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A Safe ETF Choice for Housing

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- An optimistic batch of data released over the past few days has left some investors wondering if, after years of floundering, housing is at last showing some signs of a comeback.

Despite lingering concerns about a global economic slowdown, homebuilders appear to be getting work. Wednesday's report managed to come in at an annualized rate of 658,000 housing starts. Though not a stellar number on its own, it marked a 15% increase from what analysts had been expected.

Further adding to the positive mood, the National Association of Homebuilders on Tuesday reported that confidence across the industry had been on the rise. According to a report on the agency's Website, the National Association of Homebuilder/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index jumped four points to 18 in October. This marked the largest single month gain seen since April 2010.

In light of the strong home sales numbers and improving homebuilder sentiment, some investors may be tempted to dive into this market segment. In particular, funds like the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Index Fund (ITB) or the SPDR S&P Homebuilder ETF (XHB) may appear to be exciting endeavors. These products, however, are not for the faint of heart. Given their volatility and the looming hurdles facing the residential real estate market, only aggressive, risk tolerant traders with a short-time horizon should try their luck here.

While I would encourage conservative, long term-minded investors to steer clear of homebuilder ETFs, the real estate industry as a whole is not entirely off limits. On the contrary, there are still a handful of products individuals can turn to when attempting to construct a stable portfolio.

The iShares Cohen & Steers Realty Majors Index Fund (ICF) and the iShares NAREIT Residential Plus Capped Index Fund (REZ) are two real estate-related funds that appear better suited for long-term investors.

Both ICF and REZ provide investors with exposure to a wide array of real estate investment trusts. Though each offer unique takes on this asset class, they share a considerable amount of overlap. Some holdings shared across the two include Equity Residential (EQR - Get Report), Public Storage (PSA) and HCP.

Despite their similarities, ICF stands out as being a more-heavily diversified option. Whereas the bulk of REZ's portfolio is focused on apartment, health care, and self-storage REITs, ICF's index expands its reach, targeting companies like commercial real estate giant Simon Property Group (SPG - Get Report) and Host Hotels & Resorts (HST).
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