Real estate investing has long been considered a reliable way to attempt to build wealth. However, real estate investing requires active management, driving away many of today’s accredited investors. In 1960, a solution to this problem was presented in the form of real estate investment trusts, or REITs – Congress established REITs to “allow individual investors to invest in large-scale, income-producing real estate. REITs provide a way for individual investors to earn a share of the income produced through commercial real estate ownership – without actually having to go out and buy commercial real estate.”
Since the introduction of REITs, the industry has been booming. National Real Estate Investor recently reported, “The U.S. alone boasts 222 publicly-traded REITs, and IRS records show that about 1,100 listed and non-listed REITs pay taxes. … REITs now operate in 39 countries overall. Today, the market cap of the FTSE Nareit All REITs Index, the broadest index for equity and mortgage REITs in the U.S., stands at $1.1 trillion.”
The question now is, how can one seek to build wealth through REITs? To understand the answer, let’s look at some primary concepts related to REITs, their historical returns, and the process for investing in REITs.
A REIT is a company that owns and operates income-producing real estate and real estate-related assets. REITs differ from other real estate funds in their structure and operation. Regarding operational intent, REITs acquire and develop real estate properties for their portfolios; their intent is not to buy and sell for a profit but rather to work to benefit from a long-hold period with the real estate.
Types of REITs
REITs can be broken into three categories:
Generally, individual investors looking to build or preserve wealth invest in equity REITs over mortgage REITs because the latter often comes with greater risk. For example, mortgage REITs tend to be highly leveraged and, consequently, are vulnerable to changing interest rates. Therefore, those hoping to enjoy the benefits potentially provided by a REIT should consider an equity REIT option.
REITs offer various potential avenues investors can leverage to attempt to build wealth. Here are a few.
REITs can be categorized in various ways, and most of today’s REITs specialize in investments in certain asset classes. For example, there are retail REITs, office REITs, residential REITs, healthcare REITs, and industrial REITs, to name a few. While each offers a different level of return potential, recent data from Motley Fool outlines how various REIT subgroups performed in recent decades compared to the S&P 500; it shows that all REIT subgroups have outperformed the S&P 500. The S&P 500 experienced a 9.3 percent average annual total return between 1994 and 2019. In contrast, office REITs averaged 12.9 percent; industrial REITs averaged 14.1 percent; retail REITs averaged 12 percent; residential REITs averaged 13.7 percent; diversified REITs averaged 9.8 percent; health care REITs averaged 13.4 percent; lodging/resort REITs averaged 10.2 percent; and self-storage REITs averaged 16.7 percent.
Thus, most REITs have the potential to help investors build wealth.
Investors – depending on their financial position – have three options for investing in REITs.
All investors can invest in publicly traded REITs and publicly non-traded REITs. Publicly traded REITs are regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); shares of these REITs are listed on a national securities exchange and publicly traded. Non-traded REITs are also registered with the SEC but are not publicly available. Rather, most investors must work with an individual broker or financial advisor.
While public non-traded REITs generally come with higher commissions and are less liquid, they tend to offer investors the potential for higher returns and greater stability since they are not subject to market fluctuations. However, this comes with increased risk, as well.
A third option – private REITs – are generally available only to institutions or accredited investors. This option typically represents the highest potential for both returns and risk.
Today, hundreds of REITs collectively own trillions in gross assets across the United States. Identifying which REIT is most suitable for a portfolio is best done by speaking with a qualified professional about today’s investment opportunities.
(1) The National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT), which was formed in 1960, has been keeping track of historical return data for the REIT sector since 1972. It has developed several indexes to track returns, led by the FTSE NAREIT All Equity REIT Index. This index contains all 12 equity REIT subsectors (it excludes mortgage REITs, which aren’t classified in the real estate sector but are instead considered financial companies).
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