What You Need To Know About REITs To Profit in 2024 (and Beyond…)

Countless fortunes have been made by investing in real estate. Real estate has “real” value that investors can touch, feel and understand.

Real estate investment trusts (REITs) allow investors to invest in real estate without dealing with the hassles of being a landlord or property flipper. They also carry a lot less risk.

Without REITs, an investor would have to invest large sums of money (often borrowed) to be able to buy properties. The investor would have to personally guarantee the loans and would be liable for whatever happened to the property.

With a REIT, the only risk is the amount invested.

They’re also really easy to invest in. Many REITs trade on the public stock exchange just like stocks.

REITs had a lousy year in 2023, trading-wise. But this asset class is expected to enjoy a rebound in 2024. That makes right now the perfect time to investigate REITs.

REITs: The Basics

Most REITs own land or buildings and make money by renting these spaces to individuals or businesses. Some REITs also earn interest on real estate securities, such as mortgage bonds. Other REITs simply fund various real estate ventures.

Most investors buy REITs for their rich dividends. According to NAREIT (an industry organization), the average diversified property REIT offers an annual dividend yield of 4% — more than double the sub-2% yield paid out by members of the S&P 500 Index. That’s money in your pocket.

Even better, the cash usually keeps coming in regardless of whether a particular REIT’s share price goes up or down. That’s because to preserve their unique tax advantage, REITs are required by law to pay out 90% of their income as dividends to shareholders. In return, REITs are not subject to corporate income tax.

On the downside, because REITs don’t pay income taxes, their dividends are usually fully taxable, which means the dividends you receive will be taxed as ordinary income. As of this writing, most REIT dividends don’t qualify for the reduced dividend tax rate.

But even after the extra taxes, the yields most REITs pay are far higher than the taxable equivalent yield you’ll get from most other common stocks. Savvy investors can avoid these extra taxes entirely by holding REITs in a tax-advantaged account like a Roth IRA.

Buy the Stock, Not the Yield

While most people buy REITs for their rich dividend yields, investors who choose their stock based exclusively on its yield could be making a huge mistake. That’s because corporate dividend payments are by no means guaranteed.

Even though a company might be paying a healthy 10% dividend yield now, it may not be able to sustain such a rich payout if its business model isn’t solid. Companies usually extract dividend cash from earnings. So payouts could be slashed if profits are pinched. The most profitable stocks are those that generate total return through dividends and share price appreciation. So REITs with long track records of a steady dividend and share price growth are your best bet.

Investors may also find that REITs make for wonderful dividend reinvestment candidates.

But even if you can find a REIT that meets these criteria, one additional factor is paramount: It’s important to know exactly what the REIT owns.

Property Type Is Key

Many REITs specialize in a property type, such as offices, apartments, warehouses, regional malls, shopping centers, hotels or healthcare centers. Others own a mix of retail, industrial, and office property. A few others invest in specialty properties, such as movie theatres.

To get a feel for how a REIT makes money, you should always pay close attention to the type of property each REIT owns.

Each real estate sector is affected by different economic factors. If the job market is booming, for instance, then office REITs could be attractive. After all, more people working means more space is needed to accommodate them. In another scenario, let’s say consumer spending is on the decline. Suffice it to say that a shopping center REIT might be headed for challenging times as retailers feel the pinch.

Property type can also tell you how predictable a stock’s income stream might be. Healthcare property REITs, for example, typically require tenants to sign long-term leases. As such, they will usually generate more predictable income. Contrast this with apartment REITs, which tend to lease for shorter periods of time. Knowing the quality and diversity of the REIT’s tenants will also give you a sense of the reliability of its income.

Larger, diversified, or geographically dispersed REITs are less exposed to regional weakness and major economic cycles. These REITs tend to be more stable over the long haul. On the other hand, smaller, more specialized REITs often provide the greatest growth potential.

The Bottom Line

Take some time to know what you want in a REIT. Once you’ve decided, actually finding the best REIT for your money and with the greatest potential for long-term returns can be tricky. Pay close attention not just to each firm’s dividend yield, but also to its property portfolio, its growth prospects, and its valuation level relative to peers for those with the best profit potential.

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