Pros & Cons of Investing in REITs

By MP Dunleavey · February 27, 2024 · 7 minute read

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Pros & Cons of Investing in REITs

REIT is the abbreviation for Real Estate Investment Trust, a type of company that owns or operates properties that generate income. Investors can buy shares of REITs as a way of investing in different parts of the real estate market, and there are pluses and minuses to this option.

While developing and operating a real estate venture is out of the realm of possibility for some, REITs make it possible for people to become investors in large-scale construction or other real estate projects.

With a REIT, an investor buys into a piece of a real estate venture, not the whole thing. Thus there’s less responsibility and pressure on the shareholder, when compared to purchasing an investment property. But there is also less control, and most REITs come with specific risks.

Key Points

•   REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) allow investors to buy shares of companies that own and operate income-generating properties.

•   Investing in REITs provides diversification and the potential for dividends.

•   REITs can be publicly traded or non-traded, with different risks and trading options.

•   Benefits of investing in REITs include tax advantages, tangibility of assets, and relative liquidity compared to owning physical properties.

•   Risks of investing in REITs include higher dividend taxes, sensitivity to interest rates, and exposure to specific property trends.

What Are REITs?

When a person invests in a REIT, they’re investing in a real estate company that owns and operates properties that range from office complexes and warehouses to apartment buildings and more. REITs offer a way for someone to add real estate investments to their portfolio, without actually developing or managing any property.

Many, but not all, REITs are registered with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and can be found on the stock market where they’re publicly traded. Investors can also buy REITs that are registered with the SEC but are not publicly traded.

Non-traded REITs (aka, REITs that are not publicly traded) can’t be found on Nasdaq or the stock exchange. They’re traded on the secondary market between brokers which can make trading them a bit more challenging. To put it simply, this class of REITs has a whole different list of risks specific to its type of investing.

Non-traded REITs make for some pretty advanced investing, and for this reason, the rest of this article will discuss publicly traded REITs.

💡 Quick Tip: All investments come with some degree of risk — and some are riskier than others. Before investing online, decide on your investment goals and how much risk you want to take.

Types of REITs

Real Estate Investment Trusts broadly fall into two categories:

•   Mortgage REITs. These REITs can specialize in commercial or residential, or a mix of both. When an investor purchases Mortgage REITs, they’re investing in mortgage and mortgage-backed securities that in turn invest in commercial and residential projects. Think of it as taking a step back from directly investing in real estate.

•   Equity REITs. These REITs often mean someone’s investing in a specific type of property. There are diversified equity REITs, but there are are specialized ones, including:

◦   Apartment and lodging

◦   Healthcare

◦   Hotels

◦   Offices

◦   Self-storage

◦   Retail

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Pros of Investing in REITs

Investing in REITs can have several benefits, such as:

•   Diversification. A diverse portfolio can reduce an investor’s risk because money is spread across different assets and industries. Investing in a REIT can help diversify a person’s investment portfolio. REITs aren’t stocks, bonds, or money markets, but a class unto their own.

•   Dividends. Legally, REITs are required by law to pay at least 90% of their income in dividends. The REIT’s management can decide to pay out more than 90%, but they can’t drop below that percentage. Earning consistent dividends can be a compelling reason for investors to get involved with REITs.

•   Zero corporate tax. Hand in hand with the 90% payout rule, REITs get a significant tax advantage — they don’t have to pay a corporate tax. To put it in perspective, many dividend stocks pay taxes twice; once corporately, and again for the individual. Not having to pay a corporate tax can mean a higher payout for investors.

•   Tangibility. Unlike other investments, REITs are investments in physical pieces of property. Those tangible assets can increase in value over time. Being able to “see” an investment can also put some people at ease — it’s not simply a piece of paper or a slice of a company.

•   Liquidity. Compared to buying an investment property, investing in REITs is relatively liquid. It takes much less time to buy and sell a REIT than it does a rental property. Selling REITs takes the lick of a button, no FOR SALE sign required.

Compared to other real estate investment opportunities, REITs are relatively simple to invest in and don’t require some of the legwork an investment property would take.

Cons of Investing in REITs

No investment is risk-free, REITS included. Here’s what investors should keep in mind before diving into REITs:

•   Taxes on dividends. REITs don’t have to pay a corporate tax, but the downside is that REIT dividends are typically taxed at a higher rate than other investments. Oftentimes, dividends are taxed at the same rate as long-term capital gains, which for many people, is generally lower than the rate at which their regular income is taxed.

However, dividends paid from REITs don’t usually qualify for the capital gains rate. It’s more common that dividends from REITs are taxed at the same rate as a person’s ordinary income.

•   Sensitive to interest rates. Investments are influenced by a variety of factors, but REITs can be hypersensitive to changes in interest rates. Rising interest rates can spell trouble for the price of REIT stocks (also known as interest rate risk). Generally, the value of REITs is inversely tied to the Treasury yield — so when the Treasury yield rises, the value of REITs are likely to fall.

•   Value can be influenced by trends. Unlike other investments, REITs can fall prey to risks associated specifically with the property. For example, if a person invests in a REIT that’s specifically a portfolio of frozen yogurt shops in strip malls, they could see their investment take a hit if frozen yogurt or strip malls fall out of favor.

While investments suffer from trends, REITs can be influenced by smaller trends, specific to the location or property type, that could be harder for an investor to notice.

•   Plan for a long-term investment. Generally, REITs are better suited for long-term investments, which can typically be thought of as those longer than five years. REITs are influenced by micro-changes in interest rates and other trends that can make them riskier for a short-term financial goal.

💡 Quick Tip: Distributing your money across a range of assets — also known as diversification — can be beneficial for long-term investors. When you put your eggs in many baskets, it may be beneficial if a single asset class goes down.

Are REITs a Risky Investment?

No investment is free of risk, and REITs come with risks and rewards specific to them. As mentioned above, they’re generally more sensitive to fluctuations in interest rates, which have an inverse influence on their value.

Additionally, some REITs are riskier than others, and some are better suited to withstand economic declines than others. For example, a REIT in the healthcare or hospital space could be more recession-proof than a REIT with properties in retail or luxury hotels. This is because people will continue using real estate associated with healthcare spaces regardless of an economic recession, while luxury real estate may not experience continued demands during times of economic hardship.

Risks aside, REITs do pay dividends, which can be appealing to investors. While REITS are not without risk, they can be a strong part of an investor’s portfolio.

Investing in REITs

Investing in publicly traded REITS is as simple as purchasing stock in the market — simply purchase shares through a broker. Investors can also purchase REITs in a mutual fund.

Investing in a non-traded REIT is a little different. Investors will have to work with a broker that is part of the non-traded REITs offering. Not any old broker can help an investor get involved in non-traded REITs. A potential drawback of purchasing non-traded REITs are the high up-front fees. Investors can expect to pay fees, which include commission and fees, between 9 and 10% of the entire investment.

The Takeaway

Investing in REITs can be a worthwhile sector to add to your portfolio’s allocation. They carry risks, but also benefits that might make them a great addition to your overall plan.

After all, REITs allow investors to partake of specific niches within the real estate market, which may provide certain opportunities. But owing to the types of properties REITs own, there are inevitably risks associated with these companies — and they aren’t always tied to familiar types of market risk.

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