Investor Real Estate Services
Enhance the Risk and Return Profile of Your Portfolio
Why Invest in Real Estate?
Real estate can enhance the risk and return profile of an investor’s portfolio, offering competitive risk-adjusted returns. Even factoring in the subprime mortgage crisis, private market commercial real estate returned an average of 8.4% over the 10-year period from 2000 to 2010, based on data from the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries (NCREIF). And usually, the real estate market is one of low volatility especially compared to equities and bonds.
Real estate is also attractive when compared with more traditional sources of income return. This asset class typically trades at a yield premium to U.S. Treasuries and is especially attractive in an environment where Treasury rates are low.
Diversification and Protection
Another benefit of investing in real estate is its diversification potential. Real estate has a low, and in some cases, negative, correlation with other major asset classes – meaning, when stocks are down, real estate is often up (see Diversification Beyond Stocks). In fact, In 14 of the 15 previous bear markets, going back to 1956, residential real estate prices rose, according to data from Yale University’s Robert Shiller, the co-creator of the Case-Shiller Home-Price Index. Of course, there are exceptions: real estate tanked along with equities during the Great Recession (though this was an anomaly, Schiller argues, reflecting the role of subprime mortgages in kicking off the crisis).
This means the addition of real estate to a portfolio can lower its volatility and provide a higher return per unit of risk. The more direct the real estate investment, the better the hedge: More indirect, publicly traded, vehicles, like REITs, are obviously going to reflect the overall stock market’s performance (and some analysts think the two will become ever more correlated, now that REIT stocks are represented on the S&P 500). Interestingly, though, this also has been changing of late. The correlation between listed REITs and the broad stock market hit a 12-year low in 2015, according to research by the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT), “suggesting that whatever factors happen to drive the non-REIT part of the market will not necessarily spill over to affect the REIT market,” an article on Reit.com, the association’s website, concluded.
Because it is backed by brick and mortar, real estate also carries less principal-agent conflict, or the extent to which the interest of the investor is dependent on the integrity and competence of managers and debtors. Even the more indirect forms of investment carry some protection: REITs for example, mandate a minimum percentage of profits be paid out as dividends.
The inflation-hedging capability of real estate stems from the positive relationship between GDP growth and demand for real estate. As economies expand, the demand for real estate drives rents higher and this, in turn, translates into higher capital values. Therefore, real estate tends to maintain the purchasing power of capital, by passing some of the inflationary pressure on to tenants and by incorporating some of the inflationary pressure, in the form of capital appreciation.
The Power of Leverage
With the exception of REITs, investing in real estate gives an investor one tool that is not available to stock market investors: leverage. If you want to buy a stock, you have to pay the full value of the stock at the time you place the buy order – unless you are buying on margin. And even then, the percentage you can borrow is still much less than with real estate, thanks to that magical financing method, the mortgage.
Most conventional mortgages require a 20% down payment. However, depending on where you live, you might find a mortgage that requires as little as 5%. This means that you can control the whole property and the equity it holds by only paying a fraction of the total value. Of course, the size of your mortgage affects the amount of ownership you actually have in the property, but you control it the minute the papers are signed.
This is what emboldens real estate flippers and landlords alike. They can take out a second mortgage on their homes and put down payments on two or three other properties. Whether they rent these out so that tenants pay the mortgage or they wait for an opportunity to sell for a profit, they control these assets, despite having only paid for a small part of the total value.
The Drawback of Real Estate Investing: Illiquidity
The main drawback of investing in real estate is illiquidity, or the relative difficulty in converting an asset into cash and cash into an asset. Unlike a stock or bond transaction, which can be completed in seconds, a real estate transaction can take months to close. Even with the help of a broker, simply finding the right counterparty can be a few weeks of work. REITs and real estate mutual funds offer better liquidity and market pricing, but come at the price of higher volatility and lower diversification benefits, since they have a much higher correlation to the overall stock market than direct real estate investments.
The Bottom Line
In the context of portfolio investing, real estate is traditionally considered in an “alternative” investment class. That means it is a supplementary investment used to build on a primary portfolio of stocks, bonds and other securities. But it can be a significant counterbalance to other instruments, as well as a source of income and, eventually, appreciation.