Real estate investment trusts (“REITs”) allow individuals to invest in large-scale, income-producing real estate. A REIT is a company that owns and typically operates income-producing real estate or related assets. These may include office buildings, shopping malls, apartments, hotels, resorts, self-storage facilities, warehouses, and mortgages or loans. Unlike other real estate companies, a REIT does not develop real estate properties to resell them. Instead, a REIT buys and develops properties primarily to operate them as part of its own investment portfolio.
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.
Many REITs are registered with the SEC and are publicly traded on a stock exchange. These are known as publicly traded REITs. Others may be registered with the SEC but are not publicly traded. These are known as non- traded REITs (also known as non-exchange traded REITs). This is one of the most important distinctions among the various kinds of REITs. Before investing in a REIT, you should understand whether or not it is publicly traded, and how this could affect the benefits and risks to you.
REITs offer a way to include real estate in one’s investment portfolio. Additionally, some REITs may offer higher dividend yields than some other investments.
But there are some risks, especially with non-exchange traded REITs. Because they do not trade on a stock exchange, non-traded REITs involve special risks:
You can invest in a publicly traded REIT, which is listed on a major stock exchange, by purchasing shares through a broker. You can purchase shares of a non-traded REIT through a broker that participates in the non-traded REIT’s offering. You can also purchase shares in a REIT mutual fund or REIT exchange-traded fund.
Publicly traded REITs can be purchased through a broker. Generally, you can purchase the common stock, preferred stock, or debt security of a publicly traded REIT. Brokerage fees will apply.
Non-traded REITs are typically sold by a broker or financial adviser. Non-traded REITs generally have high up-front fees. Sales commissions and upfront offering fees usually total approximately 9 to 10 percent of the investment. These costs lower the value of the investment by a significant amount.
Special Tax Considerations
Most REITS pay out at least 100 percent of their taxable income to their shareholders. The shareholders of a REIT are responsible for paying taxes on the dividends and any capital gains they receive in connection with their investment in the REIT. Dividends paid by REITs generally are treated as ordinary income and are not entitled to the reduced tax rates on other types of corporate dividends. Consider consulting your tax adviser before investing in REITs.
Be wary of any person who attempts to sell REITs that are not registered with the SEC.
You can verify the registration of both publicly traded and non-traded REITs through the SEC’s EDGAR system. You can also use EDGAR to review a REIT’s annual and quarterly reports as well as any offering prospectus. For more on how to use EDGAR, please visit Research Public Companies.
You should also check out the broker or investment adviser who recommends purchasing a REIT. To learn how to do so, please visit Working with Brokers and Investment Advisers.