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Property Funds Vs. Reits: How Investor Timing Needs Matter

By Expert Author: Chris Westerman

Investor timing matters: Property funds compared to REITs, timing by the investor is everything.

Returns on investment are not the only guide to where one puts their money. The relative liquidity of the funds, and what that means, should be considered as well.

The UK arrival in 2007 of real estate investment trusts – REITs – was heralded as a new era for investors. “For the wider economy, investors are expected to benefit from greatly enhanced dividend payments and growth in the investment property market,” Liz Peach, chief executive of the British Property Federation, told The Telegraph in January 2007. She said it would bring benefits to the British economy as a whole with efficient property use and asset management.

Economic conditions being what they have since 2008, it is difficult to fully ascertain the long-term prospects for REITs in the UK. But the UK-REIT Survey 2012, produced by BDO LLP (an assurance, tax and corporate finance advisory firm), makes several notes about how these types of alternative investment vehicles have fared in the global recession:

• If a UK REIT has a geographic or sector focus (perhaps both), it performed better than trusts that did not.

• Performance was not a function of size (i.e., some smaller and some larger REITs did well, and others of both sizes did poorly)

• A retail property focus – not surprisingly, given the recessionary conditions and reduced consumer spending – tended to cause certain REITs to turn in lesser performances.

What is well understood in mature REIT markets such as the US, where REITs have existed across several boom and bust cycles, is performance of such funds is largely tied to the overall economy and even the ups and downs of daily market trading. Traded like a stock, price volatility is to be expected for the REIT investor.

But that same volatility speaks to another key consideration of the investor: timing.A REIT is an exceptionally liquid investment, which may well suit the needs of one investor over another. In contrast, property funds that commit the investor to a specific piece of property may need to be held for two to five years to appreciate the outcome of the investment.

What is the tradeoff if one chooses a property fund over a REIT? To use a gambling analogy straight out of Las Vegas, a REIT might be characterized as a slot machine, roulette wheel or craps table. A tiny amount of skill is required to get in and the smart player gets out when the numbers fall to his or her favor, if they do. A property fund, in contrast, is more like a good game of poker. Skill and strategy – and a longer period of time playing, typically – help the player achieve a good outcome.

(For background, property funds often deal in the acquisition, site planning and resale of strategic land. The investor is well informed of the property and its prospects for value growth during the projected time period of the investment.)

Individuals interested in REITs or property funds should discuss it with a personal financial advisor. As previously noted, investors’ risk tolerance and timing vary.

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