5 Types of REITs and How to Invest in Them (2024)

Real estate investment trusts (REITs) are a key consideration when constructing any equity or fixed-income portfolio. They can provide added diversification, potentially higher total returns, and/or lower overall risk.

In short, their ability to generate dividend income along with capital appreciation makes them an excellent counterbalance to stocks, bonds, and cash.

REIT investing involves real estate investment trusts. REITs own and/or manage income-producing commercial real estate, whether it's the properties themselves or the mortgages on those properties.

Where REIT investing is concerned, you can invest in the companies individually, through an exchange-traded fund, or with a mutual fund. There are many types of REITs available.

Here we look at a few of the main categories of REITS and their historical returns. By the end of this article, you should have a better idea of REIT investing in general, as well as when and what to buy.

Key Takeaways

  • Using REITs to invest in real estate can diversify your portfolio, but not all REITs are created equal.
  • Some REITs invest directly in properties, earning rental income and management fees. Others invest in real estate debt, i.e., mortgages and mortgage-backed securities.
  • In addition, REITs tend to focus on a specific sector of properties such as retail or shopping centers, hotels and resorts, or healthcare and hospitals.
  • One of the biggest benefits of REITs is their high-yield dividends. REITs are required to pay out 90% of taxable income to shareholders.
  • Most REIT dividends don't meet the IRS definition of "qualified dividends."

Historical Returns of REITs

Real estate investment trusts are historically one of the best-performing asset classes. The FTSE NAREIT Equity REIT Index is what most investors use to gauge the performance of the U.S. real estate market. As of June 2022, the index's 10-year average annual return was 8.34%.

Over a 25 year period, the index returned 9.05% compared to 7.97% for the S&P 500 and 7.41% for the Russell 2000. Historically, investors looking for yield have done better investing in real estate than fixed income, the traditional asset class for this purpose. A carefully constructed portfolio should consider both.

1. Retail REITs

Approximately 24% of REIT investments are in shopping malls and freestanding retail. This represents the single biggest investment by type in America. Whatever shopping center you frequent, it's likely owned by a REIT.

When considering an investment in retail real estate, one first needs to examine the retail industry itself. Is it financially healthy at present and what is the outlook for the future?

It's important to remember that retail REITs make money from the rent they charge tenants. If retailers are experiencing cash flow problems due to poor sales, it's possible they could delay or even default on those monthly payments, eventually being forced into bankruptcy.

At that point, a new tenant needs to be found, which is never easy. Therefore, it's crucial that you invest in REITs with the strongest anchor tenants possible. These include grocery and home improvement stores.

Once you've made your industry assessment, your focus should turn to the REITs themselves. Like any investment, it's important that they have good profits, strong balance sheets, and as little debt as possible (especially the short term kind).

In a poor economy, retail REITs with significant cash positions will be presented with opportunities to buy good real estate at distressed prices. The best-run companies will take advantage of this.

That said, there are longer-term concerns for the retail REIT space in that shopping is increasingly shifting away from the mall model to online. Owners of space have continued to innovate to fill their space with offices and other non-retail oriented tenants, but the subsector is under pressure.

2. Residential REITs

These are REITs that own and operate multi-family rental apartment buildings as well as manufactured housing. When looking to invest in this type of REIT, one should consider several factors before jumping in.

For instance, the best apartment markets tend to be where home affordability is low relative to the rest of the country. In places like New York and Los Angeles, the high cost of single homes forces more people to rent, which drives up the price landlords can charge each month. As a result, the biggest residential REITs tend to focus on large urban centers.

Within a specific market, investors should look for population and job growth. Generally, when there is a net inflow of people to a city, it's because jobs are readily available and the economy is growing. A falling vacancy rate coupled with rising rents is a sign that demand is improving.

As long as the apartment supply in a particular market remains low and demand continues to rise, residential REITs should do well. As with all companies, those with the strongest balance sheets and the most available capital normally do the best.

3. Healthcare REITs

Healthcare REITs will be an interesting subsector to watch as Americans age and healthcare costs continue to climb. Healthcare REITs invest in the real estate of hospitals, medical centers, nursing facilities, and retirement homes.

The success of this real estate is directly tied to the healthcare system. A majority of the operators of these facilities rely on occupancy fees, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursem*nts as well as private pay. As long as the funding of healthcare is a question mark, so are healthcare REITs.

Things you should look for in a healthcare REIT include a diversified group of customers as well as investments in a number of different property types. Focus is good to an extent but so is spreading your risk.

Generally, an increase in the demand for healthcare services (which should happen with an aging population) is good for healthcare real estate. Therefore, in addition to customer and property-type diversification, look for companies whose healthcare experience is significant, whose balance sheets are strong, and whose access to low-cost capital is high.

4. Office REITs

Office REITs invest in office buildings. They receive rental income from tenants who have usually signed long-term leases. Four questions come to mind for anyone interested in investing in an office REIT.

  1. What is the state of the economy and how high is the unemployment rate?
  2. What are vacancy rates like?
  3. How is the area in which the REIT invests doing economically?
  4. How much capital does it have for acquisitions?

Try to find REITs that invest in economic strongholds. It's better to own a bunch of average buildings in Washington, D.C. than it is to own prime office space in Detroit, for example.

5. Mortgage REITs

Approximately 10% of REIT investments are in mortgages as opposed to the real estate itself. The best known but not necessarily the greatest investments are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They are government-sponsored enterprises that buy mortgages on the secondary market.

Just because this type of REIT invests in mortgages instead of equity doesn't mean it comes without risks. An increase in interest rates would translate into a decrease in mortgage REIT book values, driving stock prices lower.

In addition, mortgage REITs get a considerable amount of their capital through secured and unsecured debt offerings. Should interest rates rise, future financing will be more expensive, reducing the value of a portfolio of loans.

In a low-interest-rate environment with the prospect of rising rates, most mortgage REITs trade at a discount to net asset value per share. The trick is finding the right one.

The Keys to Assessing Any REIT

Keep in mind the following points when assessing any REIT.

  1. REITs are true total-return investments. They provide high dividend yields along with moderate long-term capital appreciation. Look for companies that have done a good job historically at providing both.
  2. Unlike traditional real estate, many REITs are traded on stock exchanges. You get the diversification real estate provides without being locked in long-term. Liquidity matters.
  3. Depreciation tends to overstate an investment's decline in property value. Thus, instead of using the payout ratio used by dividend investors to assess a REIT, look at its funds from operations (FFOs) instead. This is defined as net income less the sale of any property in a given year and depreciation. Simply take the dividend per share and divide it by the FFO per share. The higher the yield the better.
  4. Strong management makes a difference. Look for companies that have been around for a while or at least possess a management team with loads of experience.
  5. Quality counts. Only invest in REITs with great properties and tenants.
  6. Consider buying a mutual fund or ETF that invests in REITs, and leave the research and buying to the pros.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, a REIT must invest at least 75% of its assets in real estate and cash, and obtain at least 75% of gross income from sources such as rent andmortgage interest.

Advantages and Disadvantages of REIT Investing


As with all investments, REITs have their advantages and disadvantages. One of the biggest benefits REITs have to offer is their high-yield dividends. REITs are required to pay out 90% of taxable income to shareholders. Thus, REIT dividends are often much higher than the average stock on the S&P 500.

Another benefit is portfolio diversification. Not too many people have the ability to go out and purchase a piece of commercial real estate in order to generate passive income. However, REITs offer the general public the capability to do exactly this.

Furthermore, buying and selling real estate often takes a while, tying up cash flow in the process. Yet REITs are highly liquid—most can be bought or sold with the click of a button.


There are some drawbacks to REITs of which investors should be aware, most notably the potential tax liability REITs can create. Most REIT dividends don't meet the IRS definition of qualified dividends. That means that the above-average dividends offered by REITs are taxed at a higher rate than most dividends. While some REITs offer the reinvestment of investor's dividends, the investor can't avoid the dividend tax obligations.

REITs do qualify for the 20% pass-through deduction, but most investors will need to pay a large amount of taxes on REIT dividends if they hold REITs in a standard brokerage account.

Another potential issue with REITs is their sensitivity to interest rates. Generally, when the Federal Reserve raises interest rates in an attempt to tighten up spending, REIT prices fall.

Furthermore, there are property specific risks to different types of REITs. Hotel REITs, for example, often do extremely poorly during times of economic downfall.


  • High-yield dividends

  • Portfolio diversification

  • Highly liquid


  • Dividends are taxed as ordinary income

  • Sensitivity to interest rates

  • Risks associated with specific properties

How to Invest in REITs

As referenced earlier, you can purchase shares in a REIT that's listed on major stock exchanges. You can also buy shares in aREIT mutual fundorexchange-traded fund (ETF).

To do so, you must open a brokerage account. Or, if your workplace retirement plan offers REIT investments, you might invest with that option. Check with your plan administrator to see what REIT investments are available.

If you decide to open a brokerage account (and don't already have one), the process is straightforward. You'll provide basic contact details and certain personal details (e.g., Social Security number and a valid ID). You'll be asked for some additional information about your income, occupation, and investing experience.

Depending on which broker you choose, you'll be able to sign up online at their website or mobile app, or in person at a branch location.

Once your account is open and you can access it online, use the education and research tools available to begin reviewing possible REIT investments. Your brokerage account should also have a screening tool that can assist you in fine-tuning your research and selection.

Once you've chosen the REIT investment that best fits your financial needs and investment goals, you can proceed to buy it online. Before you do, make sure you understand the nature of fees that your broker may charge and fees/expenses associated with the actual investment (such as fundexpense ratios).

Just as with your other investments, you'll want to monitor you REIT investment periodically.

Are REITs Good Investments?

Investing in REITs is a great way to diversify your portfolio outside of traditional stocks and bonds and can be attractive for their strong dividends and long-term capital appreciation.

What REITs Should I Invest in?

Each type of REIT has its own risks and upsides depending on the state of the economy. REIT investing through a REIT ETF is a great way for shareholders to engage with this sector without needing to personally contend with its complexities.

How Do You Make Money on a REIT?

Since REITs are required by the IRS to pay out 90% of their taxable income to shareholders, REIT dividends are often much higher than the average stock on the S&P 500. One of the best ways to receive passive income from REITs is through the compounding of these high-yield dividends.

Can You Lose Money on a REIT?

As with any investment, there is always a risk of loss. Publicly traded REITs have the particular risk of losing value as interest rates rise, which typically sends investment capital into bonds.

Are REITs Safe During a Recession?

Investing in certain types of REITs, such as those that invest in hotel properties, is not a great choice during an economic downturn. Investing in other types of real estate such as healthcare facilities or retail is a great way to hedge against a recession. They have longer lease structures and thus are much less cyclical,

The Bottom Line

The federal government made it possible for investors to buy into large-scale commercial real estate projects as far back as 1960. However, only in the last decade have individual investors truly embraced REITs.

Reasons for this include low-interest rates, which forced investors to look beyond bonds for income-producing investments, the advent of exchange-traded and mutual funds focusing on real estate, and, until the 2007-2008 real estate meltdown, an insatiable appetite on the part of Americans to own real estate and other tangible assets. REITs, like every other investment in 2008, suffered greatly. Despite this, they continue to be an excellent addition to any diversified portfolio.

5 Types of REITs and How to Invest in Them (2024)


What are the top 5 largest REIT? ›

Largest Real-Estate-Investment-Trusts by market cap
#NameM. Cap
1Prologis 1PLD$95.73 B
2American Tower 2AMT$79.99 B
3Equinix 3EQIX$70.98 B
4Welltower 4WELL$53.97 B
57 more rows

How do I choose a REIT to invest in? ›

When you're ready to invest in a REIT, look for growth in earnings, which stems from higher revenues (higher occupancy rates and increasing rents), lower costs, and new business opportunities. It's also imperative that you research the management team that oversees the REIT's properties.

What is the 5% rule for REITs? ›

5 percent of the value of the REIT's total assets may consist of securities of any one issuer, except with respect to a taxable REIT subsidiary. 10 percent of the outstanding vote or value of the securities of any one issuer may be held (again, a taxable REIT subsidiary is an exception to this requirement)

What is the 5 50 rule for REITs? ›

A REIT will be closely held if more than 50 percent of the value of its outstanding stock is owned directly or indirectly by or for five or fewer individuals at any point during the last half of the taxable year. This is commonly referred to as the 5/50 Test.

Which REITs does Warren Buffett own? ›

Buffet and REITs

However, Berkshire sold its holdings of STORE Capital in 2022 after the company announced it was being acquired by two outside investment funds. Since then, filings have shown that Berkshire Hathaway has not owned shares of any other REIT.

Which REITs pay the highest dividends? ›

The market's highest-yielding REITs
Company (ticker symbol)SectorDividend yield
Medical Properties Trust (MPW)Healthcare27.0%
Global Net Lease (GNL)Diversified16.7%
AGNC Investment (AGNC)Mortgage14.9%
ARMOUR Residential REIT (ARR)Mortgage14.7%
7 more rows
Feb 28, 2024

How do beginners invest in REITs? ›

As referenced earlier, you can purchase shares in a REIT that's listed on major stock exchanges. You can also buy shares in a REIT mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF). To do so, you must open a brokerage account. Or, if your workplace retirement plan offers REIT investments, you might invest with that option.

What I wish I knew before investing in REITs? ›

A lot of REIT investors focus too way much on the dividend yield. They think that a high dividend yield implies that a REIT is cheap and a good investment opportunity. In reality, it is often the opposite, and the dividend does not say much, if anything, about the valuation of a REIT.

What is the 90% REIT rule? ›

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.

How many REITs should I own? ›

“I recommend REITs within a managed portfolio,” Devine said, noting that most investors should limit their REIT exposure to between 2 percent and 5 percent of their overall portfolio. Here again, a financial professional can help you determine what percentage of your portfolio you should allocate toward REITs, if any.

What is the 2 year rule for REITs? ›

(iii) With respect to property that consists of land or improvements, the REIT has held the property for not less than two years for the production of rental income.

Why not to invest in REITs? ›

The value of a REIT is based on the real estate market, so if interest rates increase and the demand for properties goes down as a result, it could lead to lower property values, negatively impacting the value of your investment.

How do I make money from REITs? ›

Here you don't have to make a big ticket investment and can start by investing a small amount. In return, you receive rental income from your investment in the form of dividends and interest. REITs are like shares that are listed on the stock exchange, which means you can buy or sell anytime on the exchange.

How do you know if a REIT is good? ›

The 3 most common metrics used to compare the relative valuations of REITs are:
  1. Cap rates (Net operating income / property value)
  2. Equity value / FFO.
  3. Equity value / AFFO.

What is the lowest amount to invest in a REIT? ›

While they aren't listed on stock exchanges, non-traded REITs are required to register with the SEC and are subject to more oversight than private REITs. According to the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (Nareit), non-traded REITs typically require a minimum investment of $1,000 to $2,500.

What are the biggest REITs? ›

Prologis, American Tower, and Welltower were the real estate investment trusts (REITs) worldwide with the largest market caps as of April 11, 2024. All three REITs were headquartered in the United States. If fact, out of the 40 largest REITs, only seven were headquartered outside the United States.

Which REITs have the highest return? ›

Best REITs by total return
Company (ticker)5-year total return5-year dividend growth
Prologis (PLD)121.8%12.4%
Eastgroup Properties (EGP)107.9%13.3%
Gaming and Leisure Properties (GLPI)99.7%1.1%
Extra Space Storage (EXR)98.5%14.0%
4 more rows
Jan 16, 2024

What is the most profitable REITs to invest in? ›

Best-performing REIT mutual funds: April 2024
SymbolFund name1-year return
BRIUXBaron Real Estate Income R612.08%
JABIXJHanco*ck Real Estate Securities R611.07%
RRRRXDWS RREEF Real Estate Securities Instil9.26%
CSRIXCohen & Steers Instl Realty Shares9.84%
1 more row
Apr 11, 2024

What is the largest private REIT in the US? ›

BREIT is by far the largest private REIT, with a net asset value of $68 billion as of Nov. 30, 2022. Its biggest rival is Starwood Real Estate Income Trust, or SREIT, with a net asset value of $14 billion as of Nov. 30, 2022.

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