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Your Ultimate Guide: How to Start a REIT and Thrive in Real Estate Investment

July 10, 2024
Your Ultimate Guide: How to Start a REIT and Thrive in Real Estate Investment

Interested in how to start a REIT? Setting up a Real Estate Investment Trust requires careful planning and adherence to specific guidelines. Here, we break down the must-know facets: selecting a REIT type, navigating legal requirements, securing funding, and operating your trust. Ready to dive into the world of real estate income? Let’s explore the fundamentals of establishing your own REIT.

Key Takeaways

  • Real Estate Investment Trust (REITs) offer individual investors an opportunity to own a share of a diverse real estate portfolio with income mainly derived from property leases, providing regular dividends due to a legal requirement to distribute at least 90% of taxable income.
  • Creating a REIT requires navigating complex legal and compliance frameworks including organizational structuring, adhering to IRS asset and income tests, managing shareholder composition, and maintaining specific distribution requirements.
  • Success in managing a REIT hinges on effective property management, maintaining a diverse real estate portfolio, understanding financing options, leveraging tax advantages, ensuring investor transparency, and meticulous adherence to ongoing regulatory and operational obligations.

What Is a REIT?

A Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) is much like a mutual fund for real estate investments. It allows individuals to invest in large-scale real estate assets without having to directly manage properties. Think of it this way: when you invest in a REIT, you’re buying a piece of a massive real estate cake. Each REIT share represents part ownership in the fund’s collective real estate assets, reflecting the value change of the overall portfolio. These assets could be anything from office buildings to shopping malls, and hotels. By investing in real estate investment trusts, you can diversify your portfolio with mutual funds and other investment options.

REITs primarily generate income through leasing space and collecting rents from rental properties, which they subsequently distribute to shareholders as dividends. Legally, REITs must distribute 90% of their taxable income to investors as dividends, thereby offering investors a steady income stream and highlighting one of the major benefits of investing in REITs.

REITs, including private REITs, offer the following benefits:

  • Broad access to real estate investments with lower minimum investment and reduced risk compared to other methods
  • Exposure to a range of property types without the need for direct ownership or management
  • Historically delivered competitive returns through both reliable, increasing dividends and the potential for long-term capital gains
  • Diversification, which reduces the risk of a single real estate investment and enhances the total risk-adjusted return potential for investors.

Crafting Your REIT Blueprint

Establishing a REIT involves more than merely pooling funds and investing in real estate properties; it necessitates a carefully crafted blueprint. The first step in this blueprint is choosing the type of REIT you want to establish. You can choose between an equity REIT, which owns physical properties, or a mortgage REIT, which owns debt loans backed by real property itself.

Mortgage REITs lend money to real estate owners and earn income from the interest on these investments, while equity REITs profit mainly from rental income, from the rent they collect on their real estate properties. There’s also the option for a hybrid REIT, which is a mix of equity and mortgage REITs, owning both physical properties and engaging in financing real estate.

After choosing the REIT type, the next step is to determine your real estate investment focus based on the chosen type. For instance, if you decide to start an equity REIT, you might focus on income-producing real estate such as office buildings or shopping malls. On the other hand, if you opt for a mortgage REIT, your focus could be on financing real estate loans.

It’s important to understand the risks and characteristics of equity, mortgage, and hybrid REITs when considering diversification.

Legal Framework and Compliance for REITs

Establishing a REIT involves more than just identifying the type and investment focus of a limited liability company; it also entails maneuvering through intricate legal requirements and compliance concerns. To qualify as a REIT, a company must:

  • Have at least 75% of total assets invested in real estate
  • Have at least 75% of gross income come from rents or mortgage interest
  • File Form 1120-REIT with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
  • Adhere to various REIT tests throughout each fiscal year

Given the complex requirements, consulting with tax and securities law counsel is highly recommended.

Structuring Your Business

Correctly structuring your business is an integral step in creating your REIT. A real estate company looking to qualify as a REIT must be organized as a C corporation within any of the 50 states or the District of Columbia. The corporation structure of a REIT often functions as a management company and sets the framework for its operations.

The formation of a corporation for a private REIT that involves:

  • Submitting Articles of Incorporation and corporate bylaws to the Secretary of State and paying the required filing fee
  • Establishing a board of directors or trustees who are responsible for the overall management of the company
  • Ensuring that their shares are transferable.

Preparing for the 100-Shareholder Rule

In addition to adhering to IRS regulations, preparation for the 100-shareholder rule is also necessary. This rule requires a REIT to have a minimum of 100 shareholders, which must be met for at least 335 days within a 12-month taxable year following the REIT’s first year. During the last half of the taxable year, it is important to ensure that no more than 50% of the shares are owned by any five individuals. This will help maintain a balanced distribution of ownership.

To ensure compliance, REITs incorporate ownership limitations and transfer restrictions into their governing documents, including provisions to limit concentration of ownership. Annual demand letters are issued to shareholders to confirm ownership details, ensuring the maintenance of the 100-shareholder rule.

Adhering to Distribution Requirements

Adhering to distribution requirements is a key prerequisite for preserving Real Estate Investment Trust status. To maintain REIT status, a company must distribute at least 90% of its taxable income to shareholders annually as dividends as mandated by IRS regulation. This 90% distribution rule supports the goal of REITs to provide access to real estate income without the high capital costs of direct ownership.

Adherence to this rule not only ensures compliance but also provides investors with a consistent income stream, fulfilling one of the main advantages of investing in REITs. Moreover, it helps to enhance investment portfolio stability, which is beneficial for both the REIT and its shareholders.

Financing Your REIT Venture


Having grasped the basics of initiating a REIT, the next step is to explore how to finance your venture. In the world of finance real estate, REITs can secure loans from banks or bank groups, offering various collateral structures like mortgages, equity pledges, or combinations thereof to meet underwriting needs. Mortgage collateral involves due diligence processes such as lien searches and appraisals, providing lenders with strong collateral positions. On the other hand, an equity pledge entails pledging the equity of Special Purpose Entities owned by the various REIT investors, incurring lower diligence costs than mortgage collateral.

REITs that achieve investment grade ratings gain access to unsecured debt options like unsecured bank debt and bond issuances. Additionally, residential property sector REITs may opt for secured financings due to available government support from entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. At the corporate level, REITs can secure finance through options like unsecured revolving credits, term loans, and selected bridge financing opportunities. Also, at the asset level, REITs can secure finance through standing loans, which are secured, and construction loans.

Establishing Investor Relations and Transparency

Building investor relations and ensuring transparency is a vital component of operating a REIT. Some key strategies to achieve this include:

  • Sending quarterly updates to shareholders requesting information about beneficial ownership to maintain transparency and trust in a REIT.
  • Offering context-driven and readily available information to fortify transparency within investor relations.
  • Providing clear, accurate, and concise communication, which is foundational for perceived trustworthiness in financial reporting and property management.

In today’s digital age, utilizing a professional website and active social media profiles is crucial for continuous informative communication with investors. Regular updates about the REIT companies’ developments and investment opportunities can be provided through email marketing. Moreover, effective stakeholder communication in REIT management promotes accountability, trust, and compliance with exchange regulations.

Navigating the Offering Process

Launching  a REIT can serve as a stepping stone to transform a real estate investment company into a multibillion-dollar enterprise. However, the public offering process involves multiple stages, each with its own set of requirements and challenges.

Crafting a PPM

As part of the public offering process, you’ll need to create a Private Placement Memorandum (PPM). The PPM is a document that provides specific details to potential investors, making them feel comfortable with the company and allowing them to evaluate the merits of the investment they’re about to make. Depending on your REIT’s focus, the PPM may encompass a broad range of real estate sectors, offering a variety of investment strategies and focuses to suit different investor interests. Our team at Crowdfunding Lawyers can help you craft a PPM.

Building a Solid Property Management Team

Once your REIT’s income side is operational, the proficiency of your property management team will be a crucial factor in its success. A proficient property management team is crucial for:

  • Aligning their actions with the REIT’s vision and objectives
  • Impacting the approach towards tenant selection
  • Lease terms
  • Maintenance
  • Renovation
  • Marketing

Your real estate sales and property management team will also be instrumental in enhancing the property value, which involves upgrading facilities, adding new features, or repositioning properties in the market to increase capital appreciation and resale value. This is crucial in maintaining revenue and cash flow, which ultimately affects the dividends distributed to your shareholders.

Diversifying Your Real Estate Portfolio

Possessing a diverse real estate portfolio, including commercial real estate, is another pivotal strategy for guaranteeing the success of your REIT investments. REITs encompass a variety of real estate sectors such as offices, apartments, and hotels, which diversifies exposure and potentially enhances returns. Publicly traded REITs have been known to outperform equity indexes with less volatility, fostering attractive diversification options.

Investments in REIT portfolios can mitigate market risks due to their lower correlation with other asset classes like stocks and bonds. However, it’s important that investors consider individual risk tolerances and investment horizons when deciding the suitable allocation to REITs in a portfolio. Effective portfolio management entails ongoing review of REIT performance, including analysis of dividends and overall valuation.

Looking at the financial health of a REIT’s gross income is also crucial, entailing scrutiny of its growth prospects through factors such as rent trajectory, occupancy rates, and plans for property improvements.

Leveraging Tax Advantages


Another advantage of establishing a REIT is the opportunity to exploit tax benefits. Unlike traditional corporations, REITs are not subject to corporate income taxes, which allows them to avoid the double taxation typically applied to dividends at both the corporate and personal income levels. Investors in REIT can also deduct up to 20% of their REIT dividends thanks to the pass-through deduction established by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

However, it’s important to note that a REIT must pay taxes on any retained income if it does not distribute the required 90% of taxable income to shareholders. Furthermore, depreciation can serve as a tax deferral mechanism for REITs, potentially reducing the taxable portion of REIT dividends by reclassifying certain dividends from ‘ordinary income’ to ‘return of capital’.

Maintaining REIT Status and Ongoing Operations

Preserving your REIT status and overseeing ongoing operations is a perpetual process that necessitates meticulous planning and implementation. REITs rely on the regular cash flow from leases and other long-term contracts to manage their debt payments effectively and ensure dividend distributions to shareholders. The property management team plays a crucial role in maintaining revenue and cash flow by optimizing property occupancy rates and rent levels.

The team is also tasked with controlling operating expenses such as property taxes and maintenance, which is crucial for keeping net operating income high and sustaining return on investment. Managing cash flow is crucial not just for meeting operational requirements but also for maintaining REIT status and adhering to IRS guidelines.

Real Estate Investing With REITs: How Crowdfunding Lawyers Can Help

Starting a REIT can be a lucrative and rewarding venture for a real estate investor. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can begin your journey towards success and financial freedom. Remember to conduct thorough market research, create a solid business plan, and seek professional advice from crowdfunding lawyers to ensure compliance with regulations.

As with any business, there will be challenges along the way, but with determination and perseverance, you can thrive in the world of REITs. So don’t hesitate any longer, take that first step towards building your real estate empire today.

And if you ever need legal guidance or assistance with compliance matters, don’t hesitate to reach out to Crowdfunding Lawyers – our team of experienced attorneys is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs like you succeed in this dynamic industry. We wish you all the best on your journey towards becoming a successful REIT owner!

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