NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For all of investors' concerns about the sagging real-estate market, property funds' returns have dwarfed those of the broader stock market.

The iShares Cohen & Steers Realty Majors Index Fund ( ICF), an exchange traded fund that holds the biggest U.S. real estate investment trusts (REITs), from AvalonBay Communities ( AVB) to Vornado ( VNO), has soared 50% in the past year, compared with 11% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This year, the iShares ETF is up 31%, three times that of the Dow.

"The REIT market's outperformance has been driven by a combination of improving debt capital markets, the signs of fundamental recovery and the search for yield by investors," says Bob Gadsden, manager of the Alpine Realty Income & Growth Fund ( AIGYX). "Next year should incorporate the continuation of the early-stage earnings turnaround and dividend increases across the sector."

TheStreet searched for investors' favorite REITs with the help of Gadsden and Peter Sorrentino, manager of the Huntington Real Strategies Fund ( HRSAX).

Alexandria Real Estate Equities ( ARE)

Alexandria is the preeminent REIT focused on owning, managing and developing properties for the life-sciences industry. The company's assets are clustered in the top research markets of San Francisco, San Diego, Maryland, Seattle and Cambridge, Mass.

"Alexandria produces consistently positive growth in net operating income from life science industry space demand that remains resilient," says Gadsden.

According to Sorrentino, Alexandria is an overlooked REIT because its structure and ownership don't fit into a typical REIT category.

"REITs like Alexandria often combine large development tracts of real estate that has been approved by permitting bodies," he says. "This is often an undervalued asset as more regions enact legislation aimed at limiting future development."

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Vornado Realty Trust ( VNO)

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