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Real estate investing

7 ways to break into the world of REITs, rentals and more.

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Investing in real estate can be a lucrative way to diversify your investment portfolio. But it’s riskier than stocks and bonds, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The best way to invest in real estate comes down to your risk tolerance, budget and overall experience.

Pros and cons of investing in real estate

As with any investment strategy, investing in real estate offers unique benefits and drawbacks.

Pros

  • Leverage. Unlike stocks, real estate investments offer the power of leverage, which means you don’t need to cover the total cost of the investment up front. Depending on where you live, you can hold property by paying as little as 5% of its total value — but higher leverage generally means higher risk.
  • Low volatility. Traditionally, the real estate market is less volatile than the stock market. This means you’re more likely to receive a consistent return on investment.
  • Diversification. Adding real estate to your investment portfolio helps lower portfolio volatility while protecting against inflation.
  • Tax benefits. Investors have access to a number of deductible expenses, including mortgage interest, property taxes, property improvements and operational expenses.
  • Passive income. Whether it’s dividends from a REIT or monthly rent from a tenant, real estate investments can earn you passive income.

Cons

  • Illiquidity. Unlike stocks and bonds that you can swap in seconds, real estate is fairly illiquid, meaning it can take months to offload.
  • Expensive. Real estate investing requires a higher cost of entry than stocks. A down payment on a property can run in the thousands, while mortgage payments, property taxes and maintenance costs can eat into your bottom line.
  • Time-consuming. You can monitor your stocks from a computer or device with ease. But property investments often require in-person visits — especially for those managing rentals or flipping houses.

How to invest in real estate

The many ways to invest in real estate vary by liquidity, investment minimum and time commitment. The best real estate investment for your portfolio hinges on your budget and stomach for risk.

Type of investmentConsider ifLook elsewhere ifMinimum to invest
Real estate investment trusts (REITs)You’re seeking a highly liquid asset that pays dividends.You want to purchase or manage physical property.Low
Mutual fundsYou’re seeking a broadly distributed liquid asset.You want more control over which companies you invest in.Low
Online investment platformsYou want to directly invest in commercial real estate.You want to purchase publicly traded securities.Medium
Real estate limited partnerships (RELPs)You’re seeking a passive short-term investment as a limited partner.You want full control over property management.Medium
Real estate investment groups (REIGs)You want to own and rent property without managing it.You don’t want to pay property maintenance fees.High
Buy a rental propertyYou want to become a landlord with full control over property maintenance and upkeep.You prefer a more liquid, hands-off investment.High
Flip propertiesYou have renovation experience or want to partner with a contractor.You lack the time and expertise to renovate a property.High

Compare platforms to invest in real estate

Name Product Minimum deposit to open Eligible investors Available asset types Annual fee Average return
Streitwise
$1,000
All
Real estate
2%
8% to 10%
Streitwise is an online real estate investing company that combines innovative technology and new federal regulations.
DiversyFund
$500
All
Real estate
0%
11% to 18%
Diversify your portfolio with multifamily real estate.
Fundrise
$500
All
Real estate
0.85%
8.7% to 12.4%
Invest in commercial and residential REITs with as little as $500, but watch out for hidden costs.
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REITs

Real estate investment trusts are a way to invest in real estate without purchasing physical property. Instead, you invest in a company that purchases and operates income properties. And you can do it through a brokerage account with an online trading platform.

REITs are a practical option for stock market investors seeking portfolio diversification. These trusts are bought and sold on major exchanges — similar to stocks. And like stocks, REITs pay dividends.

The perk of investing in REITs is that they’re highly liquid, which means you can buy and sell them quickly — typically in a day. They also offer access to commercial real estate an investor might otherwise have difficulty accessing, including office buildings, apartment complexes, malls and hotels.

The major downside to investing in REITs? They’re complex and lack leverage. With so many types of REITs, some are riskier than others. Beginners will want to stick with publicly-traded REITs.

Mutual funds

Another option for investors who don’t want to purchase property of their own is to buy into real estate mutual funds. These mutual funds pool the assets of multiple investors between REITs and real estate operating companies. And you can invest through an account with an online broker.

Like REITs, real estate mutual funds are also fairly liquid. But unlike REITs, mutual fund profits remain in the fund unless you sell. Mutuals funds also provide access to a broad sweep of assets with fewer transaction costs.

That said, when you buy into a real estate mutual fund, you have little say in the companies your money is invested in.

Online investment platforms

Online lending platforms take a page out of the crowdfunding playbook to connect investors with real estate developers. To invest, you’ll need to select a platform and open an account with the required minimum deposit.

Through these platforms, you can help finance a real estate project through debt or equity. In return for your investment, you receive monthly or quarterly distributions.

Popular platforms include Fundrise, Cardone Capital and PeerStreet. Minimum investments range from $500 to $25,000 and platform fees are typically around 1%. Different platforms offer access to different types of real estate, and some are open only to accredited investors with a net worth of at least $1 million.

RELPs

When entering into a real estate limited partnership (RELP), investors help finance a real estate project managed by a real estate development firm or property manager — the general partner of the RELP.

RELPs aren’t publicly traded and are less liquid than REITs and mutual funds. To invest, you’ll need to partner with a real estate development firm accepting investors.

When accepted, investors become limited partners with part property ownership. As a limited partner, you have little management control over the project, but you take on less risk than the general partner overseeing the development of the property.

These short-term real estate investments typically involve the purchase of undeveloped land with the intention of developing the land and selling it for a profit. RELPs don’t often offer cash distributions — the investment payoff comes when the property is sold at a profit. Once the property is sold, the RELP is dissolved.

REIGs

Real estate investment groups (REIGs) allow investors to purchase one or more units of real estate across a set of buildings — typically apartment complexes. To invest, you’ll need to research REIGs in the area you’re interested in and find out what’s available for purchase.

This option is well suited to investors that want to own and rent their own property but don’t want the hassle of maintaining it. Instead, the investment group manages the units, including property maintenance, interviewing tenants and filling vacancies.

When you invest in property through an REIG, your name is on the lease, but a portion of your owed rent is deducted to cover maintenance costs. You’ll also need to be wary of vacancy risks — although your REIG may ask investors to contribute a portion of the rent to safeguard against empty units.

Buy a rental property

Those seeking consistent income and full control over the real estate investment experience may want to consider purchasing rental property. This investment option involves buying a piece of real estate and renting it to tenants. Rental properties provide rental income, many expenses are tax-deductible and most properties appreciate in value over time.

But being a landlord is no easy feat. You’re responsible for paying the mortgage and property taxes, as well as the maintenance and upkeep of the property. You also run the risk of vacancies and irresponsible tenants who can damage your property or neglect to keep up with rent.

Flip properties

Also known as real estate trading, house flipping involves purchasing a property for a short period of time — typically less than six months — and reselling it for a profit. Many investors get started by searching the real estate market for undervalued properties within a price range.

Some property flippers do not invest time or funds into improving the property before reselling it. Others renovate the property before putting it back on the market.

This investment strategy offers the opportunity for sizable short-term returns. But it also carries significant risk. If the market turns and you’re unable to offload a property, you run the risk of continued losses in the form of ongoing mortgage payments.

House flipping is considerably more complex than home reno shows would have you believe. Turning a profit flipping properties requires a solid understanding of the real estate market and renovation experience.

Bottom line

You have a variety of ways to invest in real estate, with options that vary by liquidity and skill level. And while property investments are historically less volatile than stocks and bonds, the cost of entry is higher — and takes work, depending on the option you choose.

If you prefer a strategy that requires less capital, learn about other investment options that can complement your portfolio and goals.

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