One of my avid readers has asked me about how he can get into investing in Real Estate Investment Trusts. He even asked me why he should and whether he should invest directly in real estate properties or in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS). I like the audacity, though, because, “my people perish because of lack of knowledge”.
What Is A Real Estate Investment Trust
Traditionally, a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) is essentially a closed-end fund created exclusively for holding real properties, mortgage-related assets, or both. In most cases, the purpose of REITS is to provide investors with the opportunity to invest in real properties while at the same time, enjoying the benefits derivable from investment trusts.
Before the advent of REIT, investors could only invest in real properties from the property market by buying completed houses or building one from scratch. Now, with REIT it has become possible to trade units of real properties in the stock market. REIT has afforded the small or retail investor the rare opportunity to invest in real estate.
Understanding is Key
Granting the fact that REITS are pools of properties and/or mortgages traded in the stock market, REIT investors or intending investors need to understand not only the stock market but also the property market so as to be able to make informed investment decisions. Unfortunately, while some investors have a good understanding of the property market, and some understand the workings of the stock market, only a few, if at all, have a proficient understanding of both. That is what makes investing in Real Estate Investment Trusts a little tricky.
Actually, the property market differs from the stock market in many ways. The pattern of price movements in the stock market differs from what it is in the property market. while prices move or change rapidly in the stock market, they do not change so rapidly in the property market. The good thing about REITs, however, is that, like mutual funds, and unlike direct ownership of real estate properties, they (REITS) are managed by professional REIT fund managers that understand the nitty-gritty of both markets (the stock and property markets).
In spite of the fact that they are being managed by professional fund managers in deciding on which REIT to invest in, investors should pay attention to the investment strategy of the REIT, and ensure that such strategies jive with such investor’s overall investment strategy and goal.
Investors should find out if the REIT they are interested in is diversified in both geographical location and property type. On the contrary, investors may be well-served if they buy into REITS that concentrate in a special type of property spread over different geographical locations.
Advantages of a focused REIT strategy
a focused REIT strategy provides a better understanding of specialized markets. it reduces the number of markets a REIT needs to worry about and it enables both the investors and managers to understand the REIT better. Furthermore, it grants both the manager and investors the freedom from having to be experts in all markets and it reduces increased management cost due to the need to take care of many property markets.
Disadvantages of focused REIT strategy
Though focused strategy has some advantages, it comes with some disadvantages too. It offers poor-risk reduction and does not allow for better property diversification. It does not offer customers or investors multiple locations that may satisfy their needs and it may increase susceptibility to regional market trends and economic swings/changes which may result in the possibility of large fluctuations in income streams.
How to know whether a REIT is focused or diversified
There is no hard and fast way to know whether a REIT is focused or diversified but one way of knowing is to look at the percentage of investment in property types. The norm is that if a REIT has more than 75% of its assets concentrated in one property type, it can be classified as a REIT with a focused strategy.
REITs in Nigeria
Someone reading this article may have asked, are there REITs in Nigeria? there are, but because they have not been that popular, you are not mistaken into thinking or even believing that there are no REITs in Nigeria. There are three major Real Estate Investment Trusts in Nigeria, UPDC Real Estate Investment Trust, Sky Shelter Fund and Union Homes Real Estate Investment Trust. UPDC is the largest of the REITs by asset, having an asset value of N33.2 billion as at June 28th 2019, followed by Union Homes’ N9.9 billion and then Sky Shelter’s N2.4 billion.
Union Homes appears to be a focused REIT in that out of its 9 properties, only 2 are located in Abuja, with the rest located in Lagos. Those in Abuja have very low occupancy rate ranging from 0 to 20% while those in Lagos have occupancy rates of between 80% to 100%.
Sky Shelter also appears to be a focused REIT, again, out of its 7 properties, 2 are in Abuja with unknown occupancy rates and they are available for sale. On the other hand, those in Lagos are fully occupied.
Is Real Estate Investment Suitable for you and Your Portfolio?
Diversification, they say, is the milk and honey of investing. This is because a well-diversified portfolio gives an investor exposure to upside potentials as well as shield against downside risk. One investment that improves portfolio diversification is real estate investment. The good news actually is that many are involved in real estate investing, in one way or the other, either as owner-occupied or commercial.
Real estate investments have proved profitable in the past and continue to be profitable today if done right. Performance analysts, worldwide, have noted that real estate investments at times outperform equity investments. Unfortunately, irrespective of the profitable return profile of real estate investments, it may not be suitable for everyone, except of course, when it is for owner-occupation. However, a lot of people, in most investment forums online, advise people to go into real estate, as soon as they ask for advice on the best way to invest a given amount of money.
To invest in real estate, one needs to answer some questions, some of which I am posing in this article. If you answer yes to these questions, then you are suited for real estate investing.
Can you tie up the needed capital for a minimum of several years?
Real estate investing, unlike investments in equities and bonds require sizable amount of money to build or buy the property in addition to money required to cover unexpected repairs or damages, howbeit contingent. By their nature, real estate properties are relatively difficult to sell within a short period, they are not as liquid as stocks and bonds, as a result, you should be prepared to hold the properties for as long as it takes to sell, which may run into several months depending on some factors.
Are you willing to remain in a certain location for the foreseeable future?
Due to the lack of portability of real estates, it tends to tie the investor down to a given geographical location. In addition, the fact that real estate properties require attention, which may be often frequent, you may need to be near enough to the property for the required supervision or repairs.
Do you have the time and expertise to manage the properties effectively?
Rental property often requires a lot of maintenance, new tenants must be found as vacancies arise, rents must be collected, bills relating to the rental property must be paid and, in most cases, records must be kept. All those demands full-time attention which, if given, may imply forgoing one’s full-time job unless the investor decides to hire a management company to manage the rental property. That option too, has its own pros and cons.
If you answered no to any or all of the above questions and still desirous of investing in real estate, then direct investment into real property, except for owner occupation, may not be for you and as such, a better option will most likely be to go through Real Estate Investment Trusts.