REITs Explained: What They Are and How They Work | TIOmarkets

BY TIO Staff

|June 11, 2024

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) offer a unique avenue for investors to participate in the real estate market without the need to directly buy or manage properties. This article delves into the fundamentals of REITs, their operational mechanisms, and the potential benefits and drawbacks they present to investors.

Understanding REITs

At its core, a REIT is a company that owns, operates, or finances income-generating real estate. Modeled similar to mutual funds, REITs pool the capital of numerous investors. This makes it possible for individual investors to earn dividends from real estate investments—without having to buy, manage, or finance any properties themselves.

Types of REITs

REITs can be broadly categorized into three types: equity REITs, mortgage REITs, and hybrid REITs. Equity REITs own and manage real property and earn income through leasing space and collecting rents on the real estate they own. Mortgage REITs, on the other hand, provide funding for real estate by purchasing or originating mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. Finally, hybrid REITs combine the investment strategies of both equity and mortgage REITs.

How REITs Operate

REITs are designed to offer a straightforward investment structure. By law, they must distribute at least 90% of their taxable income to shareholders in the form of dividends. This requirement ensures that REITs are primarily income-generating investments. Additionally, REITs can be publicly traded on major securities exchanges or privately held. The publicly traded REITs offer the advantage of liquidity, similar to stocks, allowing investors to buy and sell shares easily.

Benefits of Investing in REITs

Investing in REITs comes with a host of advantages, making them an attractive option for a wide range of investors.


REITs provide investors with an opportunity to diversify their investment portfolios beyond traditional stocks and bonds. Since the performance of real estate markets can be uncorrelated with other asset classes, including REITs in a portfolio can reduce risk and improve returns over time.

Income Generation

As mentioned earlier, REITs are required to distribute a significant portion of their income as dividends. This makes them a popular choice for income-seeking investors. The regular dividend payments can provide a steady income stream, which is particularly appealing during times of market volatility.


Publicly traded REITs offer high liquidity compared to direct real estate investments. Investors can buy or sell shares in a REIT much like they would any other stock on the exchange, without the complexities and delays associated with buying or selling physical properties.

Risks and Considerations

While REITs offer numerous benefits, there are also risks and considerations that investors should be aware of.

Market Risks

Like any investment, REITs are subject to market risks. The value of REIT shares can fluctuate based on overall market conditions, interest rate movements, and the performance of the real estate market. Therefore, there is the potential for both capital gains and losses.

Interest Rate Sensitivity

REITs are particularly sensitive to changes in interest rates. Rising interest rates can lead to higher borrowing costs for REITs, which can impact their profitability and, consequently, dividend payments. Additionally, as interest rates rise, the yield on safer investments like bonds can become more attractive compared to REIT dividends, potentially leading to a decrease in REIT share prices.

Lack of Control

Investors in REITs have no control over the management of the underlying real estate assets. Decisions regarding property acquisition, management, and disposition are made by the REIT's management team. While this can be an advantage for investors who prefer a hands-off investment, it also means trusting the management's expertise and decisions.

Additional Considerations for REIT Investments

When considering investing in REITs, there are several additional factors to keep in mind to make informed decisions.

Tax Implications

REIT dividends are taxed differently than traditional stock dividends. They are generally taxed at ordinary income tax rates rather than the lower qualified dividend rates. Investors should consult with a tax professional to understand the tax implications of investing in REITs.

Property Sector Exposure

Investors should be aware that different REITs focus on specific property sectors such as residential, commercial, healthcare, or industrial real estate. Understanding the sector exposure of a REIT can help investors assess the potential risks and returns associated with that particular sector.

Management Quality

The expertise and track record of a REIT's management team play a crucial role in the success of the investment. Investors should research the management team's experience, strategy, and past performance to gauge their ability to effectively manage the real estate assets and generate returns for shareholders.

Performance Metrics for Evaluating REITs

When analyzing REIT investments, investors can utilize various performance metrics to assess the financial health and potential returns of a REIT.

Funds from Operations (FFO)

FFO is a key metric used to evaluate the operating performance of a REIT. It represents the net income generated by a REIT, excluding gains or losses from property sales and depreciation. Investors often look at FFO to assess the REIT's ability to generate cash flow from its real estate assets.

Dividend Yield

Dividend yield is another important metric for REIT investors, as it indicates the annual dividend income as a percentage of the REIT's share price. A higher dividend yield may be attractive to income-seeking investors, but investors should also consider the sustainability of the dividend payments and the REIT's overall financial stability.

Occupancy Rates

Occupancy rates reflect the percentage of leased space in a REIT's properties. High occupancy rates indicate strong demand for the real estate assets, which can lead to stable rental income and potential growth in property values. Monitoring occupancy rates can provide insights into the performance and profitability of a REIT.


REITs represent a distinct and accessible way for investors to gain exposure to real estate. They offer the potential for income generation, portfolio diversification, and liquidity. However, like all investments, REITs come with their own set of risks and considerations. Investors should conduct thorough research and consider their own financial situation and risk tolerance before investing in REITs.

Understanding the nuances of REITs can empower investors to make informed decisions and potentially enhance their investment portfolios. As with any investment opportunity, the key to success lies in a balanced approach and a clear understanding of the associated risks and rewards.

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TIO Staff

Behind every blog post lies the combined experience of the people working at TIOmarkets. We are a team of dedicated industry professionals and financial markets enthusiasts committed to providing you with trading education and financial markets commentary. Our goal is to help empower you with the knowledge you need to trade in the markets effectively.

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