Let me clarify a few of the comments below.
First, technically, there's no such thing as "rent to own." It can be a "lease-option" or "lease-purchase." A lease option allows you to rent and gives you the right (but not the obligation) to purchase. A lease purchase allows you to rent but obligates you to purchase. Either can be OK, though a lease-option usually is better from the tenant-buyer's standpoint.
Do NOT, repeat NOT, rely on a "first right of refusal" that might be contained in a lease. Check with a lawyer for all the reasons. Basically, that's almost no protection, and certainly less than if you have a recorded option (or "notice of agreement"). Further, one of the beauties of an option (or a lease-purchase) is that it locks in the price. In the case of an option--just as with the "first right of refusal"--you can walk away rather than purchasing. But with an option you know what the price will be. With the "first right of refusal," you don't.
Beyond that, "first right of refusal" applies only if the owner chooses to sell. You find the perfect house. You want to buy it in a few years. With an option, you've got that right. With a "first right of refusal," the owner legitimately can say, "No I don't want to sell." So you're living in limbo for all those years.
With a lease-option or lease-purchase, you can negotiate (and generally do) that a portion of your rent is applied to the purchase price. That's very rare with a simple "first right of refusal."
I could go on and on. But the point is, if you're interested in buying the home, a "first right of refusal" gives you almost no protection and certainly no leverage.
Hope that helps.
And when the market jumped you could have purchased at $300K, say in mid 2004, when the home value boomed & became, say, $475K, then the owner was up a creek without a paddle & you just scored big time.
These days, your best bet as you're cleaning up your credit & being good with paying your bills, just simply get into a regular lease, put up your 1st mo + security deposit & if you REALLY like the house you're renting, put a CLAUSE into your lease that states "Tenant has the right of first refusal should the landlord wish to sell the property during or at the end of the lease term".
This gives you first dibs on the house to place an offer & unlike the lease option, you will not put any other "option" monies at risk. Lease option monies are non-refundable, should you choose to NOT exercise your option to purchase within the specified time frame.
I don't look back on this same Trulia posting for answers after mine.
Emily S. Knell
Realtor Since 1996
Realty One Group