Many people see owning a rental property as a ticket to prosperity. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply own an interest in a rental property, but not have any of the accompanying hassles? I’m far from an expert in this field, but let’s take a look at an REIT that invest in residential real estate.
What is an REIT?
REIT stands for Real Estate Investment Trust. From the National Association of REITs website:
A REIT is a company that owns, and in most cases, operates income-producing real estate such as apartments, shopping centers, offices, hotels and warehouses. Some REITs also engage in financing real estate. The shares of many REITs are freely traded, usually on a major stock exchange.
To qualify as a REIT, a company must distribute at least 90 percent of its taxable income to its shareholders annually. A company that qualifies as a REIT is permitted to deduct dividends paid to its shareholders from its corporate taxable income. As a result, most REITs remit at least 100 percent of their taxable income to their shareholders and therefore owe no corporate tax.
Since all the REIT income usually “passes through” straight to the shareholders, you are getting relatively direct exposure to real estate. You’re not investing in raw materials, a homebuilder, or some other derivative.
REZ Residential ETF
The iShares FTSE NAREIT Residential Plus Capped Index Fund (ticker REZ) is an ETF that tracks the FTSE NAREIT All Residential Capped Index. Here is the breakdown by industry breakdown and also the top 10 holdings.
As you can see, this is not the same as owning a single-family house, or even a bunch of single family houses. The fund holds interests in apartment complexes, healthcare facilities such as seniors housing communities and skilled nursing facilities, and also self-storage companies. For example, you can search online through the apartment complexes owned by Equity Apartments.
The annual expense ratio for REZ is 0.48%, which is on top of the built-in costs spent by each individual REIT. iShares also has ETFs focused on the different sectors such as Retail (retail stores, shopping malls) and Office/Industrial (office and industrial buildings).
One obvious advantage of owning an ETF instead of a single rental property is simplicity. You don’t have to spend time and effort dealing with finding tenants, maintenance issues, or problems with local government. You don’t have to search for properties to buy, negotiate prices, or obtain financing. You also don’t have to ever worry about keeping up cashflow, as there are no mortgage payment due each month.
Then there’s liquidity. If you need to sell, REZ has decent share volume so you can just type in a sell order and you’re done. You pretty much know the market price at all times.
Which One Is Better?
Here’s the tough question. Which will have the better return? With a single property, you are looking at monthly cashflow and property appreciation (plus possible tax benefits). With the ETF, you have your quarterly dividends and share price appreciation.
REZ currently has a current distribution rate of 5.11% based on its last quarterly dividend of 0.3003 cents per share, while the dividend yield listed on Yahoo! is 8.84% based on TTM (sum of all dividends paid out in the trailing twelve month period). According to the iShares page the Price/Earning ratio was 33 and the Price/Book ratio was 1.73 as 6/30/09.
The trailing 1-year total return of REZ is -39.64% according to Morningstar. (Too new for older numbers.) However, depending on how much your rental house was leveraged, many private investors could have done much worse. If you put $10,000 down on a $100,000 house and the house dropped just 5% in value, you would have essentially lost 50% of your $10,000 as well. I’m not sure what the total leverage of the REITs in this ETF are.
Also, we have to go back to the fact that this REIT doesn’t hold a bunch of detached single-family houses. Healthcare facilities seem like they would be a good source of income in a growing field. However, they could also be susceptible to political changes in Medicare rules.
I think its safe to say that any individual property could do worse or better than REZ. Perhaps a better question is how much you value diversification. Instead of putting your money into one property in one area, with an ETF you are instead owning a slice of thousands of different properties across the country. If you have high confidence in your abilities to select and manage a single property, that might be the better way to go.