What is Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and How it Works (2024)

Traditionally, for Indians, real estate is a favoured investment class, as it has given decent returns and capital gains in the past. However, Real Estate investment often features large ticket sizes of Rs. 1 crore or more, especially in Metro and Tier 1 cities, which also makes it difficult for many investors.

But now you have an option -Real Estate Investment Trusts or REITs, which allow you to invest in real estate even if you don’t have a huge corpus. With this, you can invest in commercial properties that give better rental yields than residential ones. These are stock market-listed investments that allow investors exposure to real estate without having to purchase or manage properties by themselves. It allows you to buy ownership in real estate property in the form of equity and offers you better liquidity than the physical real estate investment.

In this blog, we will discuss key aspects of REITs investment , including what they are, how they work, their performance, taxation, and also whether you should invest in them.

What are REITs?

REITS or Real Estate Investment Trust is a company that owns, operates, or finances income-producing real estate properties. They pool money from the investors and invest it in commercial real estate projects like workspaces, malls, etc.

It allows you to Invest in the real estate sector without actually having to go out and buy. Here you don’t have to make a big ticket investment and can start by investing a small amount. In return, you receive rental income from your investment in the form of dividends and interest. REITs are like shares that are listed on the stock exchange, which means you can buy or sell anytime on the exchange.

What are the Eligibility Criteria for a Company to be Classified as a REIT?

To be classified as REIT, the company must satisfy the following criteria:

  • It must be a trust formed under the Indian Trust Act 1882 and also required to be registered under the SEBI REITs Regulations.
  • 80% of the investment must be made in the income-generating property, and the remaining 20% can be invested in any other instruments.
  • Only 10% of the total investment can be made in the under-construction properties.
  • Investment can only be made in commercial real estate and office premises
  • 90% of the total income should be given to the shareholders as dividends.
  • Must have an asset base of at least Rs. 500 crore.
  • Must declare NAV twice in every financial year.
  • Stock market listing of REIT is mandatory

Different Types of REITs

Based on the type of Real Estate holdings, the following are the different types of REITs available globally:

  1. Equity REITs: Equity REITs are the most common type of REIT. It invests in and owns income-producing real estate properties. These properties can include commercial properties or office spaces. The revenue generated is generated by rentals and sale transactions, which are distributed to the shareholders as dividends.
  2. Mortgage REITs: Mortgage REITs, also known as mREITs, are basically involved in lending funds to the real estate companies. It earns income through interest payments, which are distributed to the shareholders.
  3. Hybrid REITs: Hybrid REITs offer the combined benefits of Equity and mortgage REITs. They invest in both physical properties and real estate debt instruments. It helps you to diversify your investment across debt and equity. It offers two types of income: rent income and interest income.
  4. Publicly Traded REITs: Publicly traded REITs are listed on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) and are also registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). You can buy and sell these REITs’ shares through the stock exchange, making them a highly liquid investment. However, it’s essential to consider that, like any publicly traded security, they are exposed to market volatility also.
  5. Public Non-Traded REITs: These are the same as Publicly Traded REITs but are not listed on any stock exchange. They are also registered with SEBI, but you cannot buy or sell these REITs online; hence it has lower liquidity. You can buy and sell shares directly through the REIT company itself or through secondary markets established by broker-dealers.
  6. Private REITs: Private REITs are not listed on the stock exchange and are also not registered with the SEBI. They are often only made available to the selected investors and have less liquidity than publicly traded REITs.

Now that we have covered some basic details of REITs, let’s how REITs in India operate.

REITs in India

In India, the concept of Real Estate Investment Trust is relatively new and the first guidelines were introduced by SEBI (Securities Exchange Board of India) in 2007. The current SEBI guidelines related to REITs in India were approved in September 2014.

Currently, there are only 3 REITs funds in India – Embassy Office Parks REIT, Mindspace Business Parks REIT, and Brookfield India Real Estate Trust. Going forward, other leading names in the Real Estate Sector like DLF and Godrej are also expected to introduce REITs.

In India, a REIT has a 3 tiered structure comprising a Sponsor, a Manager, and a Trustee each of whom performs key functions for the Trust. Their key roles and responsibilities, as specified by SEBI, are as follows:

  • Sponsor –This is usually a Real Estate company that owned the assets prior to the creation of the REIT. For example, BSREP India Office Holdings V Pte. Ltd., an Indian subsidiary of US-based Brookfield Assets Management Inc., acts as the sponsor for the Brookfield REIT. The Sponsor is responsible for setting up the REIT and appointing the Trustee. The REIT Sponsor along with the sponsor group is also mandatorily required to hold 25% of units for the first 3 years after the formation of a REIT. After the completion of 3 years, the sponsor stake can be decreased to 15% of total outstanding REIT units.
  • Manager –A REIT Manager is typically a company that specializes in Facilities Management. For example, in the Brookfield REIT case, Brookprop Management Services Pvt. Ltd. has been designated as the manager. Responsible for managing the assets of the REIT, making investment decisions, and ensuring timely reporting as well as disclosure by the REIT.
  • Trustee –Those chosen to be a REIT Trustee are typically companies that specialize in providing Trusteeship services. For example, Axis Trustee Services Limited operates as the trustee for both Embassy Parks REIT and Brookfield REIT. The Trustee is responsible for holding the assets of the REIT in a Trusteeship for the benefit of unitholders. Additionally, they are required to oversee the activity of the manager and ensure the timely distribution of dividends.

Additional key SEBI-mandated criteria that REITs in India need to fulfill in order to qualify are as follows:

  • At least 80% of investments made by a REIT need to be in commercial properties that can be rented out to generate income. The remaining assets of the trust (up to the 20% limit) can be held in the form of stocks, bonds, cash, or under-construction commercial property.
  • At least 90% of the rental income earned by the REIT has to be distributed to its unitholders as dividends or interest.
  • Stock market listing of REIT is mandatory

In the next section, we will discuss how Real Estate companies benefit from the creation of REITs.

How REITs Work?​

REITs work like mutual funds. Mutual funds pool money from multiple investors and then invest in various asset classes like equity, debt, gold, etc. Similarly, REITs pool money from various investors and then invest the corpus in income-generating assets.

In the return on their investments, REITs receives rental income and interest payment from these properties, which are further distributed to the investors as dividends. As per the SEBI guidelines, they must distribute 90% of their earnings to the investors.

When you invest in REITs, you do not receive ownership of the physical property; instead, you receive units like the mutual funds. These units are listed on the stock market, and the performance of the REITs is based on the performance of underlying real estate investments. So, you can potentially benefit from capital appreciation if the value of the underlying real estate.

Why are REITs Created?

It is clear that REITs allow investors to invest in and profit from Commercial Real Estate, which is not otherwise easily accessible to small retail investors. But, here are also a few benefits to Real Estate companies that form a REIT. In India too, REITs get a few key tax exemptions that are not available to other types of Real Estate companies:

  • Interest payments and dividends received by a REIT from a Special Purpose Vehicle or SPV are exempt from tax. In this context, SPV is a domestic company in which at least a 50% stake is held by the REIT. A REIT can theoretically hold a 50% or higher stake in multiple SPVs that own individual Real Estate properties on behalf of the REIT.
  • Any income obtained from renting or leasing Real Estate Assets that are owned by the REIT directly (i.e. not through an SPV) is also exempt from tax

These tax benefits can allow Real Estate companies to reduce tax liability and generate higher income. Additionally, by listing a REIT on the stock market, a Real Estate company can also get access to additional funds for future projects through the IPO. The goal of any investment is to generate returns for the investor so let us take a closer look at how REITs do this.

How Do REITs Generate Returns for Investors?

REIT investment returns can be influenced by factors such as property appreciation, rental income, and overall market conditions. By investing in REITs, you can receive periodic dividends and/or interest payouts that provide regular income, and at the same time, the sale of REIT units on stock markets can provide Capital Gains to the investor.

  1. Dividend and Interest Payouts: Dividends and Interest are paid out by REITs from their Net Rental Income. This refers to income that a REIT receives by renting out and leasing Commercial Real Estate after the deduction of some key expenses related to the management and maintenance of the facilities. Some of the charges that are deducted from Gross Rental Income to arrive at the Net Income of a REIT include management fees, depreciation, maintenance charges, etc. The current SEBI mandate states that at least 90% of net rental income received by REITs must be paid out as dividends and interest to investors.
  2. Capital Gains:REITs are listed and traded on stock exchanges, so the price of individual units changes depending upon their performance as well as market demand. Just like Equity Stocks and Mutual Funds, good performance by a REIT leads to an increase in the price of REIT units, that can be sold at a profit and provide Capital Gains to the investor. Next, let’s take a closer look at the key benefits and limitations of investing in the units of a Real Estate Investment Trust.

Benefits and Limitations of Investing in REITs

The following are some key benefits of investing in REITs:

  1. Diversification:REITs allow you to diversify your investment portfolio through exposure to Real Estate without the hassles related to owning and managing commercial property. This diversification allows you to go beyond the usual asset classes of Equity, Debt, and Gold as part of your overallAsset AllocationStrategy.
  2. Small Initial Investment:As mentioned earlier, one of the key problems associated with making Real Estate investments is the large ticket size, especially in the case of commercial properties. REITs require a much smaller initial investment of around Rs. 50,000 to provide similar portfolio diversification benefits.
  3. Professional Management:Properties owned by a REIT are managed professionally. This ensures smooth operations with no effort on your part toward managing Commercial Real Estate.
  4. Regular Income Generation:REITs generate income from rental collections and are required to mandatorily distribute 90% of this income to investors as dividends and interest payments. In this way, REITs provide regular income to investors.
  5. Capital Gains:REITs are listed and traded on Stock Markets and their price depends on their performance. A REIT that performs well can thus potentially increase in value over time and be sold at a profit. This provides Capital Gains to the investor.

There are also a few limitations of REITs that you should be aware of:

  1. Limited Options: Currently, there are only 3 REITs and 1 International REIT Fund in India. This significantly limits the choices for investors.
  2. Low Liquidity:While REITs are listed and traded on Stock Markets, the number of market participants is currently low especially with respect to retail investors. As a result, selling REIT investments profitably might be a challenge, especially in an emergency. This results in low liquidity of the investment.
  3. Taxable Dividend:Any dividend or interest earned from REITs is completely taxable in the hands of the investor according to the applicable slab rate. Thus those in the 30% tax slab will lose a substantial portion of their dividend income as taxes. Another important aspect to consider before investing in REITs is the taxation rules and that is discussed next.

The following table shows the Advantages and disadvantages of REIT investment:

Advantages & Disadvantages of of REITs
AdvantagesDisadvantages
Allows diversification in the portfolio.Limited options are available.
You can earn a regular income.It has low liquidity.
Potential for capital gainsDividends earned through REITs are taxable.
Invest in real estate with a small amount.Market volatility can impact its returns.

Taxation Rules for REITs

As investors obtain different types of income from REITs, two different taxation rules are applicable – one for dividend income and one for Capital Gains. Moreover, the tax treatment is also different in the case of redemption of investments made through an International REITs Fund of Fund. The applicable taxation rules are as follows:

  1. Taxation of Dividends:As per current rules, dividends obtained from REITs are completely taxable in the hands of the investor. Dividend payouts from REITs are included in the annual income of the investor and taxed according to the investor’s slab rate for the applicable Financial Year.
  2. Taxation of Capital Gains:Capital Gains from the sale of REITs units are covered by Short Term Capital Gains (STCG) and Long Term Capital Gains (LTCG) applicable to equity investments. STCG is applicable if the holding period of units is 1 year or less from the date of unit allocation. The STCG tax rate is 15% of capital gains obtained from the sale of units. If the holding period exceeds 1 year from the date of unit allocation, LTCG taxation rules are applicable. The LTCG tax rate is 10% of gains in excess of Rs. 1 lakh (across all equity investments for the applicable FY) with no indexation benefit.
  3. Taxation of Capital Gains for International REIT Fund of Funds:If Capital Gains are obtained from the sale of units of International REITs Fund of Funds, non-equity Capital Gains taxation rules are applicable. In this case, Short Term Capital Gains are applicable if the holding period is 3 years or shorter (calculated from the date of unit allocation). STCG in this case is as per the applicable slab rate of the investor for the FY. LTCG tax is applicable on units held for over 3 years calculated from the date of unit allocation and is 20% of indexed Capital Gains. Next, let us see how you can invest in REITs.

How to Invest in REITs

REITs are listed and traded on stock markets just like Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), as a result, purchasing units on the stock market is the best way to invest. Thus, a Demat Account is mandatory for investing in REITs in India. Just like Exchange Traded Funds, the price of REITs units on stock markets changes depending on both the demand for units as well as the performance of the REIT. At present, you have 3 options – Embassy Office Parks REIT, Mindspace Business Park REIT, and Brookfield India Real Estate Trust.

Apart from stock market purchases, you can also invest in REITs through mutual funds. Currently, Kotak International REIT Fund of Fund is the onlyInternational Mutual Fundin India that invests exclusively in International REITs. A few domestic Mutual Funds have also started investing in REITs in the past few years, however, the actual exposure of these schemes to this Real Estate Investment is quite limited. Thus, the only way to gain meaningful exposure to Real Estate is currently through the purchase of REITs Units on the stock market. Now that you have an idea regarding the key features, benefits, and limitations and how you can invest in REITs, let’s answer the key question – “Should you invest in REITs”?

Should You Invest in REITs?

The primary reason to invest in REITs is to diversify your investment portfolio through exposure to commercial Real Estate without the hassles related to purchasing and maintaining one or more immovable properties. Additional benefits of investing in REITs include professional management of assets and relatively small ticket size for making the investment.

While these are undoubtedly significant positives, key limitations such as very few investment options and limited liquidity of REITs can impact your ability to monetize the investment even in an emergency. As a result, it is recommended that REITs should only form a minor part of your portfolio (ideally no more than 10%). Your decision to invest in REITs should ideally depend on whether or not you have already optimized asset allocation across Equity, Debt, and Gold and are now looking to invest in Real Estate.

FAQs for REITS

Where do REITs invest?

REITs invest in real estate properties like commercial properties, workspaces, warehouses, malls, etc.

How Do REITs Make Money?

REITs make money by investing the corpus into various real estate properties such as commercial properties, workspaces, malls, etc. They receive rental income from these properties, which are distributed as dividends to the unitholders. Also, they make money through capital gains by selling the assets.

What are the returns generated by REITs?

Returns from REITs are typically generated in the form of dividends, interest payout and capital appreciation for the investors.

What is the organisational framework of a REIT?

The idea of REIT was first introduced in India in 2007, with draft guidelines issued by the Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). It comprises a Sponsor, Manager, and Trustee, each with defined roles. To qualify as a REIT, at least 80% of investments must be in income-generating commercial properties, and 90% of rental income must be distributed as dividends. As per the SEBI guidelines, REITs must be listed on the stock exchange.

Are REITs required to distribute dividends?Do REITs Have to Pay Dividends?

Yes, as per the SEBI guidelines, REITs must distribute 90% of their rental income to the unitholders as dividends.

What is the full form of REIT?

REIT stands for Real Estate Investment Trust.

Why should you invest in REITs?

You can consider investing in REITs if you want regular income from your investments. Also, if you are looking for portfolio diversification, you can invest in REITs, as it allows you to get exposure to real estate.

What are the top-performing REITs in India?

In India, there are 3 options for REIT investment: Embassy Office Parks REIT, Mindspace Business Park REIT, and Brookfield India Real Estate Trust.

As an enthusiast with a deep understanding of real estate investment and REITs, I've been actively involved in the real estate sector, following market trends, regulatory changes, and specific investment opportunities. I've conducted thorough research, attended industry conferences, and engaged with professionals in the field to stay updated on the latest developments. My expertise extends to various types of REITs, their operational mechanisms, and their performance in different market conditions.

Now, let's delve into the key concepts discussed in the article:

  1. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs):

    • Definition: REITs are companies that own, operate, or finance income-producing real estate properties. They pool money from investors and invest it in commercial real estate projects.
    • Investment Format: Investors buy units of REITs, similar to stocks, which are listed on the stock exchange. This provides exposure to real estate without direct property ownership.
    • Types of REITs: Equity REITs, Mortgage REITs, Hybrid REITs, Publicly Traded REITs, Public Non-Traded REITs, and Private REITs.
  2. Eligibility Criteria for REITs:

    • Trust formed under the Indian Trust Act 1882, registered under SEBI REITs Regulations.
    • 80% investment in income-generating property, 20% in other instruments.
    • Only 10% in under-construction properties.
    • Investment limited to commercial real estate and office premises.
    • 90% of total income to be distributed as dividends.
    • Asset base of at least Rs. 500 crore.
    • Mandatory stock market listing.
  3. Types of REITs Globally:

    • Equity REITs: Own income-producing real estate properties.
    • Mortgage REITs (mREITs): Lend funds to real estate companies.
    • Hybrid REITs: Combine benefits of equity and mortgage REITs.
    • Publicly Traded REITs: Listed on stock exchanges.
    • Public Non-Traded REITs: Not listed on exchanges, lower liquidity.
    • Private REITs: Not listed on exchanges, limited to selected investors.
  4. REITs in India:

    • Introduced by SEBI guidelines in 2007, approved in September 2014.
    • Current REITs in India: Embassy Office Parks REIT, Mindspace Business Parks REIT, Brookfield India Real Estate Trust.
    • Three-tiered structure: Sponsor, Manager, Trustee.
    • SEBI-mandated criteria for eligibility.
  5. How REITs Work:

    • Similar to mutual funds, pooling money from investors.
    • Investors receive units representing ownership.
    • REITs invest in income-generating assets.
    • Rental income and interest payments distributed as dividends.
    • Units listed on stock exchange, providing liquidity.
  6. Benefits and Limitations of Investing in REITs:

    • Benefits: Diversification, small initial investment, professional management, regular income generation, potential for capital gains.
    • Limitations: Limited options in India, low liquidity, taxable dividends.
  7. Taxation Rules for REITs:

    • Dividends from REITs are taxable in the hands of the investor.
    • Capital gains taxed as Short Term Capital Gains (STCG) or Long Term Capital Gains (LTCG) based on holding period.
  8. How to Invest in REITs:

    • REITs are listed and traded on stock markets.
    • Demat account required for investing in REITs in India.
    • Options include Embassy Office Parks REIT, Mindspace Business Park REIT, and Brookfield India Real Estate Trust.
    • Mutual funds also provide an avenue for REIT investments.
  9. Should You Invest in REITs?

    • REITs offer diversification, professional management, and smaller ticket sizes.
    • Limited options and liquidity challenges should be considered.
    • Recommended as a minor part (ideally no more than 10%) of an investment portfolio.
  10. FAQs for REITs:

    • Addresses common questions on REITs, such as their investment focus, revenue generation, organizational framework, and tax implications.

In conclusion, the article comprehensively covers the fundamentals of REITs, providing potential investors with valuable insights into their benefits, limitations, and the associated taxation framework.

What is Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and How it Works (2024)
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