Real Estate Investment Trusts

I have previously noted my belief that a family’s primary residence should be viewed as a place to live, enjoy friends, and family and not viewed as an investment; simply put, it’s a home. I was reminded of my reluctance to view a home as an investment after reading a recent article over a Business Insider, titled I’m Stunned by Young People’s Reasons for ‘Investing’ in a Home, by Ramit Sethi.

Home II

I offered my own take on a home as an investment in Your Primary Residence is a Home, Not an Asset. Go ahead and take a few minutes to check it out, I’ll wait here … . Welcome back. My take is that if an individual wants to invest in real estate, they should consider purchasing a rental property. Another good option? REITs.

Real Estate Investment Trusts

Modeled after mutual funds, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are specific types of real estate companies. Created by Congress in 1960 to give investors the chance to invest in income-producing real estate in a manner similar to how many Americans invest in stocks and bonds through mutual funds.

REITs are generally classified in one of three categories: equity, mortgage, or hybrid. Equity REITs derive most of their revenue from rent. Mortgage REITs derive most of their revenue from interest earned on their investments in mortgages or mortgage-backed securities. As the name suggests, hybrid REITS are a combination of the first two. The vast majority of REITs are of the equity type, perhaps ~80%, while the mortgage and hybrid REITs comprise the remaining ~20%.

So how does a company qualify as a REIT? The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) notes that to qualify as a REIT, a company must have the bulk of its assets and income connected to real estate investment and must distribute at least 90 percent of its taxable income to shareholders annually in the form of dividends. In addition to paying out at least 90% of its taxable income annually in the form of shareholder dividends, a REIT must:

  • Be an entity that would be taxable as a corporation but for its REIT status
  • Be managed by a board of directors or trustees
  • Have shares that are fully transferable
  • Have a minimum of 100 shareholders after its first year as a REIT
  • Have no more than 50 percent of its shares held by five or fewer individuals during the last half of the taxable year
  • Invest at least 75 percent of its total assets in real estate assets and cash
  • Derive at least 75 percent of its gross income from real estate related sources, including rents from real property and interest on mortgages financing real property
  • Derive at least 95 percent of its gross income from such real estate sources and dividends or interest from any source
  • Have no more than 25 percent of its assets consist of non-qualifying securities or stock in taxable REIT subsidiaries 

Income Producing Real Estate

So how do REITs generate that taxable income? As you research REITS, one of the most common phrases you are likely to hear is “income-producing real estate.” That refers to land and the improvements on it. Examples include shopping malls, office space, apartments, or hotels. REITs may invest in the properties themselves, generating income through the collection of rent, or they may invest in mortgages or mortgage securities tied to the properties, helping to finance the properties and generating interest income.


So why should someone consider a REIT? Simply put, they help to diversify your holdings. Because REITs are based on real estate, they gain and lose value differently than other stocks. It is not unusual for stocks and REITS to move out of sync. In other words, when stocks are up, REITs might be down and vice versa.

As with all investments, I strongly encourage you to conduct thorough research and understand exactly how an investment fits into your overall portfolio and long-term retirement plans.

A good Glossary of REIT Terminology and Concepts can be found at REITs Week.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. James – thx for pointing out the value of diversification. In my personal portfolio, I have ~5% dedicated to REITS. Thus far, they’ve yielded stable and attractive dividend yield, and I expect they will provide a return disconnected with equities. Ah..the value of diversification. Thanks for making the case.

    • The importance of good diversification can’t be overstated. Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

  2. James, thanks for this article. I like REITs as investments, a lot. You can get as much diversification from property as you can from regular companies. We’ve recently moved into the REIT sector by buying a farmland REIT and I’m sure more will appear in our portfolio over the years to come 🙂


    • Excellent! Good to hear from you, my friend and learn of an example of the role REITs can fill in a portfolio.

  3. Thanks for writing this James. I have always invested in rental properties but we are looking into REIT’s now too. It seems like a great way to be investing in real estate but doing it much more passively. We own 6 properties right now and would love over the next few years to sell a few and invest in REIT’s. I’ll need to do more research though before I feel comfortable.

    • It sounds as if you are doing pretty well with the six properties … nice! REITs and real estate in general strike me as a great way to diversify a portfolio.

      Thanks for stopping by, my friend and sharing your thoughts.

  4. James,
    Very good write up on REIT’s you have sparked my interest. I have a few co-worker that invest in REIT’s and he really likes the diversity.

    • Great point about diversification. Adding real estate to a portfolio, particularly in the form of REITs, is something more people should consider. Thanks for stopping by, my friend and sharing your thoughts.

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