Learn How To Start Investing In Real Estate
Learn How To Start Investing In Real Estate

REITs Vs Real Estate: Which is the Better Investment?

Written by Paul Esajian

Real estate remains a cornerstone of wealth-building, offering a tangible asset with the potential for both income generation and appreciation. Meanwhile, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) present a modern, stock-like approach to investing in property. In the world of investment, there’s been a long-standing REITs vs real estate debate. Which one holds the key to optimal returns? Let’s navigate this landscape to pinpoint where your investment dollars might flourish best.

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What are REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts)?

Let’s start by demystifying REITs. A REIT is essentially a corporation that owns or finances income-producing real estate across various property sectors. Think of it as the mutual fund of the real estate world. They’re split into three primary categories: equity (owning properties), mortgage (holding property mortgages), and hybrid (a blend of both).

Pros of Investing in REITs

  • Liquidity: Unlike physical real estate, REITs are typically traded on major stock exchanges. This means you can buy or sell them much like you would shares of a company.

  • Dividend Income: REITs are required to return a hefty portion of their taxable income to shareholders – typically 90%. This mandate often translates into attractive dividend yields for investors.

  • Diversification: Investing in a REIT can provide exposure to various sectors of the real estate market, from commercial spaces to healthcare facilities, without buying the actual property.

Cons of Investing in REITs

  • Market Volatility: Just as stocks ebb and flow with market sentiments, REITs aren’t immune to the whims of the stock market.

  • Indirect Property Ownership: While REITs give you a stake in real estate, you won’t have any say over specific property decisions.

  • Tax Implications: The dividends from REITs might not enjoy the same tax advantages as qualified dividend income or long-term capital gains.

Traditional Real Estate Investment

Traditional real estate investment, in contrast, is the age-old practice of purchasing tangible property. Whether it’s a cozy suburban home, a bustling commercial space, or a sprawling industrial unit, this mode offers direct ownership.

Pros of Investing in Real Estate Directly

  • Control: You call the shots. From tenant selection to property upgrades, the reins are in your hands.

  • Appreciation Potential: Real estate, in many regions, tends to appreciate over time, potentially offering lucrative returns.

  • Tax Benefits: Direct real estate investment often comes with a suite of tax perks, including depreciation deductions and potential capital gain exclusions.

Cons of Direct Real Estate Investment

  • Illiquidity: If you suddenly decide to offload your property, it’s not as straightforward as hitting ‘sell’ on a stock platform.

  • Management Intensity: Unless you engage a property manager, expect to be involved in day-to-day property affairs.

  • Larger Capital Requirement: Purchasing property typically requires a substantial down payment, not to mention closing costs and potential repair expenses.

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Comparing REITs and Real Estate: Head-to-Head

In the debate between REITs Vs. real estate, it’s crucial to draw a side-by-side comparison, examining the core aspects of each investment avenue. From initial capital requirements to potential yields and from associated risks to the time and effort they demand, every facet plays a role in shaping an investor’s decision. As we delve into this head-to-head comparison, we’ll illuminate the distinct characteristics and nuances that might tip the balance for an informed investor.

Investment Threshold

When you’re venturing into direct real estate, there’s a significant upfront investment (which prompts many seasoned investors to resort to these creative financing strategies). REITs, on the other hand, offer an affordable gateway to real estate investment. For the price of a single share, you’re in!

Potential Returns

While REITs offer compelling dividends, real estate properties provide dual avenues of potential profit: rental income and appreciation. However, the exact ROI will vary based on numerous factors, including market conditions and property management practices.

Risk Factors

Both investments have their set of risks. While real estate values may generally appreciate, there’s no guarantee, and property can sit vacant. REITs face market risks, interest rate changes, and the general health of the economy.

Time Commitment

REITs are decidedly more hands-off. Once you invest, the management of the underlying assets is someone else’s responsibility. Direct real estate, on the other hand, requires much more of your own time to manage. Physical real estate investors tend to use a property management company to handle much of the day-to-day operations.

Tax Implications

Real estate can provide a variety of tax breaks. REITs, while simpler, might not offer the same tax efficiency, especially concerning dividend income.

Are REITs Better Than Real Estate?

It’s not about superiority but rather alignment with individual goals and preferences. Neither REITs nor traditional real estate stands tall as the undisputed champion for all investors. They cater to different investment profiles, requirements, and risk appetites. Let’s delve into why someone might lean towards REITs vs direct real estate:

  • Liquidity: One of the most compelling reasons to invest in REITs is the liquidity they offer. Unlike tangible property that can take months to sell, REITs can be quickly traded on the stock market. This feature is particularly appealing for those who might need to cash out their investments on short notice.

  • Diversification with Limited Capital: With a limited investment, an individual can own a share of a diversified real estate portfolio spanning different property types and geographies when they invest in a REIT. In contrast, direct real estate requires a more substantial capital outlay for a single property, limiting diversification opportunities.

  • Hands-off Investment: Not everyone wants to deal with tenants, maintenance issues, or local real estate market dynamics. REITs provide a way for investors to gain exposure to the real estate sector without the nitty-gritty management tasks.

  • Consistent Dividend Income: The mandate for REITs to distribute the majority of their taxable income means regular dividend payouts. For those seeking consistent income streams, especially retirees or those nearing retirement, this can be a crucial factor.

  • Exposure to Various Real Estate Sectors: REITs give investors an opportunity to invest in different real estate segments, from commercial properties to healthcare facilities and more, without having to amass the expertise or capital for each segment.

That said, while REITs have these advantages, direct real estate comes with the promise of tangible ownership, potential for property appreciation, tax benefits, and a direct say in property management. It’s essential to weigh these factors against individual preferences, risk tolerance, and investment goals.


When it comes to the decision on REITs vs real estate, your investment choice will hinge on your financial goals, risk tolerance, capital availability, and desired level of involvement. As with all investment decisions, it’s prudent to conduct thorough research and possibly consult with a financial advisor to make an informed choice tailored to your individual circumstances.

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