You can also choose from among many first-time home buyer programs, some of which will let you buy a home with good credit, with very little if anything down and no closing costs. Moreover, some sellers in this market are trying to stand out among the sea of inventory by offering seller financing such as lease option purchases, land contracts or owner-carried mortgages.
However, if you have your heart set on this particular home, before approaching the landlord, you should tour nearby open houses on Sunday (and there are plenty of them in Land Park and Curtis Park). OK, maybe not THIS Sunday because of the holidays, but the following. :) Get a feel for how much this home is worth, because in these two neighborhoods, homes that sit next door to each other can be apart in price by hundreds of thousands. Even homes with identical square footage can vary in price.
You can ask a local title company to pull comparable sales for you (you don't need a real estate agent for THAT). However, if you ask any agent who works in Land Park / Curtis Park for an estimate of value, anybody who sells and tours properties in these neighborhoods on a regular basis should be able to give you a range of value off the top of their head and might have even seen this home before it was rented.
Then ask your landlord if he may be interested in selling to you, but don't mention price. Sometimes sellers will say, "Sure, I'll sell, if the price is right," and in this market, you CAN get a good price on another home if this seller isn't willing to be reasonable on pricing. In this instance, a competent agent can be a real asset to you by helping to negotiate a price. If your lease isn't set to expire soon, though, realize that your landlord may have no motivation to consider selling in a buyer's market and might prefer to wait. So consider timing your approach.
What else would you say? If the house is generating positive cash flow for the landlord, unless the landlord absolutely needs to sell, he probably won't. How do I know this? I'm a landlord, and because my house is cashflowing, unless I am stupid, I will insist that you give me top dollar. Next question, please.
The first place I suggest you start would be to get a very clear understanding of your personal financial situation. Lending has changed a lot in the last year, and many loan programs that were available even a few months ago (or heck - last week even) are no longer available. If you need 100% financing, have a credit score under 700, or have income that is not easily documented, do not waste time talking to a loan officer - programs to accommodate these circumstances are becoming difficult to afford/obtain. I would start by talking to a reputable, local loan officer. Get a referral from a friend, family member, colleague, etc. to a loan officer they trust and have successfully completed a loan transaction with. If you do not have any luck getting a referral, I suggest calling Marlena Olson with the Vitek Mortgage Group at 916-486-6900. Whichever loan officer you select, he/she will run your credit, and analyze this along with your income, savings, assets, etc. Determine your budget, and find out what programs are available to you and what your monthly payment will be. Make sure the monthly payment amount includes your principle, interest, property taxes, and insurance.
While you are figuring out your financial standing and purchasing power, if you are looking to live in 95818 (Land Park / Curtis Park), as Elizabeth suggested - take a Sunday and visit local open houses...there should be no shortage of them in those neighborhoods. Educate yourself with regard to architectural style, property conditions, location within those neighborhoods, etc. Prices will vary in those neighborhoods based on all of those factors and more. While you are at the open houses, talk to the agents who are hosting them. Ask lots of questions. If you are unable to go to weekend open houses, get in your car and drive different streets there. Get a feel for the area.
I may regret saying this, but if you do not want to contact a local title company to pull up recent comparable sales - you could try Zillow.com. While most "Zestimates" (what Zillow refers to as its "estimate of value") are grossly inaccurate in 95818, you will be able to look at recent sales data in those areas. You will have to educate yourself to determine which recent sales are actually comparable to the house you rent. Again - go to open houses, drive different streets, talk to agents, etc.
Once you have all of your arrows in your quiver, if you have decided that you want to attempt to purchase your landlord's house - my suggestion would be to call and ask if he/she is interested in selling. Meet him/her at the house and be prepared to back up whatever you have decided with facts. If you are not used to negotiation, you might consider purchasing a book on the subject. You do not need a Realtor to facilitate a purchase transaction. There are, however, many nuances to the purchase of property, and if you do not use a Realtor, definitely consult with an attorney, inspectors, appraisers, etc. If you do decide to use the services of Realtor (on this property or any other) - please pick one who specializes in Land Park / Curtis Park. Elizabeth Weintraub and I both work in these areas quite a bit. We are both top producers, and Elizabeth is a kick.
Best of luck to you!...and happy new year!