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A New Lease on Life

Real estate franchising gets a fresh twist from one seasoned veteran.

Michael Shinn knows a thing or two about real estate. He was a Century 21 franchisee in the '70s and '80s and was a builder of speculative Hawaiian custom homes for more than seven years. It wasn't until recently, though, that he had an epiphany: Shinn envisioned a new means to homeownership, and Denver-based National Home Buyers Assistance (NHBA) was born.

Local NHBA franchises offer a one-year Lease/Option contract on single-family homes to credit-challenged buyers. Though lease-to-own property is not a novel concept, NHBA's twist is. Franchisees don't seek buyers for pre-owned houses; they let potential buyers select the property first. The franchisee purchases the selected home and leases it to the client for a 12-month period, after which the client has the option to buy. All a franchisee needs to get started is the $25,000 franchise fee and enough capital to buy the first home. No real estate experience is necessary, though many franchisees are former real estate or mortgage brokers. While franchisees work independently of any real estate office, real estate agencies can offer previously unqualified buyers another option through a local NHBA franchise.

NHBA's formula relies on simple credit rehabilitation. Franchisees collect above-market payments from potential buyers during the lease period, and these payments not only provide profits for the franchisee but also lay the groundwork for the buyer's home loan. NHBA supports franchisees with semi-annual seminars, videoconferences and use of an escrow company to handle all mortgage payments.

With decades of experience behind him, Shinn calls this franchise innovation "bulletproof." "We believe NHBA will become much larger than Century 21 or RE/MAX," Shinn says, "because it's more profitable to the franchisee."

Franchising since January 2003, NHBA had 62 franchises in 19 states by the end of last year.

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This article was originally published in the March 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A New Lease on Life.

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