When you buy a share of a REIT, you are essentially buying a physical asset with a long expected life span and potential for income through rent and property appreciation. This contrasts with common stocks where investors are buying the right to participate in the profitability of the company through ownership. When purchasing a REIT, one is not only taking a real stake in the ownership of property via increases and decreases in value, but one is also participating in the income generated by the property. This creates a bit of a safety net for investors, as they will always have rights to the property underlying the trust while enjoying the benefits of their income.

Another advantage that this product provides to the average investor is the ability to invest in real estate without the normally associated large capital and labor requirements. Furthermore, as the funds of this trust are pooled together, a greater amount of diversification is generated, as the trust companies are able to buy numerous properties and reduce the negative effects of problems with a single asset. Individual investors trying to mimic a REIT would need to buy and maintain a large number of investment properties, and this generally entails a substantial amount of time and money in an investment that is not easily liquidated. When buying a REIT, the capital investment is limited to the price of the unit, the amount of labor invested is constrained to the amount of research needed to make the right investment, and the shares are liquid on regular stock exchanges.

Individuals can invest in REITs either by purchasing their shares directly on an open exchange or by investing in a mutual fund that specializes in public real estate. An additional benefit to investing in REITs is the fact that many are accompanied by dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs). Investors seeking income would consider them along with high-yield bond funds and dividend paying stocks. As dividend-paying stocks, REITs are analyzed much like other stocks, but there are some large differences due to the accounting treatment of property.

REITs are real estate companies that must pay out high dividends in order to enjoy the tax benefits of REIT status. Stable income that can exceed Treasury yields combines with price volatility to offer a total return potential that rivals small capitalization stocks. Analyzing an REIT requires understanding the accounting distortions caused by depreciation and paying careful attention to macroeconomic influences.

Real estate investment trusts (REITs) are a key consideration when constructing any equity or fixed-income portfolio. They provide greater diversification, potentially higher total returns and/or lower overall risk. In short, their ability to generate dividend income along with capital appreciation make them an excellent counterbalance to stocks, bonds and cash.

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