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Money Cents

What About Investing in Real Estate?
By Shelley Phillips-Mills
Jul 19, 2005 - 9:40:00 AM

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Like many Americans, you’re probably well aware of the fact that your home is one of the biggest investments you have. But if you’re looking for other ways to take advantage of the real estate market, you may not have enough money on hand to buy a second home simply as an investment. While putting money into your own home helps to preserve its value, it also requires ongoing capital investments and does not provide a high level of liquidity. Fortunately for investors, there are other investment vehicles available to help you get into the real estate market without the responsibility of being the sole owner of the property.

Real Estate Investment Trusts are companies that own a portfolio of real estate to earn cash flow for shareholders. Commonly known by their acronym, REITs (pronounced "reets"), these companies are usually publicly traded, so you can make a direct investment in them by buying their common shares like any other stock. REITs fall into one of two basic categories: equity REITs and mortgage REITs.

Equity REITs own real estate; many of them buy, sell, own, manage, lease and maintain commercial real estate. Portions of the rents received from the properties owned by the REIT, and even capital gains from the sale of buildings for profit, can be a source of income to shareholders owning stock in the REIT. Mortgage REITs, on the other hand, specialize in lending money to real estate owners - both commercial and residential. Interest income from these mortgage interests gets passed on to investors owning stock in a mortgage REIT.

To give you a better idea of the advantages of investing in REITs, let’s take an even closer look at how one works. The goal of an equity REIT is to maximize both rental income and income from the portfolio of real estate that it owns, while at the same time minimizing real estate and business expenses, thus generating a positive cash flow. To maintain REIT status, these companies must pay their investors at least 90 percent of the taxable net income generated by their portfolios in the form of dividends. What’s more, at least 75 percent of a company’s gross income must originate from real estate investments, either in the form of rental income from equity ownership or interest income from mortgages. Simply stated, a REIT serves as a conduit through which income is passed - in the form of dividends - from a real estate portfolio to shareholders.

Now that you know a little more about what they are and how they work, here are a few tips for successful investing in REITs.

For starters, you want to focus on those companies that have proven management teams. One of the critical factors in the performance of a REIT is a management team that can operate the real estate in its portfolio in such a way as to enhance shareholder value. In addition, you want to target REITs that have visible, more predictable growth prospects. Companies that have historically delivered developments on time and on budget - and also have a significant pipeline to fund future growth - would fit into this category.

Keep in mind that REITs may be less liquid and contain a higher risk of loss of principal than other forms of publicly traded equity investments, and may be more appropriate for individuals willing to assume a higher degree of risk for the opportunity of potentially greater returns.

Still, as you can see, REITs can offer an opportunity to invest in the real estate market without having to deal with the hands on operations. Depending on your own risk tolerance and time horizon - among other factors - REITs could be worthy of additional consideration. If you think you might be interested in adding them to your portfolio, a financial consultant can help you find specific investments that may be right for you. If you would like to receive the A.G. Edwards’ publication, "2005 REIT Investing," please contact financial consultant, Shelley Phillips-Mills in Bangor at 1-800-947-5456.

This article was provided by A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., Member SIPC.


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