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How to Invest in REITs

By Billy Fisher

NEW YORK ( MainStreet)--Retail investors can realize numerous benefits from investing in real estate investment trusts (REITs). Dividends, protection against inflation and exposure to real estate are just a few incentives for buying in. As with any investment, REITs do carry their risks. Here are some key points to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to purchase these securities.

Real Estate Diversification

A major advantage to investing in REITs is accessibility. "For the average person, their primary real estate is their residence," said Michael Cuggino, portfolio manager of the Permanent Portfolio (PRPFX), a $16 billion mutual fund. "Most people aren't going to go buy a shopping mall or an office building, so they allow you to participate in various aspects of real estate which gives you broader diversification for your real estate holdings."
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Cuggino emphasizes the importance of diversity for investors looking to gain REIT exposure. "Different sub-sectors of the real estate market behave differently," he said. "Just because office buildings are doing well, that doesn't mean that residential real estate is doing well. Or if warehouses are doing well, that doesn't mean that healthcare REITs are doing well."
[Read: <a target="blank" data-add-tracking="true" href=""><em>Housing Market Hits Awkward Teenager Growth Spurt</em></a>]

Dividends are another key aspect for investors to keep in mind when looking at REITs. "They are good income vehicles and are a good hedge against inflation of paper money," Cuggino said. "They have provided a great total return over the years when you combine the dividend yield and the asset appreciation."

Income Implications

Cuggino's sentiment on the value of dividends is echoed by Peter Sorrentino, a senior portfolio manager for Huntington Asset Advisors. "REITs are especially attractive for a retail investor," he said. "They are very useful now when it's tough to get a return on anything in the way of regular income. REITs also get the benefit of the depreciation shield."

Sorrentino notes various types of REITs can be used to add precision to an investment strategy. "You can get into different parts of an economic cycle utilizing REITs," he said. "Hotel and self-storage REITs are very early to pick up an economic cycle, because they re-price every night or once a month. So if it's early in an economic cycle you can play that type of REIT."
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