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Commercial Real Estate

REITs vs. Direct CRE Investing: What’s Best?

Last Updated on February 5, 2024


In the world of real estate investing, there are two prominent options: Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and Direct Commercial Real Estate (CRE) Investing.

REITs are companies that own, operate, or finance income-generating properties.

On the other hand, Direct CRE Investing involves individuals directly purchasing and managing commercial real estate properties.

Understanding the differences between REITs and Direct CRE Investing is crucial for investors.

While both options allow individuals to invest in real estate, they offer distinct advantages and considerations.

REITs offer several benefits, such as diversification, liquidity, and professional management.

By investing in a REIT, individuals can gain exposure to a diversified portfolio of real estate assets without having to purchase individual properties.

Additionally, REITs trade on stock exchanges, offering investors the ability to buy and sell their shares easily.

Direct CRE Investing, on the other hand, provides investors with greater control and potential for higher returns.

When investing directly in commercial real estate, individuals have the power to choose specific properties and management strategies.

They can also take advantage of tax benefits, such as depreciation deductions and the ability to defer capital gains through 1031 exchanges.

However, Direct CRE Investing requires more time, effort, and expertise.

Investors need to conduct thorough due diligence, manage property operations and tenant relationships, and handle any necessary maintenance or repairs.

Risk management is also essential, as direct investments are more vulnerable to market fluctuations.

In essence, understanding the differences between REITs and Direct CRE Investing is crucial for real estate investors.

Both options have their own advantages and considerations, and investors should carefully assess their own goals and preferences before deciding which path to take.

Whether opting for the diversification and liquidity offered by REITs or the control and potential returns of Direct CRE Investing, investors should allocate their capital wisely in the real estate market.

What are REITs?

REITs, or Real Estate Investment Trusts, are investment vehicles that own and manage income-generating real estate properties.

Pros and cons of investing in REITs

Pros of investing in REITs

  1. Diversification: Investing in multiple properties across various sectors and locations reduces risk.

  2. Liquidity: REITs can be bought and sold easily on stock exchanges, providing liquidity to investors.

  3. Professional Management: REITs are managed by real estate professionals, relieving investors of the burden of property management.

  4. Passive Income: REITs distribute a significant portion of their income as dividends, providing a steady income stream.

  5. Accessibility: Small individual investors can gain exposure to large-scale commercial properties through REITs.

Cons of investing in REITs

  1. Volatility: REIT prices can be influenced by external factors such as interest rates and market conditions.

  2. Lack of Control: Investors do not have direct control over the management and decision-making of the properties.

  3. Fees and Expenses: REITs may charge management fees and other expenses, reducing overall returns.

  4. Market Dependency: REIT performance can be linked to the overall real estate market, which may fluctuate.

  5. Limited Tax Advantages: Unlike direct real estate ownership, REIT dividends are taxed at the ordinary income tax rates.

Potential returns and risks associated with REITs

  1. Returns: REITs can provide attractive returns, with dividends and potential capital appreciation.

  2. Dividend Dependence: REITs are required to distribute at least 90% of their taxable income to investors.

  3. Interest Rate Sensitivity: When interest rates rise, REIT prices may fall, affecting overall returns.

  4. Sector Concentration: REIT performance can be influenced by the specific sector they belong to, such as retail or residential.

  5. Economic Conditions: REITs may be impacted by economic downturns, as demand for properties can decline.

Pros and cons of direct CRE investing

In contrast to REITs, direct commercial real estate (CRE) investing involves owning physical properties directly.

Pros of direct CRE investing

  1. Control: Investors have direct control over the management, operations, and decision-making related to the property.

  2. Tax Advantages: Direct ownership can provide tax benefits like depreciation deductions and 1031 exchanges.

  3. Potential for Higher Returns: Successful direct CRE investments can yield higher returns compared to REITs.

  4. Portfolio Customization: Investors can choose specific properties to align with their investment goals and risk appetite.

  5. Inflation Hedge: Real estate historically provides a natural hedge against inflation.

Cons of direct CRE investing

  1. Capital Intensive: Direct investment requires a significant upfront capital investment, limiting accessibility.

  2. Illiquidity: Selling a property can be time-consuming and may require finding a suitable buyer.

  3. Management Burden: Direct owners are responsible for property management, maintenance, and tenant relationships.

  4. Concentration Risk: Investing in a single property or a small portfolio can increase risk compared to REITs.

  5. Market Timing: Direct investments are subject to market fluctuations and timing risks.

In fact, both REITs and direct CRE investing have their own benefits and drawbacks.

REITs offer diversification, liquidity, and professional management, but come with volatility and lack of control.

Direct CRE investing provides control, tax advantages, and potentially higher returns, but requires more capital and involves management responsibilities.

Investors should consider their investment goals, risk tolerance, and available capital when deciding between REITs and direct CRE investing.

Read: Preparing for CRE Loan Applications: Steps

What is Direct CRE Investing?

Definition and Explanation of Direct CRE Investing

Direct Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investing refers to the practice of individuals or organizations directly owning and managing commercial real estate properties without the involvement of third-party intermediaries.

Pros of Investing Directly in Commercial Real Estate

  1. Higher Potential Returns: Direct CRE investing can offer higher potential returns compared to other investment options.

  2. Control and Flexibility: Investors have direct control over property decisions and can customize their investment strategies.

  3. Tax Advantages: Direct owners can benefit from tax advantages such as depreciation deductions, 1031 exchanges, and tax-deferred gains.

  4. Direct Cash Flow: Investors receive rental income directly, allowing for immediate cash flow and potential passive income.

  5. Portfolio Diversification: Direct CRE investing diversifies investment portfolios and reduces overall risk exposure.

Cons of Investing Directly in Commercial Real Estate

  1. High Entry Costs: Direct CRE investing typically requires substantial initial capital for property acquisition, financing, and ongoing maintenance.

  2. Management Responsibilities: Investors must handle property management, tenant selection, and maintenance, which can be time-consuming and require expertise.

  3. Lack of Liquidity: Real estate investments are relatively illiquid compared to stocks or REITs, making it challenging to quickly access funds.

  4. Market Volatility: The value of commercial real estate properties can fluctuate based on economic conditions and market trends.

  5. Operational Risks: Direct investors are exposed to risks such as vacancies, lease defaults, property damage, and regulatory changes.

Potential Returns and Risks Associated with Direct CRE Investing

Direct CRE investing offers the potential for significant returns through rental income, property appreciation, and tax benefits.

However, it also carries certain risks, including:

  1. Market Risk: Commercial real estate values can be influenced by economic downturns and changing market conditions.

  2. Tenant Risk: Vacancies, lease defaults, or tenant bankruptcies can impact cash flow and property profitability.

  3. Regulatory Risk: Regulatory changes at local, state, or federal levels can affect property operations and investment returns.

  4. Interest Rate Risk: Rising interest rates can increase borrowing costs and lower property investment returns.

  5. Property-Specific Risks: Each property has unique risks associated with location, condition, competition, and tenant demand.

Therefore, investors considering direct CRE investing should carefully evaluate the potential returns and associated risks.

By conducting thorough due diligence, seeking professional advice, and maintaining a diversified portfolio, investors can make informed decisions that align with their investment goals and risk tolerance.

Read: Multifamily Financing: Strategies for Success

REITs vs. Direct CRE Investing: What's Best?

Factors to Consider when Choosing Between REITs and Direct CRE Investing

Considering these factors, investors need to weigh their preferences and priorities when choosing between REITs and direct CRE investing.

Both options have their advantages and drawbacks, and it is essential to align the investment strategy with personal goals and circumstances.

When deciding whether to invest in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) or to pursue direct commercial real estate (CRE) investments, there are several important factors to consider.

These factors include:

Level of control and involvement

For investors seeking passive income and diversification, REITs can be an attractive option.

By investing in a professionally managed portfolio of properties, investors can benefit from regular dividend distributions while enjoying the benefits of diversification.

The level of control and involvement is limited, making it a more hands-off approach for investors who prefer a more passive role in their real estate investments.

However, for those seeking more active involvement and control over their investments, direct CRE investing may be the preferred choice.

This option allows investors to handpick properties, negotiate deals, and actively manage their assets.

While it requires more time, effort, and expertise, direct CRE investing offers the potential for higher returns and the ability to tailor investments to specific risk tolerances.

Risk tolerance

It is essential to consider risk tolerance when deciding between REITs and direct CRE investing.

REITs are subject to market volatility and may be influenced by factors beyond the investor’s control.

Direct CRE investing allows investors to have a greater say in risk mitigation strategies, potentially offering a higher level of control over their investments.


Another factor to consider is liquidity. REITs provide high liquidity, allowing investors to buy or sell shares easily on the stock market.

On the other hand, direct CRE investing is less liquid, as selling properties may involve a longer process and transaction costs.

This factor is crucial for investors who may need quick access to their funds.

In general, when deciding between REITs and direct CRE investing, it is important to consider factors such as the desired level of control and involvement, risk tolerance, potential returns, diversification needs, and liquidity requirements.

By carefully evaluating these factors, investors can make an informed decision that aligns with their investment goals and preferences.

Read: Interest-Only Loans in CRE: Pros and Cons

Comparing REITs and Direct CRE Investing

Differences in risk and returns

When it comes to risk and returns, there are notable distinctions between REITs and direct CRE investing.

REITs, as publicly traded companies, are subject to market fluctuations and can be influenced by investor sentiment.

On the other hand, direct CRE investing allows investors to have more control over individual properties.

Accessibility and costs

Accessibility and costs also vary between REITs and direct CRE investing.

REITs offer easier access to the commercial real estate market as they can be bought and sold on stock exchanges.

Direct CRE investing, on the other hand, may require substantial capital, limiting accessibility for smaller investors.

Additionally, direct investing involves higher costs such as property management and maintenance expenses.

Tax implications

Another important factor to consider when comparing REITs and direct CRE investing is the tax implications.

REITs are required to distribute at least 90% of taxable income to shareholders, making them tax-efficient investments.

Direct CRE investing, however, may offer tax advantages like depreciation deductions and 1031 exchanges.

Market volatility

Market volatility affects both REITs and direct CRE investing, but in different ways.

REITs can experience significant price volatility due to factors such as interest rate changes and economic conditions.

Direct CRE investing, on the other hand, can provide a more stable and predictable income stream through rental payments.

Overall, the choice between REITs and direct CRE investing depends on individual investor preferences and goals.

REITs offer diversification and accessibility, making them suitable for investors seeking to passively invest in commercial real estate.

On the other hand, direct CRE investing provides more control, potential tax advantages, and the ability to customize investment strategies.

Investors with higher risk tolerance and significant capital may prefer direct CRE investing for increased potential returns.

Regardless of the chosen approach, it is crucial for investors to do thorough research and carefully consider their investment objectives.

Read: Leveraging CMBS Loans for CRE Investments

Case Studies or Examples

In this section, we will delve into real-life examples of successful REIT investments and showcase examples of successful Direct CRE investments.

By examining these case studies, we can gain valuable insights into the advantages and disadvantages of both investing approaches.

Successful REIT Investments

  1. Simon Property Group: One of the largest REITs in the world, Simon Property Group has consistently provided strong returns to investors.

    With a portfolio of high-quality retail properties, they have successfully navigated the changing landscape of the retail industry.

  2. Boston Properties: Known for its focus on Class A office properties, Boston Properties has achieved significant growth by aligning itself with prime locations and developing innovative office spaces.

    Its ability to attract reputable tenants has contributed to its success.

  3. Healthcare Trust of America: This healthcare-focused REIT has capitalized on the increasing demand for medical office buildings.

    By strategically acquiring properties in desirable locations, Healthcare Trust of America has demonstrated steady growth and delivered consistent dividends.

Successful Direct CRE Investments

  1. Hudson Yards, New York City: The development of Hudson Yards, a 28-acre mixed-use project, has created a thriving neighborhood in Manhattan.

    Investors who directly invested in residential, commercial, or retail properties within this project have seen substantial returns due to its prime location and comprehensive amenities.

  2. The Shard, London: By investing in a commercial space within The Shard, one of London’s most iconic skyscrapers, investors have enjoyed long-term capital appreciation and attractive rental yields.

    The building’s prominence and reputation have attracted high-profile tenants, ensuring a consistent income stream.

  3. Industrial Warehousing: Direct investments in industrial properties, especially warehouses, have proven to be lucrative.

    With the rise of e-commerce, the demand for distribution centers and fulfillment warehouses has surged, offering investors steady cash flow and the potential for significant capital appreciation.

These examples highlight the benefits and considerations of both REITs and Direct CRE investments.

While REITs provide diversification and access to a wide range of properties, direct investments offer the potential for higher returns and greater control over individual assets.

It is important for investors to carefully analyze their investment goals and risk tolerance when choosing between these approaches.

In a nutshell, the decision between REITs and Direct CRE investing ultimately depends on individual preferences and investment objectives.

Successful REIT investments such as Simon Property Group, Boston Properties, and Healthcare Trust of America demonstrate the advantages of diversification and professional management.

On the other hand, successful Direct CRE investments in projects like Hudson Yards, The Shard, and industrial warehousing showcase the potential for higher returns and increased control.

Assessing case studies and understanding the specific market dynamics is crucial in making an informed decision about which approach is best for your investment strategy.


It is important to weigh the pros and cons of REITs and Direct CRE Investing. Both options have their merits and drawbacks.

REITs offer diversification, liquidity, and professional management, making them a suitable choice for passive investors looking for convenience and flexibility.

However, they may lack control and customization options.

On the other hand, Direct CRE Investing provides more control over the assets, potential for higher returns, and unique tax benefits.

It suits investors with a higher risk tolerance who want more involvement in the investment process. Yet, it requires more time, effort, and expertise to manage.

Ultimately, the choice between REITs and Direct CRE Investing depends on individual preferences, goals, and resources.

It is essential for investors to thoroughly research and understand the investment landscape, evaluate their risk tolerance, and consider their long-term objectives.

Regardless of the chosen approach, seeking professional advice from experienced financial advisors, real estate professionals, and legal experts is highly recommended.

These professionals can provide valuable insights, help navigate through complex regulations, and ensure that investment decisions align with individual goals and circumstances.

Real estate investments can be significant and impact an investor’s financial well-being.

Therefore, it is crucial to approach them with due diligence, careful consideration, and expert guidance.

Making informed decisions based on research and professional advice will maximize the potential for success and mitigate risks in the real estate market.

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