In Which Way Do REITs Resemble Mutual Funds? An Exploration

Have you ever wondered what the similarities and differences are between real estate investment trusts (REITs) and mutual funds? As popular investment vehicles, both offer potential benefits like professional management, diversification, accessibility, and income generation. However, they invest in different asset classes and have varying strategies. This article will explore in which ways REITs resemble mutual funds to help you make informed decisions if you’re considering adding them to your portfolio.

When thinking about your financial goals, assessing options like REITs and mutual funds is important to determine which vehicles may be suitable for you. Whether you prioritize regular dividend payments, exposure to certain assets, capital growth potential, or simply want to diversify – understanding these two options is key. With some helpful explanations and comparisons across factors like risks, returns, regulations and more – you’ll be on your way to deciding if REITs, mutual funds, or both have a place in your plans.

Definitions & Overview

First, what exactly are REITs and mutual funds?

REITs, or real estate investment trusts, are companies that own, operate or finance income-producing real estate. The core business model focuses on acquiring property assets like apartments, hotels, warehouses, offices, retail centers or healthcare facilities. A REIT generates revenue from rents or sales of their real estate holdings. To qualify as a REIT, at least 75% of assets must be in real estate and 90% of taxable income must be distributed to shareholders annually through dividends. This corporate structure allows individual investors to gain exposure to real estate returns without needing large amounts of capital or specific expertise.

There are a few types of REITs:

  • Equity REITs – Own and operate properties through collecting rents
  • Mortgage REITs – Lend money directly to real estate owners and operators
  • Hybrid REITs – A mix of both equity and mortgage REIT strategies

On the other hand, a mutual fund pools money from many investors to purchase a portfolio of assets like stocks, bonds, money market instruments or other securities. The fund manager makes investment decisions to try achieving a specific objective, like income generation or capital appreciation over time. Mutual funds offer variety in their focus – some key categories include equity funds, fixed income funds, index funds, ETFs and more. The diverse range of mutual funds available can cater to different risk tolerances and financial goals.

Key Similarities Between REITs and Mutual Funds

Though REITs and mutual funds differ in their specific assets, there are notable similarities that make both options appealing for individual investors:

Professional Management – Both REITs and mutual funds provide the benefit of professional portfolio management. Industry research, analysis and direct management of assets is handled by experts – taking the burden off individual investors. This can be especially helpful for those with limited time, experience or access to deals.

Diversification – By pooling money from multiple investors, REITs and mutual funds allow for diversified exposure across a basket of assets or securities. This aims to reduce concentration risk and buffer against volatility. Even those with minimal investable capital can gain a diversified position.

Accessibility and Liquidity – Individuals can access REITs and mutual funds more easily than directly owning properties or certain securities. Both offer liquidity for entering or exiting positions with ease. REITs trade daily on stock exchanges while mutual funds price daily based on Net Asset Value (NAV).

Income Generation – Both REITs and mutual funds can provide consistent income streams for investors. REITs must distribute 90% of taxable income as shareholder dividends. Many mutual funds focus specifically on dividend-paying stocks and interest income.

Key Differences Between REITs and Mutual Funds

While similarities exist in benefits like diversification and professional management, there are also important distinctions between REITs and mutual funds:

Types of Assets – The most fundamental difference lies in the eligible investment assets. REITs invest primarily in physical real estate like apartments, hotels, medical centers or storage facilities. Mutual funds cast a much wider net – spanning stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies and more.

Regulations – REITs adhere to tax regulations by the IRS to qualify for preferential treatment if distributing sufficient income. Mutual funds follow securities regulations designed to protect investors through requirements on registration, governance and transparency.

Strategies – REIT investment strategies concentrate heavily on real estate assets. They focus on rental income, property development and portfolio management catered specifically to commercial or residential spaces. Mutual funds utilize a diverse range of strategies tailored to security selection, risk management, income generation, or growth objectives across global markets.

Returns & Risk – Given REITs’ narrower asset concentration in real estate, they carry risk associated with market cycles and conditions in the specific property sectors they hold. Returns correlate strongly to rental income, occupancy rates, development prospects and local property demand drivers. Mutual funds can manage risk through wider diversification, but still carry market risk tied to their security exposures.

Liquidity – The liquidity of exchanging positions also differs – while mutual fund shares can be redeemed daily at NAV, REIT shares depend on the dynamics of exchange trading activity which may fluctuate. Infrequently traded REIT shares could potentially encounter challenges selling positions quickly.

Comparing Investment Approaches

Drilling deeper into their contrasting assets and strategies, how do REITs and mutual funds differ in their investment approaches?

REITs take an intensive approach to managing revenue-generating real estate assets. Property selection, development, occupancy enhancement and rental rates optimization are key focus areas for REIT portfolio managers. Understanding localized supply and demand conditions is also imperative to secure attractive spaces catered to tenant needs. Mortgage REITs specifically concentrate on mortgage-related investments – funding developers or acquiring existing property loans to earn interest income.

Mutual funds take a diversified, security-based approach spanning various asset classes, geographies and sectors. The portfolio manager strengths lie in analysis of stocks, bonds and other market-traded securities to construct a fund matching specified investment objectives. Active mutual funds in particular frequently analyze economic trends, fiscal policies, industry cycles and company fundamentals to determine opportunities to generate alpha. Some mutual funds take a passive approach – simply replicating major market indices. With total net assets reaching $23 trillion in 2022, mutual fund strategies range extensively based on desired risk exposures.

Regulatory Frameworks

REITs and mutual funds operate under different governing regulations – let’s compare the key framework each follows:

In the U.S., REIT regulations center around preferential tax treatment to qualify as a “pass-through” entity. This structure exempts REITs from corporate income taxes. In exchange, REITs must comply with rules like deriving at least 75% of gross income from real estate assets and distributing at least 90% of taxable earnings to shareholders via dividends. REITs must also have shareholder diversity, with less than 50% closely held ownership. Regulations intend to incentivize REITs to focus capital into real assets and frequently share profits.

Mutual funds follow extensive securities regulations designed to protect individual investors participating in funds. In the U.S., the Investment Company Act of 1940 established rules spanning governance, disclosure, oversight and permitted activities for mutual funds. Funds must register shares with the SEC, provide regular reporting, undergo annual audits, value holdings daily, meet diversification thresholds and disclose key information like fees, objectives and investment strategies to shareholders. Regulations aim to uphold integrity and transparency for investors.

Performance Comparison

Weighing whether REITs or mutual funds align with your investment preferences involves assessing historical performance and risk factors:

Returns – Over the past 15 years, US REITs have delivered an annualized return of approximately 9% – marginally higher than US equity mutual fund average returns. However, performance differs significantly across sectors and strategies. Trends in property rents, values, construction and refinancing costs all influence REIT returns. Mutual funds performance vary based on security selection and exposure.

Risks – REITs carry risks associated with changes impacting real estate markets – like fluctuating property valuations, project development costs, local demands and macroeconomic shifts. International REIT investments also carry currency risk. Mutual funds face market volatility tied to their particular asset exposures – whether that involves equities, bonds, derivatives or other securities.

Volatility – On volatility measures, US REITs saw an average annual standard deviation of 20% over the past decade compared to a 14% volatility average for domestic equity mutual funds. The more concentrated REIT asset category tends to experience higher performance fluctuations.

Liquidity – Traditional mutual funds provide next-day liquidity for withdrawing at net asset value. Publicly traded REIT shares in contrast may encounter wider bid-ask spreads or selling restrictions, providing less flexible liquidity. However, changes are underway – non-traded REITs are shifting to more frequent valuation and redemption options to increase liquidity.

Costs – REIT expense ratios average approximately 1%, largely covering property taxes, insurance, maintenance and management fees. Actively managed mutual funds average closer to 1.25%, made up largely of management fees and fund operating expenses. Index mutual funds and ETFs offer lower expense options, with averages around 0.5%.

What Are the Key Resemblances Between REITs and Mutual Funds?

When it comes to understanding REITs and mutual funds, it’s important to recognize their key resemblances. Both investment options allow individuals to pool their money with other investors and invest in a diversified portfolio of assets. Additionally, they both offer the potential for regular income and capital appreciation.

Suitability for Investors

In assessing if adding REITs or mutual funds fits your strategy, consider how they align with your:

Financial Goals – Are you prioritizing cash flow, capital preservation or growth? What return thresholds or volatility limits match your needs? REITs suit those desiring recurrent income, while mutual funds can target varied objectives.

Risk Appetite – Conventional wisdom suggests REITs carry higher risk given their narrow real estate focus. But dangers also lurk in funds holding riskier bonds, derivatives or stocks. Compare fund strategies to your tolerance.

Diversification Needs – Blending REITs and mutual funds can actually create diversification as their driving return factors don’t fully overlap. REITs provide assets not typically held personally while funds deliver security market exposures.

Desired Asset Exposure – REITs offer targeted real estate access. But funds can provide specialized exposure too – from local to foreign stocks, specific sectors or factor tilts. Consider where you lack exposure or see opportunity.

Overall the choice depends on alignment with your individual financial situation. Retirement investors living off reliable dividends may find REITs appealing. Young accumulators wanting capital growth could prefer funds focused on emerging markets or small caps. Talk to your advisor about crafting your optimal mix.


REITs and mutual funds share investor-friendly attributes like professional management, diversification, accessibility and income. But they diverge across their core real estate holdings and security investments. Examining their strategies, regulations, risks and costs reveals further contrasts even as their big picture aims sync. Ultimately, choosing to add REITs, mutual funds or both to your portfolio depends on your personal financial objectives. With a handle now on how REITs both resemble and differ from mutual funds, you can decide if one or both vehicles deserve a spot in your investment plan.