Invest in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

What are REITs?

REITs (real estate investment trusts) are companies that own, operate, or finance income-generating real estate. They allow anyone to invest in portfolios of real estate assets the same way they invest in other industries through stocks.

There are a few different types of REITs:

  • Equity REITs – Own and operate income-producing real estate like apartments, offices, malls, etc. Most REITs are equity REITs.
  • Mortgage REITs – Lend money to real estate owners and operators either directly through mortgages and loans, or indirectly through the acquisition of mortgage-backed securities.
  • Hybrid REITs – Use the investment strategies of both equity REITs and mortgage REITs.

REITs make money for investors in a few ways:

  • Collecting rent on properties they own and operate. This rent provides a steady income stream.
  • Appreciation of the underlying real estate assets. As properties increase in value over time, the REIT’s share value increases.
  • Sale of assets. REITs can generate profits by selling properties after they appreciate in value.

Overall, REITs provide a way for anyone to invest in real estate without needing to go out and buy physical property. The diversified portfolios and professional management by REITs helps reduce risks compared to owning a single property. Also, to further your education, make sure you read Low-Risk Ways to Invest in Richmond Real Estate, including Invest in Rental Properties,  Invest in Fix-and-Flip Properties, Invest in Vacation Rentals, and Invest in Commercial Properties.

Benefits of REITs

Real estate investment trusts (REITs) offer several benefits that make them attractive to investors:

Income Generation

One of the primary benefits of REITs is that they can generate steady income streams. REITs are required to pay out at least 90% of their taxable income to shareholders annually in the form of dividends. This results in dividends that are typically higher than the average stock. REIT dividends can provide portfolio income and help hedge against inflation.


Adding REITs to an investment portfolio can increase diversification. Real estate generally behaves differently than stocks and bonds. REITs provide exposure to the real estate market without having to buy, manage, or finance properties directly. This diversification can help reduce portfolio volatility.

Low Volatility

REITs have exhibited lower volatility compared to more growth-oriented stocks. The dividends and diversification provided by REITs contribute to more stable total returns over time. This makes them appropriate for more conservative or income-oriented investors.


Investing in REITs provides the liquidity of buying and selling shares on a major exchange. This gives investors flexibility compared to directly owning real estate properties, which are often highly illiquid assets. With REITs, investors can move in and out of positions and adjust their real estate allocation more easily.

Risks of REITs

Investing in REITs does come with some risks that investors should be aware of before allocating a portion of their portfolio to these securities. Some of the main risks associated with REIT investing include:

Sensitivity to Interest Rates

REITs can be sensitive to changes in interest rates. Rising interest rates may increase REIT borrowing costs and can negatively impact property values. This is because as rates rise, the yield on bonds and other fixed income securities increases, making REIT yields less attractive by comparison. Many REITs use leverage as part of their capital structure, so higher rates also increase their debt servicing costs. These factors could lead REIT prices to fall if interest rates rise substantially.

Limited Growth Potential

REITs are required to pay out at least 90% of their taxable income as dividends to shareholders annually. This limits the amount of capital they can reinvest back into the business for expansion and renovations. As a result, REITs tend to experience slower growth compared to stocks. Investors should not expect to see the same capital appreciation from REITs as they might from growth stocks.

Management Quality

REITs are actively managed investments. The quality of management can have a major impact on the performance of a REIT. Poor capital allocation decisions or mismanagement can negatively impact REIT dividends and share prices. When investing in individual REITs, it is important to assess the management team’s experience, track record, and alignment of interests with shareholders. Some REITs have external management structures that may create conflicts of interest.

How to Research REITs

When evaluating REITs to invest in, conducting thorough research is crucial. Here are some key areas to focus your research on:

Focus on the Management Team

  • Look at the background and track record of the REIT’s management team. Seasoned real estate professionals with a proven ability to acquire, manage, and sell properties can make a big difference in the REIT’s performance.
  • Evaluate the management team’s compensation structure. Make sure incentives are aligned with shareholders’ interests.
  • Assess the depth of management. Beyond the CEO and CFO, is there a strong supporting cast in place driving operations?

Calculate Key Metrics

  • Analyze the REIT’s funds from operations (FFO). This measures profits from operations. Look for steady growth over time.
  • Review the dividend payout ratio. Most REITs pay out 90% of taxable income as dividends. A lower ratio can signal problems.
  • Check the debt-to-equity ratio. High leverage can be risky in a rising interest rate environment. Look for reasonable debt levels.

Understand the Property Portfolio

  • Evaluate the property types in the REIT’s portfolio such as residential, retail, office space, etc. Diversification across sectors can reduce risk.
  • Assess the locations of the properties. REITs with holdings concentrated in certain regions are vulnerable to local economic conditions.
  • Look at tenant concentration. Reliance on a few major tenants introduces risk if they don’t renew leases.
  • Check the occupancy rate. Higher occupancy means more rental income. Look for stable, high occupancy.
  • Review the average lease term. Longer terms provide more cash flow stability.

By thoroughly analyzing the management team, key metrics, and property portfolio, you can better evaluate a REIT’s investment potential.

REIT Sectors

There are several main sectors of REITs to consider:


Residential REITs own and operate residential rental properties like apartments, student housing, manufactured homes, and single-family homes. These provide steady income from rent payments. Major residential REITs include AvalonBay Communities, Equity Residential, and American Homes 4 Rent.


Retail REITs own and manage retail rental properties like malls, shopping centers, and free-standing stores. Well-known companies are Simon Property Group, Realty Income, and Federal Realty Investment Trust. Retail REITs earn revenue from tenant rent and reimbursements.


Office REITs acquire, develop, and manage office buildings and space. Top office REITs are Boston Properties, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, and Vornado Realty Trust. Demand for office space drives revenues.


Industrial REITs own distribution centers, warehouses, storage facilities, and logistics assets. Major industrial REITs include Prologis, Duke Realty, and Rexford Industrial Realty. E-commerce and supply chain needs are boosting this sector.


Specialty REITs invest in niche real estate assets like cell towers, billboards, prisons, theaters, hotels, self storage units, and data centers. Examples are Crown Castle International, Public Storage, and Equinix. Specialty REITs offer diversification.

Tax Considerations

One important factor to consider when investing in REITs is their tax treatment. REITs have special tax designations that impact investors.

First, REITs are required by law to pay out at least 90% of their taxable income annually to shareholders in the form of dividends. This high dividend payout means that REIT investors will owe taxes each year on the dividends they receive, even if they don’t sell any shares.

Second, the dividends paid out by REITs are taxed as ordinary income, not as qualified dividends eligible for lower long-term capital gains rates. This means REIT dividend income is taxed at the investor’s marginal income tax rate, which could be significantly higher than the long-term capital gains rate.

For example, an investor in the 22% income tax bracket would pay that rate on REIT dividends, whereas qualified stock dividends are taxed at just 15% for investors in that bracket. The higher tax rate on REIT dividends is important to factor into after-tax return projections.

In summary, REITs come with the double taxation impact of high ordinary dividend payouts. Investors should be aware of this tax treatment and model the after-tax returns from REITs accordingly. The tax drag can be significant, so proper tax planning and investment account selection (like IRAs) is key for REIT investors.

REIT Performance

Real estate investment trusts (REITs) have historically delivered strong returns compared to more traditional investments like stocks and bonds. According to Nareit, the trade organization for REITs, the FTSE Nareit All REITs Index had a compound annual growth rate of 10.36% from 1990 to 2020. In comparison, the S&P 500 had a CAGR of 9.89% over the same period.

REITs have also consistently outperformed the broader stock market in recent years. For example, in 2020 the FTSE Nareit All REITs Index returned -8.70% while the S&P 500 returned 18.40%. However, over the 10 years from 2011 to 2020, the FTSE Nareit All REITs Index had an average annual return of 11.70% compared to 13.88% for the S&P 500.

When looking at specific REIT sectors, some have performed better than others historically. For instance, industrial REITs generated a 15-year annualized total return of 15.07% as of 2020, while retail REITs returned just 6.92% over the same period according to Nareit. Healthcare, residential, and specialized REITs also outperformed the overall FTSE Nareit All REITs Index return of 10.36% from 1990 to 2020.

In summary, REITs have provided favorable long-term returns compared to stocks and outpaced the broader equity market over multi-decade periods. However, performance can vary significantly by REIT sector and individual REITs. Proper due diligence is required to identify the best opportunities.

Building a REIT Portfolio

When building a portfolio of REITs, it’s important to diversify and find the right balance of risk vs. return for your investment goals. Here are some tips:

Diversify by sector and region – Don’t put all your money in one sector like retail or healthcare. Spread your investments across different property types. Also diversify geographically, as real estate markets can vary greatly by region.

Mix property types – Consider a mix of property types like apartments, malls, offices, warehouses, data centers, cell towers, etc. Different sectors perform differently over time.

Balance risk/return – Evaluate each REIT’s potential returns along with its risks. Higher yielding REITs tend to be riskier. Balance higher risk REITs with more stable ones to mitigate your overall portfolio risk.

Consider growth too – While REITs are known for dividends, you can also target ones with good growth potential through properties in high demand areas or segments. But don’t sacrifice stability just for growth.

Manage number of holdings – You want a diversified portfolio, but too many positions can be difficult to manage. Aim for around 10-20 quality REITs representative of different sectors and regions.

Reinvest dividends – Reinvesting dividends from your REIT holdings can significantly compound returns over time. Utilize a DRIP program if available.

Hold long-term – REITs are generally long-term investments. Don’t panic during market downturns. Stay diversified and keep reinvesting those dividends.

By building a well-balanced, diversified REIT portfolio and holding for the long-term, you can aim to generate stable income and growth over time. Adjust holdings periodically to keep allocations in line as markets shift.

REIT Investing Strategies

When investing in REITs, you have a few options:

Direct Investment

Investing directly in individual REITs gives you the most control over your investments. This allows you to hand-pick specific REITs based on your own research and goals. For example, you may want exposure to a certain real estate sector like healthcare or residential. Direct investment requires more research but enables you to build a customized REIT portfolio.

REIT ETFs and Mutual Funds

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds focused on REITs provide diversification by holding baskets of REITs. This spreads out risk across many REITs and real estate sectors. ETFs and mutual funds provide easy access to the REIT market without having to select individual companies. The downside is less control over your holdings.

REIT-Focused Funds

There are funds specifically designed to focus on REIT investing. These funds are managed by experts who actively research and select REITs to include in the fund. This provides the diversification of an ETF or mutual fund along with the active management of an expert fund manager. The costs may be higher than passive index funds but can provide strong REIT exposure with professional oversight.

The best REIT investing strategy depends on your goals, time commitment, and desired level of involvement. Direct investment gives the most control while fund investing provides simplicity and diversification.

Getting Started with REIT Investing

Getting started with real estate investment trusts (REITs) only takes a few steps. Here is how to begin investing in REITs:

Open a Brokerage Account

The first step is to open a brokerage account that allows you to invest in stocks and ETFs. Many major brokerages like Fidelity, Vanguard, and Charles Schwab offer commission-free trading on certain ETFs and stocks. Having a brokerage account gives you a platform to buy and sell REITs.

When opening an account, consider any fees, account minimums, and investment options offered. Ideally choose a brokerage that provides you access to the REITs you want to invest in without charging commissions.

Research REITs

Once your account is open, you can begin researching REITs to invest in. Look at the different REIT sectors like retail, office, residential, and more. Consider the fundamentals like dividend yield, earnings growth, debt levels, and property valuations.

Screen for REITs that align with your investment goals in terms of dividend income, growth, or both. Resources like Morningstar, Seeking Alpha, and REIT company investor relations sites can provide helpful research.

Make Your First Investment

When you’ve identified one or more REITs to invest in, it’s time to make your first purchase. REITs trade just like stocks, so you can enter orders on your brokerage platform to buy shares. Start small to get a feel for the process before investing larger amounts.

Set up automatic dividend reinvestments to compound your income over time. Continue to hold quality REITs as part of a diversified portfolio. With a brokerage account, research, and an initial investment, you’ll be on your way to REIT investing. We can assist with your real estate needs, we are Home Buyers in Richmond, VA.

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