REITs vs. Rental Property: Which One is Better?

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Contributor, Benzinga
July 17, 2023

Real estate investment trusts (REITs) and rental properties offer opposite ends of the real estate investing spectrum. The decision of REITs vs. rental property for many investors comes down to time, involvement, investment amount and liquidity. For some real estate investors, rental properties and REITs offer different market positions and increased diversification. Read on to learn the differences, pros and cons of REITs vs. rental property.

REITs vs. Rental Property: General Overview

REITsRental Properties
You purchase shares in a trust that controls real estate investments. You have direct ownership and control of a property.
Allows smaller investment positions. You can invest in REITs with very little money. Requires a larger upfront capital investment to purchase the property. 
REITs are a passive investment. You'll earn dividends and potential growth without actively managing properties. Requires more direct management and involvement. 
REITs are diversified across multiple properties, reducing the impact of any individual property's performance. Rental properties carry risks from changes in market conditions or vacancies, but they also have the potential for significant appreciation and steady cash flow. 
REITs are a liquid investment and easy to sell. Rental properties are an illiquid asset. Selling a property during a market downturn can lead to a loss in asset value. 
Dividends and other income from REITs are taxed at your usual income tax rate. Owning a rental property provides opportunities for various tax benefits, such as deductions for mortgage interest, property taxes, repairs and depreciation. 

REITs vs. Rental Property: Main Differences

Here's a detailed comparison of REITs vs. rental properties to understand the pros and cons of each. 

1. Ownership and Control

Rental property: When you own a rental property, you have direct ownership and control over the physical property. You make decisions regarding tenants, property management, maintenance and improvements.

REITs: Investing in REITs means buying shares of a company or trust that owns and manages income-generating properties. As an investor, you have partial ownership in the overall portfolio of properties, but you don't have direct control over individual properties.

2. Investment Size and Diversification

Rental property: Acquiring a rental property typically requires a significant upfront investment, including the purchase price, closing costs and potential renovations. It may limit diversification as your investment is concentrated in a single property or a small number of properties.

REITs: Investing in REITs allows for smaller initial investments, as you can purchase shares in a publicly traded REIT on the stock market. This provides the opportunity for diversification by investing in a wide range of properties across different locations and property types.

3. Management and Responsibility

Rental property: Owning a rental property involves active management responsibilities. You are responsible for tasks such as finding tenants, collecting rent, handling maintenance and repairs and addressing tenant issues. You can choose to handle these tasks yourself or hire a property management company, which can reduce your returns.

REITs: Investing in REITs offers a more passive approach. The management and day-to-day responsibilities are handled by the REIT's management team. As a shareholder, you receive regular dividends from the rental income generated by the properties owned by the REIT.

4. Risk and Returns

Rental property: Owning a rental property carries specific risks, such as property market fluctuations, vacancies, tenant defaults and maintenance costs. The value of the property can be influenced by local economic factors. However, it also offers the potential for higher returns if the property appreciates in value and rental income is strong.

REITs: Investing in REITs diversifies your risk across multiple properties, reducing the impact of an individual property's performance. However, the value of REIT shares can still be subject to market fluctuations. REITs provide regular income through dividends and the potential for capital appreciation.

5. Liquidity

Rental property: Real estate investments can be less liquid than other investments. It may take time to sell a property and convert it into cash.

REITs: REITs are generally more liquid than owning rental properties. You can buy and sell shares on the stock market, providing easier access to your investment capital.

5. Tax Considerations

Rental property: Owning rental property provides opportunities for various tax benefits, such as deductions for mortgage interest, property taxes, repairs and depreciation. Rental income can also be taxed at favorable rates, and there may be potential for long-term capital gains if you sell the property.

REITs: REITs have certain tax advantages. By law, REITs are required to distribute a significant portion of their taxable income as dividends to shareholders, which may be taxed at the taxpayer’s individual tax rate. However, the tax treatment of REITs can be more complex, and it's advisable to consult with a tax professional to understand the specific implications.

REITs vs. Rental Property: Are There Similarities?

While REITs and rental properties are distinctly different, both provide exposure to the real estate market and can be vehicles for long-term financial growth through real estate. REITs and rental properties offer the possibility of income generation and carry risks related to vacancies, natural disasters like hurricanes or location-specific market changes. 

REITs vs. Rental Property: Which One Should You Choose?

When debating rental property vs. REIT, there isn't one that is better than the other. This choice is based on personal preference as well as possible initial investment, risk tolerance, time commitment and other factors. Many investors who purchase rental properties also invest in REITs. 

REITs make more sense if you have little money to invest or don't have the time to manage a property. If you're looking for property ownership, are excited about managing a rental property and have researched the markets to find properties and areas with appreciation potential, rental property may be your best option. 

Should I Invest in Rental Property?

Rental properties aren't for everyone. They require larger capital investments, management and maintenance expenses and carry significant risks. However, with careful research, understanding, time and money, rental properties offer long-term appreciation and short-term positive cash flow. On the other hand, anyone can invest in REITs with even a small cash investment and start benefiting from long-term real estate market growth. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

Are REITs better than rental property?

A

REITs offer different benefits than rental property. REITs generally offer greater liquidity and diversification. You can also invest in REITs with very little capital. On the other hand, rental properties offer tax advantages and the possibility for greater returns through appreciation.

Q

Are REITs better than physical real estate?

A

REITs or rental property are investments in real estate with different risks and potential rewards, but one is not intrinsically better than the other. Consider your investment goals, starting capital, risk tolerance and liquidity needs to choose the best option for you. 

Q

What has more long-term value, REIT or rentals?

A

Both REITs and rentals offer investors the possibility for long-term returns and have shown strong historical performance. There may be a greater risk in rentals depending on the location and potential vacancies, but also the possibility of greater appreciation. Both REITs and rentals carry risks but offer long-term growth potential.

About Alison Plaut

Alison Kimberly is a freelance content writer with a Sustainable MBA, uniquely qualified to help individuals and businesses achieve the triple bottom line of environmental, social, and financial profitability. She has been writing for various non-profit organizations for 15+ years. When not writing, you will find her promoting education and meditation in the developing world, or hiking and enjoying nature.