Real Estate Investment Trusts

What is a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)?

A REIT is a company that raises money through its stockholders in an effort to acquire, and in many cases operate, income producing commercial real estate. Some REITs also engage in financing real estate. In order for a company to qualify as a REIT, it must comply with certain strict provisions within the Internal Revenue Code. For example, at least 75 percent of the company’s total assets must be invested in real estate, at least 75 percent of its gross income must come from rents from real property or interest from mortgages, and REITs are required to pass at least 90 percent of taxable income to stockholders.

Why Were REITs Created?

REITs were created by Congress in 1960, in part to make investments in large-scale, income-producing real estate assets more accessible to smaller investors. Congress determined that a way for individual investors to invest in large scale commercial properties was the same way they invest in other industries, through the “pooling” of capital to purchase equity. In the same way as shareholders can benefit by owning stocks of other corporations, the stockholders of a REIT earn a pro-rata share of the economic benefits that are derived from the production of income and potential appreciation of commercial real estate ownership.

Two Primary Types of REITs

Publicly Traded REITs – Traded REITs or Listed REITs are registered with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission and shares are bought and sold on a national stock exchange just like traditional exchange-traded stocks or funds. While they can provide many of the benefits associated with direct real estate investing, such as income producing dividends, these Traded REITs are subject to the same market volatility and fluctuations of any stock or fund that is traded on a national stock exchange. As a result, investors who invest in Traded REITs should anticipate some correlation to the stock market and the potential for more volatility due to fluctuations
in the stock market.

Non-Traded REITs – Non-Traded or Non-Listed REITs are also registered with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, however, shares of these REITs are not publicly traded on any national stock exchange and thus are less correlated to the stock market. The real estate behaves more like a hard asset. As a result, investors’ returns are based more upon the performance of the real estate owned by the REIT and have less outside influence from the stock market. Non-Traded REITs, however, do not offer the liquidity of a Publicly Traded REIT. Due to the lack of liquidity of Non-Traded REITs, there are certain income and net worth requirements that must be met in order to qualify for this type of investment. (Source: NCREIF, S&P)

What Types of Properties do REITs Purchase?

REITs invest in a variety of property types and each REIT will take a different strategy in the types of properties they acquire and the objectives of those properties. Property types include office buildings, shopping centers, healthcare facilities, apartments, hotels, warehouses, self-storage facilities and more. Most REITs specialize in one property type. For example, a multi family apartment REIT will look to acquire and manage only apartment or apartment types of assets and a healthcare REIT will specialize in acquiring and managing health care facilities. On the other hand, there are some REITs that are more “hybrid” in that they don’t seek one particular type of property. Instead, they look to acquire multiple property types in an effort to achieve a certain objective.

REITs will also differ with respect to acquisition objectives. For example, while one REIT might look for more stable properties that have existing tenants in place, with long term leases and located in stable real estate markets, another REIT might look to acquire properties that are struggling so that they can bring value to that property and ultimately a higher rate of return. Any of these REITs might look to specialize in one geographic region, whereas another REIT might invest nationally or even globally. Each objective brings its own level of risk and potential reward and it is important that investors match their objectives to those of the REIT, and are comfortable with the risks that they are incurring in purchasing shares of the REIT.

General REIT Benefits

REITs offer the distinct advantage of greater diversification through investing in a portfolio of properties rather than a single property. They also provide management by experienced real estate professionals. REITs are designed to provide investors with steady income in the form of monthly or quarterly dividends, as well as growth potential in the appreciation of the properties owned by the REIT.

REITs may also help investors diversify their assets and overall portfolio allocation. While most investors have substantial holdings of stocks, bonds and mutual funds, for many investors, real estate is overlooked. Many investors feel that in order to invest in real estate, they must have substantial amounts of capital,assume new debt and loans and be experienced at managing real estate. REITs can help alleviate some of these requirements as they offer low minimum investments, they do not require investors to acquire a loan and the properties are managed by experienced real estate professionals. Although diversification does not guarantee against losses, a Non-Traded REIT can help diversify a portfolio that is heavily concentrated in stocks or other traded securities, by spreading out the risk and allowing investors to incorporate real estate into their portfolio.

General REIT Risks

As with any investment, REITs are not immune to risk. Some of these risks include, but are not limited to the following:

1. Performance – There is no guarantee regarding future performance and upon the sale or distribution of the REIT’s assets, stockholders may receive less than their initial investment.

2. Values – Real Estate values can increase or decrease based upon economic factors, including interest rates, laws, operating expenses, insurance costs, unemployment, tenant turnover, etc.

3. Publicly Traded REITs – Publicly Traded REITs, which are traded on national stock exchanges, are subject to stock market volatility.

4. Non-Traded REITs – Non-Traded REITs, which are not traded on any national exchanges, do not have a public market and, as a result, may lack liquidity and transferability.

5. Distributions – Distributions from REITs may be paid from offering proceeds, the sale of assets or borrowed funds.

6. Fees – There are fees associated with investments in a REIT and those fees may affect the overall performance of the investment.

7. Conflicts – Some REIT investments may involve Conflicts of Interest which could result in actions that are not in the long-term best interest of shareholders.

Which REIT is Right for Me?

Hundreds of REITs exist in today’s marketplace, and it is important that investors perform adequate due diligence as they select the REIT(s) that best meet their investment objectives. It is important that investors understand the differences between a Publicly Traded REIT and a Non-Traded REIT. Investors should consult a financial professional with expertise in commercial real estate as many financial professionals are not adequately trained to understand the intricacies associated with these types of investments. Before investing in a REIT, investors should review a prospectus and understand the objectives, risks and fees associated with each investment. Prior to purchasing shares in a REIT, investors should consult a qualified tax professional to understand the tax benefits and risks associated with REIT investments.

The Lifecycle of Non-Traded REITs

A Non-Traded REIT will generally go through multiple phases during its lifecycle and ultimate completion.
These phases include the following:

1. Fundraising – The first phase of a Non-Traded REIT is the fundraising phase, in which a REIT will seek to raise capital from investors for the purpose of acquiring a portfolio of real estate assets.

2. Property Acquisition – As capital is raised the REIT will begin to acquire real estate assets. Each REIT will have a specific objective and it will look for certain types of properties that meet those objectives. These objectives can be found in the prospectus of the particular REIT so that investors can have an idea of the types of properties that the REIT intends to acquire.

3. Portfolio Enhancement – Eventually a REIT will cease to raise additional capital and may look to enhance the existing assets and overall value of the properties. This is often done so as to position the REIT for the ultimate exit strategy.

4. Exit Strategy – The exit strategy for Non-Traded REITs will usually be accomplished through one of the following three methods: First, the REIT may seek to become publicly listed on a stock exchange by becoming a Publicly Traded REIT at which point investors can sell their shares on a national exchange. Second, the REIT may sell the portfolio to an Institutional Buyer at an agreed upon price. Third, the REIT may sell the individual assets and investors will receive the pro-rata share through distributions upon the sale of each property.