Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are an efficient way for many people to invest in commercial and residential real estate businesses. They provide a practical and effective means to include professionally managed real estate in a diversified investment portfolio. The REIT industry began its fifth decade in 2000. Because of the industry's overall maturity and performance over the last four decades, REITs can be viewed as "all-weather" investments.
A REIT is a company that owns and, in most cases, operates income-producing real estate such as apartments, shopping centers, offices, hotels, and warehouses. Some REITs also engage in financing real estate. The shares of most REITs are freely traded, usually on a major stock exchange, therefore increasing the marketability of this real estate investment.
A company that qualifies as a REIT is permitted to deduct dividends paid to its shareholders from its corporate taxable income. As a result, most REITs remit at least 100 percent of their taxable income to their shareholders and, therefore, owe no corporate tax. Taxes are paid by shareholders on the dividends received and any capital gains. Most states honor this federal treatment and also don't require REITs to pay state income tax. To qualify as a REIT, a company must distribute at least 90 percent of its taxable income to its shareholders annually. However, like other businesses, but unlike partnerships, a REIT can't pass any tax losses through to its investors.
There are more than 180 REITs registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the U. S. Their assets total more than $300 billion. More than two-thirds of these are traded on the major national stock exchanges. In addition, there are many REITs not registered with the SEC. For a corporation to qualify as a REIT and gain the advantages of being a pass-through entity free from taxation at the corporate level, it must comply with Internal Revenue Code provisions.
There are three broad categories of REITs:
o Equity REITs: 96.1 percent. Equity REITS invest in and own properties. Their revenues come principally from their properties' rents.
o Mortgage REITs: 1.6 percent. Mortgage REITs deal in investment and ownership of property mortgages. These REITs loan money for mortgages to owners of real estate, or purchase existing mortgages or mortgage backed securities. Their revenues are generated primarily by the interest they earn on the mortgage loans.
o Hybrid REITs: 2.3 percent. Hybrid REITs combine the investment strategies of Equity REITs and Mortgage REITs by investing in both properties and mortgages.
Individual REITs are able to distinguish themselves by specialization. REITs may focus their investments geographically-by region, state, or metropolitan area-or in property types such as retail properties, industrial facilities, office buildings, apartments, or health care facilities. Certain REITs choose a broader focus, investing in a variety of types of property and mortgage assets across a wider spectrum of locations.
The current REIT industry's investment choices can be broken down by property type as follows:
- Retail: 20.1 percent.
- Residential: 21 percent.
- Industrial/Office: 33.1 percent.
- Specialty: 2.3 percent.
- Health Care: 3.8 percent.
- Self Storage: 3.6 percent.
- Diversified: 8.5 percent.
- Mortgage Backed: 1.5 percent.
- Lodging/Resort: 6.1 percent.
REITs are owned by thousands of individuals, as well as large institutional investors including pension funds, endowment funds, insurance companies, bank trust departments, and mutual funds. Investment goals for REIT share ownership are much the same as investment in other stocks: current income distributions and long-term appreciation potential.
The majority of REIT shares can be purchased on the major stock exchanges, and orders can be placed through stockbrokers. Recently, mutual funds have emerged specializing in REIT investment and diversification. Financial planners and investment advisors can help to match an investor's objectives with individual REIT investment. IBI