Moving from a rental to our own home

14 years ago

My boyfriend and I are currently living in an apartment and are seriously looking into purchasing our first home. We are both young (just shy of 25) and know very little about buying real estate (although this forum has taught me a lot!)

Basically, our situation is this. We just resigned our lease in March for another year. I have read our lease agreement forwards and backwards and every which way multiple times and NO WHERE in the lease or any type of paper that I signed does it mention ANYTHING about what would happen if you wish to get out of the lease early.

Our last apartment was a small garden apartment building; there were only 5 apartments in the building. The lease had a paragraph in it saying that if we wish to get out of the lease early and the rental company could not find someone to rent our apartment, we would be responsible for the rest of the rent until the lease was up. We ended up leaving a month early and found someone to rent our apartment, through craigslist, on our own.

Our current apartment complex did not have anything in the lease about leaving early. It is a complex of 3, 7-story buildings with 8 apartments on each floor. We really didn't even think to look in the lease for an out clause. But now that we are thinking about buying a house, I'm worried.

I spoke with the property manager and was told, "The company doesn't allow lease breaks." Are they allowed to do this even though there was no previous mention of it?

I asked them if "hypothetically" we put an offer on a house and wanted to move what would happen? I was told that I would have to let them know in writing that we were leaving and if they could not get someone to rent our EXACT apartment we would be responsible for the rent. This seems silly to me. There are often empty apartments of the same floor plan in any of the 3 buildings on the property. I had asked if we were to put in that we were leaving, would they try to rent our specific unit first and was told "no." The property manager is a very unfriendly lady who I have never seen smile and is making no effort to help me or give me advice on what to do.

I'm conflicted on what to do. We don't HAVE to move, but would really like to start saving money. The area of NJ that we live in is very expensive and the area we are looking to move to is a lot more affordable. Being the worrier that I am, I am afraid that we will not be able to find someone to rent our apartment and be stuck paying a rent and mortgage payment, which totally defeats the purpose of us moving in the first place.

What would you do? Is it worth it for us to risk this? If we make an offer on a house, can we put in a contingency that we have to first find someone to rent our apartment?

Comments (24)

  • richard_f
    14 years ago

    The lease is a contract. You get exclusive use of their apartment, they get rent. There might be local laws that give you rights not spelled out in the lease, but I think in this case you're probably stuck.

    You can put any contingency on an offer that you like, but it will make your offer less attractive to a seller. You only have 7 or 8 months left on your lease. Use that time to start shopping. It takes months to go from an offer to a closing, so think about making an offer in December and tell the seller that you don't want to close until March.

  • clg7067
    14 years ago

    I've lived in many apartments with no "out" clause - for any reason.

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  • talley_sue_nyc
    14 years ago

    One other totally unsolicited piece of advice:

    Buying property together is the financial equivalent of getting married. Be sure you really want to be together long term, before you do this.

    Also, it may take a while for you to educate yourselves on your market. So figure your first several months just to look and get acclimated. THEN start to get serious. In *many* areas, the housing market is either stable or dropping, which actually could work FOR you.

    Also, there are homeowners who woudl appreciate selling to someone who is currently renting. When we bought our place, our sellers didn't start looking for their NEW home until they had an accepted price on their OLD one. The fact that we were willing to wait several months before closing was a huge thing in our favor; we were a very attractive buyer, bcs they had time to look around; they didn't have to RUSH to find a new place. And, we could plan on a month of overlap, which not only gave us time to paint before moving, but it ALSO meant we could offer to rent back to them for several days, which made their moving easier, didn't hurt us in the least, and made us--again--a very attractive buyer to them.

  • christine_marie
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    talley sue: I knew that advice was going to come! We plan on getting married in the future; we've been dating since I was 19 and living together since I graduated college in 05. I know you were just trying to help, but having to explain myself to people gets old. You wouldn't believe how many people have the audacity to tell us "we live in sin" :eye roll:

    now if you reminded me that we needed multiple bedrooms for future children you would have gotten a nice "thanks mom!" from me. haha

    moving on, that is good to know! I felt like wanting to wait a while to close would be a obstacle for us, so its nice to know this could help us in the long run.

    I"m trying to learn as much as possible about the market. we've been looking around since June so I'm starting to learn more about the whole process.

  • quip
    14 years ago

    christine_marie, do not assume that the comments about married vs single have anything to do with "living in sin." I cannot speak for talley sue, but I could care less about your life style. Your question regards a huge purchase, so my advice is meant to be finanicial and practical. Persumably, right now you and your BF share a lease, so either one of you could be held liable for another 7 months of rent if the other walked. Not so bad really as you could probably get a roommate. If you sign a mortgage, the lender can come after you for the entire amount if something happens with (or to) BF. The lender can leave him alone and ask you to pay the whole thing if they wish, and yet he still owns half. That could be a huge burden. And you don't even have divorce laws to protect you.

    I have some personal experience to share. A close relative and her BF bought a condo. A while later, he became addicted to drugs, ran up debt and lost his job. She was a mess. Not only was the man she loved in deep trouble, but she could not afford to pay the mortgage alone. She could not sell the condo without his consent and participation (he was in no condition to participate). We were able to help her financially (and I hope emotionally) temporarily, but we couldn't have done it forever. Their story has a happy ending--he cleaned up enough to agree to sell while the market was good), he went through rehab, got a new job and they are now doing well. I shudder to think of the other possible outcomes.

    Just be careful about signing a large debt with your BF; do not take it lightly.

    Back to the lease. You are heading into the slow time of year for moving. Fewer people buy and fewer people sign leases. If units are currently empty, your landlord will want to lease the empty units and keep you on the hook for the rest of your lease. Even if allowed, subletting has disadvantages of its own.

    If you decide you want to take this plunge, I suggest you start going to open houses, talking to lenders and make plans to move in the late winter or early spring when your lease is up (or close). don't rush.

  • minet
    14 years ago

    I think each area is different, so you should check to see if there's a local housing authority that can give you some advice. I'd just look online. There's often some kind of city/county program that can advise you about these situations.

    We moved from a house to a rental apt to a house, and we broke our 6-mth lease early, after 3 months. But our rental agreement said clearly what it would cost us (1 month's rent) and that we'd be responsible for apt cleaning etc.

    I'd be really surprised if there's not *something* in there that talks about breaking the lease. Have you asked any of the other tenants if they know anything about it?

  • try_99
    14 years ago

    Few things I would consider if I were you...

    Wait till I get married

    Try to maximize contribution to 401k and IRA for both husband and wife. And also continue saving for the down payment. Try to save MINIMUM 20% down.

    And also I will make sure that the house is not more than 3x income.

    Oh and did I mention that I would wait until I am married before buying jointly? :)

  • housekeeping
    14 years ago


    Talley-Sue's suggestions about thinking carefully before making a RE purchase when you are not married is not directed at your morals or your life-style choices. It's directed at much more practical considerations like your wallet, your credit rating and your long-term economic security.

    Buying property that is your primary residence with someone who is not married to you (be it lover or platonic friend) is a potential mine field fraught with all kinds of difficulties. If nothing unexpected ever happened then it would be much simpler; but being more than three decades older than you I can attest to the fact that "life" (or whatever) happens pretty regularly. And having a tenant-in-common interest in an ill-liquid asset like a primary residence with someone who is not connected to you with the economic protections afforded married persons has a good likelihood of coming back to bite you in the rear pants pocket, or where ever you keep your wallet.

    It's not illegal; and certainly in my view, not immoral, it's just risky in ways that many people don't focus on until stuff happens. Which is why T/S brought it up.

    As somone who was your age in the wild 1970's, when living in sin was really novel, I am familiar with all the societal and family pressures and the resulting defensiveness it engenders. But I would never presume to criticize anyone's choice for those conventional reasons. However I, perhaps like T/S, have personally experienced, or at least observed dear friends struggling with, the economic and practical issues we are trying to draw your attention to.

    On another note, if you've been reading here lately you've probably also read that new home buyers often have the belief that simply buying a home will "help them save money" by not throwing away rent money. And they have heard that they can buy a house with no money down and all will be well. Sorry, but that's not really true, at least in the current market conditions. I'm hoping you and your boyfriend have got money set aside for a substantial downpayment because that means you are already committed savers and will likely be able to leverage that habit even further when you are homeowners. But simply buying a house to become savers is not usually successful, as tens of thousands of deeply unhappy, even desperate, homeowners who are likely to loose their homes to foreclosure over the next several years are going to find out.

    If you have questions about your lease and any possible escape clause written into local or state laws, the correct place to ask those questions is in a lawyer's office or renters' law clinic.



  • christine_marie
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    I thank you all for the advice. I know that her comment wasn't about our life together, it was more of a comment on my part how much we deal with people judging us.

    I'll say this. We are almost 25. We both have excellent jobs, credit scores over 800, good sized 401B accounts ( we work for the state university), have a lot of money saved, and plan on marrying. If I used the word "fiance" would it change the advice given? It really bugs me that, as an adult, I have to fight to be taken seriously b/c I'm not married.

    I understand all of your advice, and if this was someone I have been dating for a short period of time, I would take your advice to heart, but it isn't uncommon for people to purchase their property prior to a wedding, and thats what we want to do. If it eases your fears both sets of families are completely behind this b/c they understand our situation.

    now about the lease. I am as stumped as you all are, I have read it many many times, and there is nothing in there about it. Even the property manager confirmed that there is nothing written n the lease about. Which is why I was confused about what to do. We aren't looking to sublet our apartment to anyone, we want wo bring someone to the property manager and say "this person wants to rent out exact apartment"

    We have already talked to lenders about mortgages, got pre-qual for a mortgage way more expensive then we were planning on getting at b/c the goal here is to save money, not buy a house we can just afford.

    we aren't in a rush by any means. I'm a scientist, and the nature of my thinking means I need a logical plan for every possible situation. we've been casually looking at houses, and have an appointment tomorrow to look at 5 houses. I can't feel calm about the situation if I don't have a plan in case we find a house that we LOVE, you know? Also, I have a fear that we wont resign out lease and end up not finding a house we love, and end up not having a place.

  • lyfia
    14 years ago

    Nobody is questioning your married or not and fiance wouldn't make a difference at all to me unless you were buying a house and closing on it around the same time as the wedding. Everybody is only talking about the legal protection you get when being married if something were to happen to you or your BF.

    Let's say you buy a house together now and before you get married one of you are in a car accident and pass away. Now the one that is left has to deal with those that will inherit the dead person. You could get around this scenario with a will, however that could still be contested etc. I just wanted to use it as an example of what people are talking about when buying property and not being married and protection under the law. Make sure that you think through all the possible scenarios that could cause you trouble as an unmarried couple and try to protect yourselves.

    What happens if one of you become disabled and you can't guardianship of the other person. Lets say a relative got guardianship over you and to help pay for your care wants to sell part of the house. Then your BF could be forced to do so if they took him to court.

    What people mean when they talk about marriage is just these things that when you are married you don't have to worry about.

    Just be smart and consider all these things and put contengencies in place. It sounds to me like you both could benefit from a real estate lawyer. To look over what you can do to protect each other in your purchase as well as look over what can be done about your lease.

  • christine_marie
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    I've realized I sound way more offended then I actually am. I promise, I really appreciate people trying to look out for my financial interest. I just really don't want to turn this into a thread about buying a house with a partner and not a husband/wife.

    I just want to try and figure out how I can get out of this lease if need be. We are meeting with a new Realtor tomorrow ( I wasn't too fond of the last one) who is an old family friend of my boyfriend, so I'm hoping to feel more comfortable with her and be able to talk about this to her and get her advice on what to do. I just struck me as odd that there was nothing in the lease about this, although I admit it was our fault for not noticing this before hand.

    I guess I'll be making a call to my mom's office, who conveniently works in a law firm, and talk to the real estate lawyer about it?

  • xamsx
    14 years ago

    As far as your current lease; hire an attorney to read the fine print. S/he can tell you your rights concerning breaking the lease or subletting if a negotiated buy-out is not possible with your current property manager. You have rights and they vary by state, county and municipality.

    But, look at it this way - even if you start looking for a house tomorrow it could take a while to find the "right" property. Closing could take up to two months. You may only have a month or two left on your lease at that point. It is very nice to be able to paint and clean your new home before you move in - especially if you have hardwoods that need to be refinished. February 28th could be here before you know it.

  • christine_marie
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    lyfia, I understand the point you and everyone is trying to make. My mother works in estate planning, so my life and finances have been put in order so everything is taken care of until we are "offically" married.

    I wish I would have realized how one word would have sidetracked this thread! Lesson learned ;)

  • quip
    14 years ago

    "I am as stumped as you all are, I have read it many many times, and there is nothing in there about it."

    I'm not stumped. You signed for a year; the landlord wants you to pay for a year. He did not give you an early termination clause because he does not want you to terminate early.

    You certainly should check to see if there is applicable local law giving you protections that the landlord and property manager don't care to discuss.

    Everywhere I have lived, the landlord cannot continue to collect rent from you if he gets another tenant. And, where I have lived, they are supposed to make a reasonable effort to find another tenant. But I don't think they have any reason to push your apartment over another empty one. Finding a qualified tenant for them is a decent idea, but how can you seek the tenant until you know when you will move? Can you afford to pay carry both places if you find a place you love tomorrow?

  • christine_marie
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    xamsx, thank you. As self sufficient as I try to be, I really am woefully ignorant in real estate matters,but I'm trying to learn! I'll talk with the realtor tomorrow and then talk to the lawyer if I am still confused.

  • christine_marie
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    quip: I understand the I signed a year lease. This is only the second apartment I have rented, and out previous lease had a section in it describing what happens if you decide to leave early. I guess I expected to look at the lease and see "lease breaks are not granted... etc etc etc... if the tenant needs to leave the apartment... etc etc etc"

    we obviously wouldn't seek a new tenant until we knew when or if we were going to move.

    If all else fails, I guess I am just going to accept that we have to wait it out till March. I was just trying to figure out if I had any other options

  • talley_sue_nyc
    14 years ago

    MOST municipalities or states have laws that say essentially the same as your old lease said--if the landlord finds a new tenant, they can't keep charging you rent. So really, I bet your situation isn't ANY different than it was in the last lease.

    It's just that in the new lease, they didn't bother to put in the stuff that's probably covered by local or state laws.

    And, quip is right--while the landlord has to make reasonable attempt to rent it out, he isn't required to steer whatever tenants he finds, to YOUR apartment. He may not even be required to rent YOUR apartment to any tenant YOU bring him--he may be allowed to say, "thanks for finding me a tenant; I'm going to rent him 2B instead of your apt." That's probably no different, really, than your old lease.

    You want to buy in an area you don't currently live in--that means market research will be slower and harder (bcs you'll have to travel a short bit to go to open houses, etc. I'm betting March will be just fine.

    Also, if you're ready to put in bids in December, you'll probably find that sellers are pretty motivated then. If they're selling in Nov,/Dec./Jan, it's usually because they HAVE to. So that might stand you in good stead.

    I wouldn't sweat the "breaking the lease" thing right now--you need more info on your market, etc. You don't *need* to rush, really--you're living together now, so you're not in a hurry to accomlish that. And the market is probably not rising rapidly, so you don't need to rush on that account.

    It's possible your current rent in the more expensive area is more than your potential mortgage would be, but by the time you factor in moving costs, points, etc., I don't think you'd come out that far ahead by moving sooner and not later. Esp. if the market is dropping a bit.

    (also, if you're ready to buy a house together in the next few months, why not just get married in the same timeframe? I've never quite understood the "we know we want to get married in the future but not now" mindset. Either you want to get married, or you don't. If you do, why are you waiting a long time? If someone is willing to go through all the financial permanency and paperwork, etc., of buying a house, why not a marriage ceremony? I work at a weddings magazine, and I really hate that my daily work contributes to the fact that so many people are waiting until they can "afford" to get married--which translates "until we have $20k to waste on a fancy party")

  • mfbenson
    14 years ago

    Well, there's always the "deadbeat" approach: move out in the middle of the night, kiss your deposit and good credit rating goodbye, and forget you ever lived there. Make sure you've closed on the house before trying this.

    Depending on how aggressive the landlord is with legal action, that could be a really bad idea, but in some places I've lived it seems to be business as normal.

  • disneyrsh
    14 years ago

    I don't think any of us on this board give a rat's patootie if you're living "in sin" together or not; it is SIMPLER to purchase a house if you're married. You have more legal protections.

    The fact that you're getting defensive about your living situation says to me that you're not mature enough to have a "where are we going and let's make concrete plans" with your significant other, and if you're not grown up enough to plan your relationship, you're not grown up enough to buy a house.

    And everyone's right, silly or not, you signed a contract. I'd have to say it was "silly" of you not to understand what you signed, not "silly" of the landlord to put it in there.

    Whole lotta silly happening in this thread...

  • triciae
    14 years ago

    I agree with disney...

    Not enough maturity here to understand & handle a lease & you're contemplating a mortage? Your worried about finding a "dream house" & not being ready to move? Get real...there are a million "dream houses" out there. That one sentence told me you are not yet ready to purchase a home. Do you even know how title to real estate is held? Do you know what joint tenancy & tenants in common mean? Are you aware you could lose your home to foreclosure for more reasons than your failure to make mortgage payments? No? I suggest learning before you sign all of the 4,700 documents at the closing on your "dream house".

    Oh, and there's no way you'll "save" money via purchasing over renting. After your first trip to Home Despot or Sears for homeowner "equipment"...that lease will be looking pretty darn cheap!

    Homeownership is a long-term commitment. Marriage is a long-term commitment. The two go very nicely together. As the wife of an attorney, I can say to you that the two do not go as nicely together one without the other. And, it has absolutely nothing to do with morals & everything to do with finances & other inconvenient legal "stuff".

    If you're determined to absolutely CERTAIN that you can carry the mortgage soley on your income & that you don't need to recover any monies you may contribute to the downstroke.

    I sound a bit snippy because I am being a bit snippy which is not my style (I'm sure others here will support me on that). But, your original question combined with your 'tude since has clearly shown me that it's not quite time for you to be a homeowner. You've got lots of "stuff" to learn first.

    However, when that time comes,
    Wishing you fair winds & safe harbor.


  • graywings123
    14 years ago

    christine marie - Sorry you are taking such a beating here. I think it is somewhat unjustified, since I don't see a bad attitude from you, just a frustration about getting unasked for advice.

    From what I see around me, a great many people your age (and older) do exactly what you are planning to do, buy the house as unmarried people. And then life either works out as planned or not.

    One thing people here are overlooking is that your plan involves moving to a less costly area. So you may well be better off financially if you buy a house versus renting in a high dollar area.

    Your original question has been answered - you are stuck with the lease. But the good news is that taking six months to research the new area and signing a contract in the dead of winter put you at a tremendous advantage and prevent you from impulse buying.

    And, now that your question has been answered, may I hijack this thread and ask specifically why being married gives someone more financial security in home ownership?

    Scenario 1: You live happily ever after, with or without a marriage certificate. No difference, except maybe income tax advantages in marriage.

    Scenario 2: You buy the house, decide to go your separate ways, but play nice financially. You sell the house, split the profits or losses. No difference married or unmarried.

    Scenario 3: You buy the house and one of you walks away, sets up housekeeping elsewhere, leaving the other stuck with the house and mortgage. How exactly do the marriage laws protect you if you are a young couple, both working, with no children? What can the aggrieved party expect to get in a divorce settlement that wouldn't happen otherwise?

    Scenario 4: You buy the house and one of you becomes a train wreck, drugs, gambling, etc. In this case, does being married help or hinder? It seems to me that my husband's gambling debts become my debts, don't they? Whereas, as unmarried people, the only asset at risk is the house, and that depends on how the ownership is constructed.

  • disneyrsh
    14 years ago

    Well, graywings, I think the "beating" as you so inelegantly referred to it, began with this statement from christine_marie: "We plan on getting married in the future; we've been dating since I was 19 and living together since I graduated college in 05."

    If she had said that she and her partner, then it would have communicated a completely different scenario to me. I have friends with long term partners, and they have purchased houses together. Some have worked, some haven't, just like the kind of folks that get hitched.

    What made me feel that she was not mature enough to undertake a house purchase was the way she was approaching marriage-sort of like, we'll get around to it, it's no big deal.

    In my circle, it's either a big deal TO get married or a big deal NOT to get married, but either way, it's a big deal.

    Not to be entered into lightly, yadda yadda. Neither should homebuying.

    And that, in a nutshell, is my point.

    A lack of gravity and maturity from the OP.

  • redcurls
    14 years ago

    Don't even CONSIDER that advice to leave your current apartment in the middle of the night. Your mortgage people will CHECK to be sure you have been released from your lease. In fact, the management may well have to sign off on it even if you are near the March renewal.

    I don't see them releasing you before the March renewal phase. Just be sure to read the fine print for exactly WHEN and HOW you have to give notice that you are NOT going to re-new. In my area, that can vary.......

  • graywings123
    14 years ago

    In my circle, it's either a big deal TO get married or a big deal NOT to get married, but either way, it's a big deal.

    disney - I don't know what the OP's reasons are for postponing marriage, but it is none of my business. And it appears to be a big deal to them to marry in the timeframe of their own choosing.

    In this day and age, she's right, it is common for a committed couple to buy a house together. My nephew and his (now) wife took the same route.

    They have been together for 6 years, have college degrees, good jobs, and retirement accounts, and plan to buy a house well below what they could get financed for. I see inexperience, but certainly not immaturity.