apartment to buying a house. Fixing your own toilet, replacing a roof, and finding the right property insurance can be obstacles that put this life-changing experience out of reach. Nevertheless, the advantages to having a mortgage instead of a lease are enormous, too.

Once the paperwork is signed, paying the bank feels a whole lot like paying the landlady. But there's a big difference. If you stay on top of those monthly payments, before long you'll quickly build up equity that turns into leverage for buying a bigger house, borrowing more money, or peace of mind on the day when the place is all yours.

The investment group that currently owns the little yellow house at 1111 Cottonwood Road, just outside the city limits in Albemarle County, understands the money crunch that may face a first-time buyer. For that reason they are advertising the house with multiple financing options.

They're happy to talk to a buyer with a regular loan from a bank, but they can also arrange owner financing– say, to someone whose credit record needs help or time to recover from a past stretch of bad moves or bad luck. They're willing to be creative about down payments, too. Win Wood, one of the principal members of Property Solutions, notes that they will even consider a rent-to-own arrangement that allows a prospective buyer to direct a portion of each month's rent toward eventual purchase.

Starter homes don't have to be fancy dream homes, and in fact, usually aren't. Yet this modest house has more than one feature to recommend it to a first-time owner in spite of offering what seems like just the bare minimum of living space. Recently remodeled, it sports all new flooring. Pleasant ivory wall-to-wall carpeting complements the warm yellow of the living room and continues in the hall and three bedrooms.

A new vinyl floor in the kitchen supports shiny new white appliances and cabinetry, including a flat-top electric range, dishwasher, refrigerator and separate freezer unit. All that– plus the washer and dryer hiding behind folding doors in the hallway– convey. That's a bundle of money that doesn't have to be spent up front if you don't already own those big-ticket necessities.

The attractive brick fireplace in the living room is outfitted with a wood stove; a heat pump and central air and ceiling fans take care of additional heating and cooling needs.

Two of the bedrooms are small squares– suitable for a child or two, and/or an office. The master bedroom offers more floor space, a bigger closet, and an adjoining half bath. There's no basement to cause worry about flooding (the house sits up a bit from street level, so it's likely to be a dry spot anyway) but basic storage needs can be accommodated by the many kitchen cabinets and reasonably sized closets at either end of the hallway, plus a newish-looking Rubbermaid storage shed out back.

There's more yard out front than in back, but a sliding glass door off the kitchen at the rear of the house not only provides natural light for that room, but extends it onto a concrete patio with a private feeling thanks to a high-rising bank. Neighbors on the same side of the street have individualized these narrow backyards in various ways with bird feeders, rock gardens, and picnic tables. (Inside, the dining area is part of the living room– a casual arrangement for parties and kids; a more formal dining room will have to be deferred to the next house purchase.)

A bay window in the front looks out past several dogwood trees into this neighborhood of other well-established family homes. Daylilies, boxwood, hollies, mums, and what may have been black-eyed Susans were spotted on a walk around the house, suggesting that there will likely be something of color almost year-round in the yard without any serious effort on the part of a novice landscaper.

In short, this clean, bright house with its unassuming spaces could become the critical first stepping stone for an individual or small family needing some help with their finances, but determined to bridge that gap between the house-haves and the have-nots.