Australians have long had a love affair with property. According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics report*, owner-occupied properties account for more than 40 per cent of household assets. In addition, almost 20 per cent of households own rental properties and holiday homes.
While direct residential property has been the traditional form of investment for many Australians, listed property trusts or real estate investment trusts (REITs) as they are also called have also risen in favour. REITs are pooled investments with units listed on the stock exchange, which hold a basket of properties in one or more of the property sectors.
The S&P/ASX 300 A-REIT Index provides the broadest coverage of property trusts listed on the Australian share market. It currently includes stocks across the retail, diversified, office, industrial and hotel and leisure sectors.
* Household wealth and wealth distribution in Australia, 2011-12, Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Property is a long-term investment with higher risk than fixed interest investments but lower risk, historically, than shares.
Direct property potentially offers steady rental income, tax breaks via negative gearing and capital appreciation. At the same time, it has a number of drawbacks. It takes time to buy and sell: Building a diversified property portfolio is an expensive exercise, your property exposure is limited to one sector, locating and keeping good tenants can be difficult and there is always ongoing care and maintenance. There is also the risk of capital loss and lower rentals during times of oversupply.
REITs provide many of the benefits of direct property investment without all the effort. Returns from listed property can include income in the form of rent received from the underlying properties and capital growth (or loss) from changes in the value of the share price. Listed property trusts also offer tax advantages to investors in the form of tax deferred income distributions.
Income-seeking investors often compare the income yields (income as a percentage of capital value) of real estate investment trusts to ten-year bonds when assessing investments. It’s important to remember that while yields are usually positive share prices can fall.
Some trusts have more stable income streams than others particularly those with quality tenants and secure lease terms in a good position.
REITs have similar risks to shares. As property trusts are listed, their share price can rise and fall in value and is subject to swings in investor confidence and other factors impacting sharemarket returns.
Individual REITs are also subject to risk, with investment quality and investment exposure varying across the sector. For example, trusts involved in development projects tend to be riskier with higher gearing levels than other sectors making them sensitive to interest rate rises.
Last decade, the REIT sector underwent considerable structural changes as the focus moved towards development, funds management and leverage opportunities, which increased the sector’s volatility level and risk profile. The sector has since realigned itself to its traditional long-term risk and return characteristics, which has restored its diversification benefits.
Accessing a diversified portfolio of REITs
Managed funds can invest in single or multiple listed property sectors. Some even include some exposure to direct property and international property securities. The main benefits of managed funds are that you can invest in properties you would not be able to access directly yourself and you can hold a diversified portfolio of properties for a relatively small initial outlay.
Those are some property basics that should help you gain a basic understanding on property investment.
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