Yes there are legitimate companies doing land contracts. Lawyers, believe it or not, do them too. What happens is the land contract is signed, you get a copy of it. You file an affidavit of purchase under land contract with the register of deeds, letting the whole world know that you've got a land contract, and a third person keeps the deed in escrow until the land contract is paid off. You present proof of payment to the third party.
You can sue in a court of law under the land contract. You're protected that way.
The whole world is put on notice that there's a land contract through the affidavit, you're protected that way.
The deed is in the keeping of a third person. You're protected that way.
Hope that helps.
The information provided is based solely on the general information given and should not be construed as legal advice for your specific situation.
You can often get a better deal from a private owner rather than a company. To protect yourself, have the contract reviewed by a lawyer of your choice. If the seller does not have professionally drafted documents, you could ask that the seller split the cost of having the documents drafted by an attorney. For example, I have drafted and reviewed land contracts for clients in the past. It is not that expensive.
DISCLAIMER: This answer is provided as general information, which may not be appropriate for the specific facts of your particular situation. No attorney-client relationship has been established based on this limited communication. You are advised to consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction before taking any action or inaction that may affect your legal rights. www.hecklerlawoffice.com
I would second the advice of Attorneys Heckler and Hirsch. Whether you buy from a company or from a personal party, the only smart way to proceed is with legal counsel. Buying a house is probably the largest transaction you will ever go through. Making the purchase by way of land contract may save some money and allow you to qualify for financing, if you might not otherwise be able to do so through traditional lenders. On the other hand, you need to clearly understand the differences between the two types of transactions and what your rights are.
You protect yourself from fraud, (or more likely, from someone who is simply trying to take advantage of you), by hiring an attorney who not only has experience dealing with these types of transactions, but can assist you in avoiding problems and in working through anything that might come up.
Best of luck to you!