The benefits of investing in real estate are numerous. With well-chosen assets, investors can enjoy predictable cash flow, excellent returns, tax advantages, and diversification—and it's possible to leverage real estate to build wealth.

Thinking about investing in real estate? Here's what you need to know about real estate benefits and why real estate is considered a good investment.

Key Takeaways

  • Real estate investors make money through rental income, appreciation, and profits generated by business activities that depend on the property.
  • The benefits of investing in real estate include passive income, stable cash flow, tax advantages, diversification, and leverage.
  • Real estate investment trusts (REITs) offer a way to invest in real estate without having to own, operate, or finance properties.

Cash Flow

Cash flow is the net income from a real estate investment after mortgage payments and operating expenses have been made. A key benefit of real estate investing is its ability to generate cash flow. In many cases, cash flow only strengthens over time as you pay down your mortgage—and build up your equity.

Tax Breaks and Deductions

Real estate investors can take advantage of numerous tax breaks and deductions that can save money at tax time. In general, you can deduct the reasonable costs of owning, operating, and managing a property.

Fast Fact

You can depreciate the cost of buildings but not the land.

And since the cost of buying and improving an investment property can be depreciated over its useful life (27.5 years for residential properties; 39 years for commercial), you benefit from decades of deductions that help lower your taxed income. Another tax perk: you may be able to defer capital gains by using a 1031 exchange.

Appreciation

Real estate investors make money through rental income, any profits generated by property-dependent business activity, and appreciation. Real estate values tend to increase over time, and with a good investment, you can turn a profit when it's time to sell. Rents also tend to rise over time, which can lead to higher cash flow.

This chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows average home prices in the U.S. since 1963. The areas shaded in grey indicate U.S. recessions.

Average sales price of homes sold for the U.S.
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Build Equity and Wealth

As you pay down a property mortgage, you build equity—an asset that's part of your net worth. And as you build equity, you have the leverage to buy more properties and increase cash flow and wealth even more.

Portfolio Diversification

Another benefit of investing in real estate is its diversification potential. Real estate has a low—and in some cases negative—correlation with other major asset classes. This means the addition of real estate to a portfolio of diversified assets can lower portfolio volatility and provide a higher return per unit of risk.

Real Estate Leverage

Leverage is the use of various financial instruments or borrowed capital (e.g., debt) to increase an investment's potential return. A 20% down payment on a mortgage, for example, gets you 100% of the house you want to buy—that's leverage. Because real estate is a tangible asset and one that can serve as collateral, financing is readily available.

Competitive Risk-Adjusted Returns

Real estate returns vary, depending on factors such as location, asset class, and management. Still, a number that many investors aim for is to beat the average returns of the S&P 500—what many people refer to when they say, "the market." The average annual return over the past 50 years is about 11%.

Inflation Hedge

The inflation hedging capability of real estate stems from the positive relationship between GDP growth and the demand for real estate. As economies expand, the demand for real estate drives rents higher. This, in turn, translates into higher capital values. Therefore, real estate tends to maintain the buying power of capital by passing some of the inflationary pressure on to tenants and by incorporating some of the inflationary pressure in the form of capital appreciation.

Mortgage lending discrimination is illegal. If you think you've been discriminated against based on race, religion, sex, marital status, use of public assistance, national origin, disability, or age, there are steps you can take. One such step is to file a report to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)

If you want to invest in real estate, but aren't ready to make the jump into owning and managing properties, you may want to consider a real estate investment trust (REIT). You can buy and sell publicly-traded REITs on major stock exchanges. Many trade under high volume, meaning you can get into and out of a position quickly. REITs must pay out 90% of income to investors, so they typically offer higher dividends than many stocks.

The Bottom Line

Despite all the benefits of investing in real estate, there are drawbacks. One of the main ones is the lack of liquidity (or the relative difficulty in converting an asset into cash and cash into an asset). Unlike a stock or bond transaction, which can be completed in seconds, a real estate transaction can take months to close. Even with the help of a broker, it can take a few weeks of work just to find the right counterparty.

Still, real estate is a distinct asset class that's simple to understand and can enhance the risk-and-return profile of an investor's portfolio. On its own, real estate offers cash flow, tax breaks, equity building, competitive risk-adjusted returns, and a hedge against inflation. Real estate can also enhance a portfolio by lowering volatility through diversification, whether you invest in physical properties or REITs.