The college football season may be in full swing but Al Otero, portfolio manager for the E.I.I. Realty Securities Fund ( EIIRX), is more interested where students are crashing post-game. Otero is a fan of American Campus Communities ( ACC) which provides both on and off-campus housing.

"Student housing is a great, defensive way to play the recovery in the multifamily sector overall," says Otero. "In times of economic turmoil students tend to stay in school longer, and students go back to school, so it's a great time to be in this asset class."

The $16 million fund, which garners 3 stars from Morningstar ( MORN), is down 1.3% over the past year, better than 88% of its peers in the real estate fund category. Over the past three years, the fund has returned an average of 7% annually, outpacing 66% of its Morningstar rivals.

He also likes West Coast-based REITs Essex Property Trust ( ESS) and Douglas Emmet ( DEI). Essex has carved out a profitable niche by focusing on Class B assets in Class A areas, says Otero. And Douglas Emmet has done well targeting luxury properties in the West Los Angeles region. Otero likes the company for its strong cash flows and management.

Overall, REIT stock prices have remained depressed due to heavy skepticism about property prices, says Otero, but the sale might not last for long in his view.

"REITs typically don't trade at large discounts, and in today's environment we have REITs trading at approximately 10% discounts to their asset values. Historically, that discount has not lasted very long," says Otero.
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