Hi Amber, We're in different markets ~ I'm in Ohio, but I wanted to respond to your question. In order to purchase a home, your credit score needs to be 680 ~ there are some lenders who will accept a minimum score of 620. First thing to do is contact an agent in your area, explain that you're looking for a lease with option to buy. A good agent will refer you to at least 3 reputable mortgage lenders (you'll pick which one you'd like to work with) to check your credit and make recommendations as to what you need to do to become credit-worthy. Some are simple fixes, others more complicated and in some cases, there may be erroneous information on your credit report. Lenders pull a tri-merge...not the same as the report you, as a consumer, can obtain.
Be aware that everytime you pull your own credit or a company (credit card, department store, etc.) ~ it lowers your score! Many prospective buyers are not aware of this - so only allow a mortgage lender to do so.
There are a number of companies out there who will charge you a fee to "fix your credit". Personally, I don't believe that's necessary ~ a mortgage lender can advise you at no cost. Also, it's much easier, I think, to work with a local lender rather than one you might find on the internet.
Give the real estate agent your list of "must haves" and the areas you're intersted in, much like you'd do when you're searching for a home to buy. Not all residential rentals are open to a "lease option", so be sure the homes you view will accept that arrangement. The terms of lease options vary...in some case, the owner will require 2 months' security deposit, plus the first month's rent. Others* will want you to deposit a "non-refundable" option fee ~ here in Ohio, it can be 3% of the projected sales price of the home.
There is an option period written into the lease...the time where you must exercise your option to go forward and purchase the home....usually between 1 to 3 years. That is worked out between you and the owner. It is strongly recommended that you have a real estate attorney review any lease option BEFORE you sign it, so that you're clear on what your...and the owner's responsibilities are. Always, always read the fine print.
*You should be aware also that there are large investment companies buying up distressed properties all over the country and turning them into rentals or rent-to-buy. They have their attorneys...you should also have your own attorney to look out for your interests.
Hope this has been helpful. Good luck to you.