Dividends: The Ultimate Second Income

Bored with the same old games, my 11-year old son and teenage daughter rummaged through the games closet and found an ancient relic, Monopoly. And as I excitedly told them about its history, that is was invented by self-described anti-monopolist, Elizabeth Magie, in 1903, that its purpose is to illustrate the hazards of concentrating land in private monopolies, my kids looked at me as if what they were hearing was, ‘blah, blah, blah’, rolled their eyes in tandem, and walked away.

Not an unexpected response. I mean, hey, the kids just want to be free to play, not weighed down by an adult (that would be me) spewing historical facts and economic theory. And play they did.

From time to time, they would ask me to clarify rules, which I was only too happy to oblige. Eventually, after surreptitiously spying on them from the kitchen, watching and listening as they learned rules and strategy, I came in from the cold and asked, ‘Can I play?’

Of course, being the adult whose headspace has not yet adjusted to the idea of summertime freedom, to the idea that summer is a time for letting it all go, for letting it all be, for being here, now, the Dad in the room (that would be me) had a hidden agenda.

And as I sat on the family room rug, took a seat at the playing board, and chose the Hat piece because the RaceCar was swiped by my son, I prepared to teach the kids a thing or two about the joy of property ownership.

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Interest and Dividends Rule

In other blog posts (see Property Investing: Need To Knows and Thinking About Investing In A Condo), I’ve discussed upsides, downsides, and things to be on the lookout for when buying real estate as an investment. And I also batted around the advantages of owning Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). Whether we’re talking about owning REITs (i.e., stocks that pay monthly dividends) or real property (i.e., bricks and mortar buildings with tenants paying rent), the beauty of both is … they’re Income Generators.

I love Income Generators! What’s not to love? In essence, you’re paid for being the owner. An ‘income stream‘, is the somewhat poetic phrase describing the monthly cash flow that makes its way to your pocket.

While playing Monopoly, I tried explaining the concept to the 11-year old as he insisted on buying RailRoads (a kid with a fervent imagination, a romantic at heart, naturally he finds RailRoads captivating) instead of Marvin Gardens or Tennessee Avenue.

Listen, even if you own all four RailRoads, you collect only $200 each time someone lands on Pennsylvania or Reading or the others.

So.

So? You know how much rent you collect when someone lands on Tennessee and you’ve put up a hotel? $950!

I don’t care. Besides, I have way more money than you!

True, you do have more money. But I have more properties. And eventually, you’ll be paying that money to me for landing on my properties. Then Ill have the properties AND the money, and you’ll be left with bubkus.

I still want the RailRoads.

Ya well, kids see something special about trains and RailRoads. I get it. As for that particular game, it played out as expected, the kid coming up short. Same in the next game. But the third time around, the kid’s romantic heart took a back seat to his competitive nature. Taking a page from my playbook, the kid gave first priority to property accumulation, knowing that this was the eventual way to riches. At least in the game of monopoly.

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Knowing The Deal

Let me back up a moment. I’m not saying you’ll become wealthy if you own property. It may happen but it’s far from certain. But I am saying that property ownership is a truly excellent, outstanding way to generate income. That said, income is only one half of the equation. The other half being expenses.

When you own real property, like a condo (Thinking About Investing In A Condo), it’s absolutely essential to get a firm handle on expenses. Because if expenses outstrip income, then you have to revisit the question of … what’s the purpose of this investment?

If it’s not about generating net income, then it’s all about capital gain, i.e., expecting property value to increase before you sell the property. And if capital gain is the sole purpose, then you’ve ratcheted up risk level because you just don’t know what the property will be worth tomorrow or ten years from today.

Personally, I’m a big fan of REITs. And I’ll step outside my usual commentary and say that I prefer individual REITS over a REIT Index Fund. Why? Because while the REIT Index Fund typically offers less price volatility as compared to owning one or two or a handful of individual REITs, it will also pay a lower dividend, sometimes much lower.

So, I’m willing to trade off more volatility for more income. And I’ll do so knowing that REITs in general are not a volatile group like, say, technology stocks. And they usually do not see wild price swings.

Granted, you also won’t see price gains like you might in the technology sector. But I’m good with that. I’m good with owning stable REITs that offer relatively smaller price gains and a healthy dividend.

And I’m real good with watching the monthly dividend deposits to my account, knowing my total ownership expense is $9.99 for each purchase and sale.

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What Kind Of Income Are We Talking About

Let’s say you have a spare $100,000. And you want to invest in property. You could apply that 100k as a down payment toward a condo. Incur the costs of taking on a mortgage, monthly condo fees, legal fees, title fees, any property transfer tax. Then find a renter. And hope the renter is reliable, cares for your property, and minimizes your maintenance costs.

And maybe you would turn a profit each month. It just depends on the numbers involved. And you, being a BuddhaMoney enthusiast, would crunch, crunch, crunch all the numbers before making your purchase decision. I’m not trying to be a wet blanket here; these are just some of the realities of property ownership.

Or you could take that 100k and buy a few REITs. I lean toward REITs listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange because their dividend yields tend to be much more generous than those offered by companies with U.S. listings.

While there’s a whole bunch to choose from, I’ve listed a few below (though I want to emphasize that I’m not advising, telling, suggesting or otherwise whispering in your ear to go out and buy any of these REITs without first doing your research):

  • Pure Industrial REIT (TSE:AAR.UN). Pure Industrial’s portfolio concentrates on industrial properties located in both Canada and the U.S.A. It pays a yield of 4.65%.
  • Slate Office REIT (TSE:SOT.UN). Slate owns Canadian based commercial properties, with an emphasis on office buildings. It pays a yield of 9.65%.
  • RioCan REIT (TSE:REI.UN). RioCan is Canada’s largest REIT with a market cap near $8 Billion (CAD). It focuses on shopping centers, retail and mixed use properties. It pays a yield of 5.80%.
  • Dream Office REIT (TSE:D.UN). Dream owns a stable of office properties throughout major urban Canadian cities and pays a yield a whisker under 8%.

So for simplicity sake, let’s say on 100k the average yield for these four REITs is 7%. That’s $7,000/annually, less trading fees which would equal $9.95 x 4 = $39.80. And the bonus is that dividends are taxed at a lower rate than interest income (think rental income) meaning more money in your pocket.

Putting money to work for you. Generating an income stream. All helps toward building your wealth.

 

Thinking About Investing In A Condo?

There’s something about owning real estate that gets folks going all ga ga. On a primal level, we humans crave to see, touch, even smell (ya, odd, but hey, we’re a diverse species) our investments, and real estate offers the chance to do just that and more.

The more part? Well, there’s the Sunday drives where you may visit your property for inspection or simply wave hello, and feel good about a particular piece of wood, brick, steel or stucco belonging to you. And you may show your friends and say things like, ‘hey, lets meet at my investment property before we go for dinner’. And all that will give you the warm and fuzzies like no stock ever could.

But, putting on my investor cap, aside from being a source of the occasional feel goods, does it make money sense to buy a condo for investment purposes?

Talking This And That

Alright, first off, I can’t give you a blanket yes or no to that question. There are just too many variables, too many ‘it depends on this and it depends on that’ scenarios such as: the particular neighborhood where you buy; is property demand growing owing to neighborhood/town/city growth; is the condo structurally sound or will the building need major repairs in the near future; did you lock into a smoking hot deal, like those on offer in 2008-2009 in many parts of the USA; what are your financing terms; did you hire a property manager or will you be responsible for dealing with maintenance, repairs and tenants; do you enjoy being a landlord? do you understand that property ownership is a business in itself, requiring your commitment of time and energy if it is to be successful …

All of these issues will affect both your income stream (i.e., rent) and whether or not the condo’s value increases over the years to come.

Uh Oh, I Didn’t Think About Those

Look, I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from investing in a condo. But I am saying there’s a good chance that it may not be all your friends say its cracked up to be. And I’m saying that you have to look at downsides and potential pitfalls, you have to fully inform your self as to what you’re getting into, before starting any business or venturing into any investment.

Working For A Living

Running your own property investment gig takes commitment, skill, and energy. And to do so successfully, you need to know how the game works. In this regard, consider the following Need-To-Knows:

  • Condo Fees

You’ll pay a monthly fee, akin to a maintenance fee, that goes toward keeping the building in good working order. When you’re budgeting expenses, be sure to factor this into ownership costs. And count on the fee increasing at least as much as the rate of inflation.

  • Who’s Running The Show?

Owners are elected to the Condo Association, which is usually made up of between 5 to 9 people. When owner-occupiers serve on the Condo Association, they typically take better care of the property. Landlords not so much as they’re more concerned with keeping monthly fees to a minimum so they can maximize personal cash flow.

  • Condo Rules

This condo rule thing, it’s fairly wide open as far as what may or may not be permitted. Common examples include: uniform colors throughout the building, no pets, and even no kids. For the potential landlord, well, it goes without saying that you need to ensure that the rules do not prohibit renting.

  • Joy of Assessments

Let’s say the building needs a new roof or owners vote to replace single pane windows with double pane. To pay for it, the Condo association has the power to assess a special levy on all owners. Meaning, you’re obligated to pay your share of repairs whether you want the repairs or not.

Typically, it will be a lump sum payable by a certain date. In the Pacific Northwest, during the past twenty years or so, many buildings constructed of wood in the 1970s or 80s needed to have the entire building enveloped and repaired owing to structural water infiltration. The cost per owner? Somewhere in the ballpark of $30,000 to $60,000. Not pocket change.

And once in a while, a rebel owner would put on their complaining pants, state their objection, and refuse to pay their share of the Assessment. What happens then? The Condo Association has the right to put a lien on Rebel Owner’s unit that may prevent future sale of the unit. Okay, all fine and good and just and fair but, in the meantime, funds need to be raised for repairs. Who shoulders the extra cost? The other owners.

  • Condo Association Finances

Before buying, you absolutely must review Condo Association finances. Even better (and highly recommended) is if you have an experienced condo lawyer review the books because they will know exactly what to look for, and what to flag.

Common issues include:

Financial Reserve. Does the Condo Association maintain a financial reserve? If so, how much is the reserve? If the reserve is on the teeny tiny side or there is none, don’t be surprised to receive occasional assessments for major repairs.

Condo Fee Steady. If the Condo fee hasn’t risen for several years, expect an increase soon. And if the fee was recently raised, find out why. It’s possible that an increase reflects a need to raise more funds to pay for repairs.

If The Purpose Is Investing, Think About A REIT Or Two Or Three, Instead Of A Condo 

If you’re not too keen on expending the time and energy required to run your own property investing business, i.e., manage repairs, attend to tenants, fill vacancies, arrange a mortgage, and pay property taxes, then consider investing in REITS.

A Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) is a company that owns or finances income-producing real estate.

Many REITS are publicly traded so owning shares is a simple matter of paying under $10 to your discount broker and making the buy. Yup, it’s that simple. And you get to keep your evenings and weekends free (instead of fixing the toilet in the condo or meeting with the bookkeeper) while earning a monthly dividend of anywhere between three and ten per cent (the dividend yield depends on the particular REIT) and reaping the benefits of any share price increase.

So what’s not to like about a well managed REIT? Well, before I blather on about the benefits of REITS, here are two potential downsides when compared to being a property owner:

  • First, you’re not in control of the property. Instead, you’ve outsourced control to the REIT management team. Personally, I don’t see an issue here, to farm out management to people who are skilled and experienced in the real estate investing game. That said, property owners enjoy doing business their way, they want control.
  • Second, REIT share prices don’t zoom to the moon. So, if you own property in a neighborhood where prices are skyrocketing, then your property investment will likely perform better than a REIT.

For those of you who do not wish to speculate on property prices, are not built to be a landlord, and prefer a virtually stress free property investment vehicle, choose REITs because …

Diversification

REITS offer diversification in that they hold many properties situated in different geographical locations. And they operate in all sorts of property related businesses including: office, industrial, healthcare, shopping centers, mortgage/finance companies, student housing, hotels, self-storage, and apartment buildings.

Steady Income

A solid REIT provides stable monthly income and annual dividend growth. Think of each dividend increase as a rent increase charged to tenants – the beauty of it is that you don’t deal with any tenants.

Outsourcing Management

Instead of you taking care of buying, managing and selling property, with all its attendant costs and demands on your time, REIT owners are investing in the company’s property management expertise, and their ability to effectively run a public company, including improving its share price and cash flow.

Low Stress

Every month, the REIT drops a dividend payment into your investment account, and occasionally you check the share price. Stressful? As much as a day on the beach.

Liquidity

On any given day that stock markets are open for business, you can sell shares in your REIT for a total transaction cost of under $10 (assuming you’re using a discount broker). Not so with real estate. Rather, it takes time to find a buyer. There is a waiting period up to ninety days before closing. And you need to hire a lawyer and real estate agent, at a minimum, and often pay a government land transfer fee in the thousands. Typically, closing costs run anywhere between four and eight per cent of the sale price.

What Works For You

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m more of a fan of owning solid REITs instead of income producing property.

REIT ownership is simple, and I don’t have to bother with (re: stress) buying, managing and selling property; which leaves more time for life outside of investing such as hanging out with my kids, going for a walk with my wife, hiking and yoga. Balance.

Still, it’s not a matter of one being ‘better’ than the other. If you enjoy being a landlord and all its responsibilities, and are committed to making your own property investment business a success, then go for it. For those who want exposure to real estate but do not have the time and/or inclination to be a landlord, REITs are an excellent alternative.


ps. huge thanks to American Advisors Group for their permission to use the image introducing this post!

Property Investing: Need To Knows

Long, long before Duddy Kravitz’s (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordechai Richler) father told him, “A man without land is nobody,” investing in real estate was one of the best games in town. You bought property, rented it out, collected monthly checks, and watched your wealth grow. Historically, price appreciation was a bonus since the primary objective of most property investors was to generate income.

Today, investing in real estate remains a heckuva game.

[Chewy Bit: this post is limited to discussing investing in residential real estate, such as a condo].

And though income potential may be appealing, during the past decade or two many markets in North America, and the West in general, have seen property values increasing at a far higher rate than the historical average of about three to six per cent.

Sounds enticing, yes?  Then why doesn’t every investor diversify their portfolio outside of ETFs, stocks, bonds, and find themselves a bricks and mortar investment? Well, the thing is … while property investing has strong potential upside, making money at it is by no means a slam dunk.

Lord Of The Land Material?

Sure, there’s something emotionally appealing about owning land, about being able to stand tall, chest puffed out, arms held wide open, proudly announcing, ‘Welcome to my Land!’

But I’m here to tell you not to buy into that silly ego nonsense. Being a landlord is not a simple role and its not for everyone. Rather, it’s more like a part-time job: dealing with tenants, property maintenance, unexpected costs, and guaranteed headaches now and then.

And like any investment, before you dive in, you have to do your research and figure out not only whether a particular property is suitable but, as importantly, whether you are suited to real estate investing.

Things To Be On The Lookout For

Most definitely, rental property may provide you with a stable source of income. But like any investment, you need to fully and completely and absolutely understand what you are getting into before you sign on the dotted line.

And you really, really, really, have to think hard about a bunch of issues (see below) that must be factored into purchase deliberations before you get all antsy in the pants and rush out to buy:

  • Financial Might. As a potential buyer, you should be financially secure. If your job security is in question or the purchase might compromise financial goals that are higher on your list of priorities, then you shouldn’t be considering the purchase of investment property.
  • To Mortgage or Not To Mortgage. If you’re not paying all cash for the property purchase, then you’ll be arranging financing. Which means, naturally, that much thought must be given to the issue of whether or not to take on debt.

It’s not that all debt is BAAAADDDD. It’s not. Especially when you’re borrowing for the purpose of earning income, and that income will be sufficient to cover financing payments, property taxes, monthly condo fees and repairs. And every time you make a mortgage payment, you’re increasing your equity stake in the property. Bonus!

But Debt still equals Risk. And if you already have a mortgage on your home, or your financing a car, or the kids are off to university soon, or you otherwise carry large debts or expect to incur large expenses in the near future, you have to run the numbers and objectively consider whether it’s wise to take on more debt, i.e., more risk.

  • Interest Rates. We live in a wildly low interest rate world but that’s going to change, sooner rather than later (so says BuddhaMoney’s crystal ball). As interest rates go up, so will your cost of borrowing. In turn, higher financing costs will reduce your net return unless you’re able to raise rent.
  • When To Buy. All investment markets are cyclical. And just like buying stocks, you want to buy real estate when prices are low, when the market is weak. Because buying low increases the odds that the principal value of your property will appreciate in price over the long haul.
  • Property Taxes. This is just one of many costs of ownership. Before you purchase, find out how much in property taxes are to be paid during the year in which you buy. Then take a look at property taxes for the five preceding years, to see if there is a trend or a typical percentage increase.

Sure, this information will better inform you of overall costs, but you still  won’t know with any certainty how much, if any, property taxes will increase next year or any year thereafter afterward. So do the wise thing: to minimize the odds of there being any financial surprises, and ensuring the property is affordable, plan for taxes increasing at a percentage rate higher than the past typical increase.

  • Wear and Tear, Grin and Bear. In the usual course of owing a residential property, maintenance and repairs are needed. Whether you need the washer or fridge repaired, walls freshened up with paint, or the hot water heater replaced, you will incur maintenance and repair costs. And if you’re not the kind of gal/guy who cares to get your hands dirty and callused by undertaking repairs your self, then repairs will cost you that much more.
  • It’s the Tenant Calling … Again! Okay, what do you think of this scenario: tenant calls you at two in the morning. Apparently, the toilet overflowed and there’s now a rising lake inside the condo.

Or … tenant is late with their rent. Then simply stops paying rent. And you’re not familiar with local laws so you higher a lawyer (i.e., money out of your pocket) and pop Tylenol for the next thirty days because you haven’t off-loaded property management to someone else because that would eat into net return.

Or … something innocuous like tenant calling at nine in the evening asking you to drop by to change a light bulb that they cannot unscrew despite their two university degrees.

Hey, that’s reality folks. You may be Lord of the Manor but that doesn’t mean you’re always walking in the rose garden. From minor annoyances to major inconveniences, there is a price to pay and time to give. So don’t underestimate the amount of work involved in dealing with your tenant.

  • Evil Renter Person. You may have heard a story or two about renter’s doing serious damage to a condo. Though I tend to believe that most renters act honestly and respectfully, there remains the possibility that your condo is leased to Evil Renter Person. And when damage happens, guess who’s going to pay for repairs?

If Evil Renter Person escapes from your clutches, never to be seen or heard from again, then you, Property Lord, are responsible for paying repair costs.

Or … you may get lucky and Evil Renter Person may accept responsibility and reimburse you for repair costs.

Or … your insurance may cover the damage.

Or … the security deposit may be sufficient to cover repair costs.

However it works out, dealing with renter caused property damage is a headache of varying pain thresholds.

To best protect yourself: (1) before agreeing to lease, meet with prospective tenant at least once if not two or three times to get a feel for who will be living in your property; (2) before agreeing to lease, thoroughly review all information concerning prospective tenant; (3) retain a lawyer to review the lease agreement, ensuring the agreement covers damage caused by the renter and; (4) require a security deposit, minimum one month’s rent, two is even better.

Ya, Ya … So There’s Risk … How Much Money Will I Make?

You’re in the property investing game to earn money. And with rental properties, income is earned via rent payments. Once you’ve assessed applicable risks, and decided they are manageable, you’ll need to calculate how much income this baby’s going to drop into your account each month.

Here’s a straightforward example:

  • If property cost is $400,000;
  • And the property rents for $2000 / month;
  • Then you receive $24,000 annually (i.e., $2000 x 12 months = $24,000), which works out to 6% gross return

[Chewy Bit: gross return means we have not yet calculated expenses].

That said, you should know that rent payments are not guaranteed from the day you purchase the property.

What I mean is that there may be times when the property sits empty earning bubkus!  Such as (1) if the rental opportunity is typically seasonal, not year-round; (2) those times you’re searching for a new tenant; or (3) Evil Renter Person refuses to pay rent and you have to jump through legal hoops before evicting tenant.

Spend Money To Make Money

That $24,000 I mentioned above, that’s also known as the property’s cash flow.

Deduct all expenses from cash flow and, voila, you figure out how much money gravitates to your pocket, i.e., net return.

What kind of expenses are we talking about?

  • First, you have Fixed Expenses. Meaning, expenses you’ll incur every year, i.e., property taxes, insurance, and common maintenance and repairs.
  • Second, there’s your Surprise!-wasn’t-planning-for-this-expenses, like replacing the roof or air conditioner, or a pet shredded the carpet.

Now, as an example, if expenses run you $5,000/ year, this leaves you with a net return of $19,000 ($24,000-$5,000) or a 4.75% return. When considering whether the investment is worthwhile, you’ll want to calculate the approximate net return.

And when you’re doing so, be sure not to underestimate  expenses. Because it’s no fun if you go into this investment thinking you’ll make money and then you don’t.

[Chewy Bit: most common mistake among novice real estate investors is to inaccurately minimize costs of renovation and ongoing maintenance].

Streams and Streams of Cash

The thinking goes that rental properties provide a stable income stream that is separate from all of your other investment and retirement accounts and not necessarily subject to the same risks. And if you understand the risks involved, can afford to make the purchase, and are willing and able to wear the Landlord hat, then odds are you’ll have one solid investment supplementing your income each month, building equity, and contributing to a financially secure retirement.

But you know what? For me, I’m thinking: is it worth the effort to buy an investment property? I mean, there’s a simpler way to gain exposure to the real estate sector if that’s what I’m looking for.

I pay my discount broker $9.99 and buy a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) that pays me a monthly income of anywhere between six and nine per cent.

Sure, REIT units may go down in price, just like real estate value may decrease. But if I’m holding for the long run, I’m quite comfortable taking the risk that the REITs principal value will not decrease, and in fact will likely increase. In the meantime, I’m earning my six to nine per cent every month with the added pleasure of not having to take on any of the risks involved with purchasing an investment property such as managing a tenant, financing a property, learning home repairs, or tying up a boatload of capital in the property.

Bottom line: If you want a piece of real estate, then it comes down to deciding not only which investment will provide the better return, or which investment will save you money on Tylenol, but as importantly, which one is a better fit for you: REITs or bricks and mortar.

 

 

 

Build Wealth. Buy Real Estate.

My grandmother (let’s call her NaNa), a shrewd businesswoman with a big heart, invested her family’s minimal excess income in real estate.

She started by buying a duplex. Her family lived in one part of the duplex and rented out the other half. Rental payments covered her mortgage, general expenses, and allowed for a bit of extra cash. Maintenance costs were held to a minimum, as my grandfather took care of repairs.

In time, NaNa saved enough for a down payment on a second duplex. With much of the rental income being deposited into a savings account, she soon had enough to buy a third property. Eventually, the family was rewarded the luxury of not worrying about taking care of their basic needs.

Nana Teaches The Son

Ever a keen and interested observer, my father learned from NaNa. She taught him a whole lot about property investing, including:

  • What issues to consider when evaluating a potential purchase.
  • Benefits of maintaining a property’s value.
  • Importance of being fair and respectful to tenants.
  • How to draw a budget.

Having the advantage of NaNa’s tutelage, a university education, and an extraordinary work ethic matched by ambition, by the time my father reached middle age, he had assembled a decent-sized portfolio of apartment buildings that he referred to as his retirement fund.

And all of this was accomplished in his spare time, outside of regular work hours. That’s just who he was. Some people play tennis for fun, others get their kicks out of working, building, creating.

The Next Generation Adds A Twist

In my late twenties, starting to accumulate savings, I considered following in my father’s footsteps and buying apartment buildings as a way to build wealth. But I didn’t. Not because I didn’t want to but because the cost of apartment buildings had rocketed out of my financial league.

Small, independent property owners like my father had been bought out by deep-pocketed corporations who owned and managed thousands of rental units across the country. These corporations are known as Real Estate Investment Trusts (‘REIT’).

The Beauty of REITS

Instead of taking on the risk of a huge mortgage to finance the purchase of an investment property, and spending time learning the nitty gritty of property management, I turned to REITs as a way to dive into real estate investing. But before I chatter on about why REITs are an excellent investment, one worth getting to know better, I’d like to offer a few chewy bits about this asset class:


Chewy Bits

  • A Real Estate Investment Trust (short form: REIT, rhymes with ‘eat’), is a company that owns or finances income-producing real estate.
  • Most REITS trade on public stock exchanges (i.e., New York Stock Exchange; Toronto Stock Exchange).
  • REITS are income oriented and usually offer a higher dividend yield than most common stocks (the income component is one part of their attraction).
  • REIT shareholders earn a share of earned income, and participate in capital gains (yahoo!) or losses (boo!) just as with any other company trading on a stock exchange.
  • Commonly, REITS have a specific focus, such as apartment buildings, hotels, industrial facilities, office buildings, retirement homes, shopping malls, storage centers and student housing.
  • REITs typically provide investors with a monthly income stream; most paying dividends anywhere between 2.5% – 9%.
  • Think of REIT investing this way: the monthly dividend you receive is like collecting rent without the attendant headaches of managing your own property. Really, after you click to buy the REIT stock with your online broker, you can just sit back and watch your monthly dividend be deposited into your account each month. Sweet.
  • Since 1991, as a group, U.S. REITs have outperformed the S&P 500, 11.2% to 9.1%.
  • REITs are not highly correlated to the price of stocks and bonds. Meaning, since the price of REITS do not necessarily follow stock or bond market movements, they may play a part in smoothing out portfolio volatility.

For all these reasons, you may want to start a love in with REITs, in the wealth building sense that is. Ahem. That said, know that, like other asset classes, the finance gods did not create all REITs equally.

Hint, Hint: Be patient, and diligently research which REITs are a good fit for your portfolio.

Apartment Building REITS

Personally, I’m a big fan of Apartment building REITS, and not just for sentimental reasons. Rather, my crystal ball brings up images of a North America that is heading in the same direction as some Western European countries, where home ownership is much less prevalent.

Look at Switzerland, with home ownership at 38%, Germany at 41%, France at 55%, compared to about 68% in the US and Canada. Why the difference? Because property is so, so, so expensive in these countries that most people cannot afford to buy. And for a good percentage of those who do own a home, it was passed on to them by their parents, or grandparents or great-grandparents, etc.

So people rent. And that’s just fine. In European countries, there is no stigma to renting like there is in some pockets of North America where ‘the dream’ of home ownership in a white picket fence neighborhood is relentlessly marketed to us by the usual suspects: banks, mortgage lenders, home builders.

Not to mention the social pressure we feel from friends and family (after all, we are encouraged to live our life in a similar if not the same manner as those who came before us). And, our own dark angel contributes to the desire for home ownership: the human propensity to covet thy neighbor.

Now, this isn’t to say that there are not thoughtful, legitimate, excellent reasons for owing a home such as:

  • Control. The house is yours. Do whatever you want with it, repairs, renovations, etc.
  • Stability. Unless you go into default on your mortgage, no one can force you to move.
  • Capital Appreciation. You benefit from any property value increase.
  • Forced Savings. Each mortgage payment gives you more equity in your home. Especially important for those who are challenged in the … I Really Don’t Want to Think About Investments Because It Hurts My Brain department.

Okay, so you see, I’m not anti-homeowner. Not one bit. To borrow a phrase from two creatures who live with me known as ‘teenagers’, I’m ‘just saying’ that renting is a viable alternative, sometimes a preferred alternative depending on several factors including how pricey property is in your town.

And as property values continue to increase, outrageously in some urban centers such as San Francisco, Vancouver, Manhattan and Toronto, more people turn to renting. The result being that apartment buildings maintain high occupancy rates, which is good for apartment building REITs, and puts a smile on the face of REIT shareholders as they reliably collect monthly dividend payments.

Crunch, Crunch, Crunch the Numbers

My friend, Condo Lover, doesn’t agree. He says the better investment is a condo that you rent out. With a small down payment and mortgage financing to cover the balance of the purchase price, you’re now the proud owner of a condo.

But you don’t live in the condo, you rent it out. The rent payments cover your mortgage, maintenance and repair costs, and property tax. If you’re lucky, there’s change left over for spending money. So cash flow to cover condo costs isn’t a problem, and you sit and wait until property values increase to the point where you can sell the condo and cash out a sizeable capital gain.

I get it. I see the potential benefits of buying a condo as an investment. But if the condo is used solely for investment purposes, not as a second home, then I would take a pass.

Here are the primary issues, and the risks, I see:

  • Assuming I don’t have enough in the kitty to pay all cash for the condo, I’m taking out a mortgage. What if I can’t find a solid, upstanding tenant who pays their rent on time each month, or who pays their rent at all? Will I still have enough to cover mortgage payments?
  • If I’m going in with my eyes open, I’m factoring in repair costs, general maintenance, property tax and increases in property tax. Ideally, a steady stream of rent checks pays these expenses. But what if they don’t? Do I have other resources to cover expenses?
  • What if I want to sell the condo but the real estate market is weak, the timing of sale is unknown, and I have to drop my asking price, possibly taking a loss? Am I prepared for this scenario? Could I absorb the financial hit without breaking stride?

Compare this to being a property owner via a REIT. I buy shares in the REIT with cash held in my investment account. I don’t borrow to pay for the purchase.


Chewy Bit

Buying on Margin. This is an investment term that means you pay for a certain percentage of your stock purchase and borrow the balance owing from the investment brokerage. DON’T DO THIS! EVER! Leave buying on margin for the speculators. It’s not for reasonable investors.


As a REIT shareholder, I don’t have to worry about bad tenants destroying my property or not paying any expenses associated with the property. And when it comes time to sell, well, I only buy fundamentally sound REITs, meaning there is always a liquid market (i.e., sufficient volume of buyers and sellers), so I can sell any time I like. I collect a monthly, purely hassle-free dividend (amount of dividend dependent on the individual REIT), and if I purchased a REIT when it was out of favor (i.e., price was down; we here at BuddhaMoney love buying investments on sale), there’s the opportunity for capital gain when I sell.

Now, tell me, what’s not to love about REITs?