How to Invest in Real Estate: 7 Ways for Beginners

By Rebecca Lake · May 18, 2024 · 11 minute read

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How to Invest in Real Estate: 7 Ways for Beginners

Real estate investing can be an effective way to hedge against the effects of inflation in a portfolio while generating a steady stream of income. When it comes to how to invest in real estate, there’s no single path to entry.

Where you decide to get started can ultimately depend on how much money you have to invest, your risk tolerance, and how hands-on you want to be when managing real estate investments.

Key Points

•   Real estate investing offers portfolio diversification and potential income generation.

•   Benefits of real estate investing include hedging against inflation and potential tax breaks.

•   Different ways to invest in real estate include REITs, real estate funds, REIT ETFs, real estate crowdfunding, rental properties, fix and flip properties, and investing in your own home.

•   Each investment option has its own requirements, fees, holding periods, and risk factors.

•   Consider your financial goals, risk tolerance, and available capital when deciding which real estate investment strategy is right for you.

Why Invest in Real Estate?

Real estate investing can yield numerous benefits, for new and seasoned investors alike. Here are some of the main advantages to consider with property investments.

•   Real estate can diversify your portfolio, allowing you to better balance risk and rewards.

•   Provides the opportunity to generate investment returns outside of owning securities such as stocks, ETFs, or bonds.

•   Historically, real estate is often seen as a hedge against inflation, since property prices tend to increase in tandem with price increases for other consumer goods and services.

•   Owning real estate investments can allow you to generate a steady stream of passive income in the form of rents or dividends.

•   Rental property ownership can include some tax breaks since the IRS allows you to deduct ordinary and necessary expenses related to operating the property.

•   Real estate may appreciate significantly over time, which could result in a sizable gain should you decide to sell it. However, real estate can also depreciate in value, leading to a possible loss or negative return. Investors should know that the real estate market is different than the stock market, and adjust their expectations accordingly.

There’s one more thing that makes real estate investing for beginners particularly attractive: There are many ways to do it, which means you can choose investments that are best suited to your needs and goals.

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7 Ways to Invest in Real Estate

Real estate investments can take different forms, some of which require direct property ownership and others that don’t. As you compare different real estate investments, here are some important things to weigh:

•   Minimum investment requirements

•   Any fees you might pay to own the investment

•   Holding periods

•   Past performance and expected returns

•   Investment-specific risk factors

With those things in mind, here are seven ways to get started with real estate investing for beginners.

1. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

A real estate investment trust (REIT) is a company that owns and operates income-producing properties. The types of properties you might find in a REIT include warehouses, storage facilities, shopping centers, and office space. A REIT may also own mortgages or mortgage-backed securities.

REITs allow investors to enjoy the benefits of property ownership without having to buy a building or land. Specifically, that means steady income as REITs are required to pay out 90% of taxable income annually to shareholders in the form of dividends. Most REIT dividends are considered to be ordinary income for tax purposes.

Many REITs are publicly traded on an exchange just like a stock. That means you can buy shares through your brokerage account if you have one, making it relatively easy to add REITs to your portfolio. Remember to consider any commission fees you might pay to trade REIT shares in your brokerage account.

2. Real Estate Funds

Real estate funds are mutual funds that own a basket of securities. Depending on the fund’s investment strategy, that may include:

•   Individual commercial properties

•   REITs

•   Mortgages and mortgage-backed securities

Mutual funds also trade on stock exchanges, just like REITs. One of the key differences is that mutual funds are not required to pay out dividends to investors, though they can do so.

Instead, real estate funds aim to provide value to investors in the form of capital appreciation. A real estate fund may buy and hold property investments for the long term, in anticipation of those investments increasing in value over time.

Investing in a real estate fund vs. REIT could offer broader exposure to a wider range of property types or investments. A REIT, for instance, may invest only in hotels and resorts whereas a real estate mutual fund may diversify with hotels, office space, retail centers, and other property types.


A REIT ETF or exchange-traded fund is similar to a mutual fund, but the difference is that it trades on an exchange just like a stock. There’s also a difference between REIT ETFs and real estate mutual funds regarding what they invest in. With a REIT ETF, holdings are primarily concentrated on real estate investment trusts only.

That means you could buy a single REIT ETF and gain exposure to 10, 20 or more REITs in one investment vehicle.

Some of the main advantages of choosing a REIT ETF vs. real estate funds or individual REITs include:

•   Increased tax efficiency

•   Lower expense ratios

•   Potential for higher returns

A REIT ETF may also offer a lower minimum investment than a REIT or real estate fund, which could make it suitable for beginning investors who are working with a smaller amount of capital.

But along with those advantages, investors should know about some of the potential drawbacks:

•   ETF values may be sensitive to interest rate changes

•   REIT ETFs may experience volatility related to property trends

•   REIT ETFs may be subject to several other types of risk, such as management and liquidity risk more so than other types of ETFs.

As always, investors should consider the risks along with the potential advantages of any investment.

4. Real Estate Crowdfunding

Real estate crowdfunding platforms allow multiple investors to come together and pool funds to fund property investments. The minimum investment may be as low as $500, depending on which platform you’re using, and if you have enough cash to invest you could fund multiple projects.

Compared to REITs, REIT ETFs, or real estate funds, crowdfunding is less liquid since there’s usually a required minimum holding period you’re expected to commit to. That’s important to know if you’re not looking to tie up substantial amounts of money for several years.

You’ll also need to meet a platform’s requirements before you can invest. Some crowdfunding platforms only accept accredited investors. To be accredited, you must:

•   Have a net worth over $1 million, excluding your primary residence, OR

•   Have an income of $200,000 ($300,000 if married) for each of the prior two years, with the expectation of future income at the same level

You can also qualify as accredited if you hold a Series 7, Series 65, or Series 82 securities license.

5. Rental Properties

Buying a rental property can help you create a long-term stream of income if you’re able to keep tenants in the home. Some of the ways you could generate rental income with real estate include:

•   Buying a second home and renting it out to long-term tenants

•   Buying a vacation home and renting it to short-term or seasonal tenants

•   Purchasing a multi-unit property, such as a duplex or triplex, and renting to multiple tenants

•   Renting a room in your home

But recognize the risks or downsides associated with rental properties, too:

•   Negative cash flow resulting from tenancy problems

•   Problem tenants

•   Lack of liquidity

•   Maintenance costs and property taxes

Further, the biggest consideration with rental properties usually revolves around how you’re going to finance a property purchase. You might try for a conventional mortgage, an FHA loan if you’re buying a multifamily home and plan to live in one of the units, a home equity loan or HELOC if you own a primary residence, or seller financing.

Each one has different credit, income, and down payment requirements. Weighing the pros and cons of each one can help you decide which financing option might be best.

6. Fix and Flip Properties

With fix-and-flip investments, you buy a property to renovate and then resell it for (ideally) a large profit. Becoming a house flipper could be lucrative if you’re able to buy properties low, then sell high, but it does take some knowledge of the local market you plan to sell in.

You’ll also have to think about who’s going to handle the renovations. Doing them yourself means you don’t have to spend any money hiring contractors, but if you’re not experienced with home improvements you could end up making more work for yourself in the long run.

If you’re looking for a financing option, hard money loans are one possibility. These loans let you borrow enough to cover the purchase price of the home and your estimated improvements, and make interest-only payments. However, these loans typically have terms ranging from 9 to 18 months so you’ll need to be fairly certain you can sell the property within that time frame.

7. Invest in Your Own Home

If you own a home, you could treat it as an investment on its own. Making improvements to your property that raise its value, for example, could pay off later should you decide to sell it. You may also be able to claim a tax break for the interest you pay on your mortgage.

Don’t own a home yet? Understanding what you need to qualify for a mortgage is a good place to start. Once you’re financially ready to buy, you can take the next step and shop around for the best mortgage lenders.

How to Know If Investing in Real Estate Is a Good Idea for You

Is real estate investing right for everyone? Not necessarily, as every investor’s goals are different. Asking yourself these questions can help you determine where real estate might fit into your portfolio:

•   How much money are you able and willing to invest in real estate?

•   What is your main goal or reason for considering property investments?

•   If you’re interested in rental properties, will you oversee their management yourself or hire a property management company? How much income would you need them to generate?

•   If you’re considering a fix-and-flip, can you make the necessary commitment of time and sweat equity to get the property ready to list?

•   How will you finance a rental or fix-and-flip if you’re thinking of pursuing either one?

•   If you’re thinking of choosing REITs, real estate crowdfunding, or REIT ETFs, how long do you anticipate holding them in your portfolio?

•   How much risk do you feel comfortable with, and what do you perceive as the biggest risks of real estate investing?

Talking to a financial advisor may be helpful if you’re wondering how real estate investments might affect your tax situation, or have a bigger goal in mind, like generating enough passive income from investments to retire early.

💡 Quick Tip: When you’re actively investing in stocks, it’s important to ask what types of fees you might have to pay. For example, brokers may charge a flat fee for trading stocks, or require some commission for every trade. Taking the time to manage investment costs can be beneficial over the long term.

The Takeaway

Real estate investing is one of the most attractive alternative investments for portfolio diversification. While you might assume that property investing is only for the super-rich, it’s not as difficult to get started as you might think. Keep in mind that, depending on how much money you have to invest initially and the degree of risk you’re comfortable taking, you’re not just limited to one option when building out your portfolio with real estate.

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How Can I Invest in Property With Little Money?

If you don’t have a lot of money to invest in property, you might consider real estate investment trusts or real estate ETFs for your first investments. REITs and ETFs can offer lower barriers to entry versus something like purchasing a rental property or a fix-and-flip property.

Is Real Estate Investing Worth It?

Real estate investing can be worth it if you’re able to generate steady cash flow and income, hedge against inflation, enjoy tax breaks, and/or earn above-average returns. Whether investing in real estate is worth it for you can depend on what your goals are, how much money you have to invest, and how much time you’re willing to commit to managing those investments.

Is Investing in Real Estate Better Than Stocks?

Real estate tends to have a low correlation with stocks, meaning that what happens in the stock market doesn’t necessarily affect what happens in the property markets. Investing in real estate can also be attractive for investors who are looking for a way to hedge against the effects of inflation over the long term.

Is Investing in Real Estate Safer Than Stocks?

Just like stocks, real estate investments carry risk meaning one isn’t necessarily safer than the other. Investing in both real estate and stocks can help you create a well-rounded portfolio, as the risk/reward profile for each one isn’t the same.

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