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Smart Moves: Previously rented homes present real deals

by Ellen James Martin Published: August 2, 2014

Fred Meyer, a veteran real estate broker, helps homebuyers find property in the vicinity of Harvard University, a high-cost area where it’s tough for many purchasers to locate a property they can afford.

But through the years, he said, numerous clients have landed exceptional deals on houses occupied by tenants.

“Houses that are rented are hard to show and can’t be staged to bring out their best the way owner-occupied properties can. That means there’s less competition among buyers, which can sometimes translate to a below-market price,” Meyer said.

Though some rented houses are true “fixer uppers,” others are simply messy and need only surface upgrades, like interior painting or in-depth carpet cleaning.

Those rare buyers who can envision the potential of a house with merely superficial problems are often richly rewarded on price, according to Meyer.

Meyer recommends that homebuyers with affordability challenges open their minds to the possibility of purchasing a rental property that needs a limited amount of work.

“If you’re handy, this could be a very good buy for you,” he said.

Still, he allows that some buyers are so wary of living in a house that’s served as a rental that they won’t even bother to visit the place, let alone consider buying it.

Dorcas Helfant, a realty company broker-owner, said that in many areas there are now an abundance of renter-occupied houses on the market. These include many that are owned by individuals who’d been waiting for the rebound in property values before trying to sell.

“Lots of people really dislike being a landlord, especially if they’ve moved far away and are trying to manage their rental remotely. Because they’re often very anxious to sell and free themselves of this headache, they’re willing to negotiate seriously on price,” said Helfant, a former president of the National Association of Realtors (

Here are a few pointers for homebuyers considering a renter-occupied house:

• Plan your visit to the place when the tenants are absent.

With some exceptions, those living in a house that’s rented are unhappy that their landlord plans to sell.

“Some renters are extremely angry that they must uproot. To get back at their landlord — and try to sabotage a potential sale — they’ll leave the house in a very messy condition and make comments designed to drive away buyers,” said Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide for Buying a Home.”

In addition, some tenants exaggerate small issues and may even claim a house has problems that don’t exist.

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