Domestic REIT investors have four ETFs to choose among. Though there are more exchange-traded funds available, the big four offer diversification, liquidity and low fees. They are: iShares Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate ( IYR), iShares Cohen & Steers Realty Majors ( ICF), Vanguard REIT ( VNQ) and SPDR Dow Jones REIT ( RWR).

All four of the big real estate investment trust ETFs have a share price around $40 to $50, which makes a comparison of their volume straightforward. Over the past three months, IYR is by far the most popular ETF, with volume of 24 million shares a day. VNQ follows with 3 million, ICF trades 1 million, and RWR sees 0.8 million shares change hands each day.

RWR costs 0.25% in fees; VNQ costs 0.15%; IYR costs 0.48% and ICF costs 0.35%.

RWR has $1.3 billion in assets; VNQ had $3.4 billion at the end of August; IYR has $2.9 billion in assets; and ICF has $1.7 billion.

VNQ tracks the MSCI US REIT Index. VNQ is actually a slice of the Vanguard REIT fund, which can be purchased via mutual fund shares as well. It has total assets of around $9 billion. Information on VNQ's holdings is delivered quarterly, the same as the mutual fund.

Since many funds rebalance quarterly, this isn't as big of a strike against Vanguard ETFs, but for investors looking for up-to-date information on the asset allocation among the fund's holdings, this one will not deliver. For buy-and-hold, however, it will be near impossible for any competitor to match Vanguard's low fees given its economy of scale.

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