Real Estate Investment Trust basics
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) are comparable to mutual funds for real estate investors.
REITs provide an opportunity to invest in large-scale properties and real estate portfolios in the same manner mutual funds offer diversification and professional management to investors in stocks and bonds. REIT investments are touted for diversified income streams and long-term capital appreciation.
Many REITs are traded on major stock exchanges, but there are non-listed public and private REITs as well. REITs are generally segregated into two core categories: Equity REITs and Mortgage REITs. While Equity REITs generate income through rental income streams and sales of the real estate portfolios, Mortgage REITs invest in mortgages or mortgage backed securities tied to commercial and/or residential properties.
Similar to sector-focused mutual funds, REITs have been created to invest in specific real estate asset classes. Some REIT offerings targeting specific asset classes include student housing, nursing homes, storage centers and hospitals.
REIT shareholders receive dividend distributions
Shareholders receive their share of REIT income via dividend distributions. REIT dividend distributions are allocated among ordinary income, capital gains and return of capital, each with a different tax consequence to the recipient.
Most dividends issued by REITs are taxed as ordinary dividends, which are subject to ordinary income tax rates (up to a maximum rate of 39.6%, plus a separate 3.8% surtax on net investment income). However, REIT dividends can qualify for lower rates under certain circumstances, such as in the case of capital gain distributions (20% maximum tax rate plus the 3.8 % surtax on net investment income). Additionally, the capital gains rate applies to a sale of REIT stock (20% capital gains rate plus 3.8% surtax).
What is an UPREIT?
An Umbrella Partnership Real Estate Investment Trust (UPREIT) provides tax deferral benefits to commercial property owners who contribute their real property into a tiered ownership structure that includes an operating partnership and the REIT, which is the other partner of the operating partnership. In exchange for the real property contributed to the UPREIT, the investor receives units in the operating partnership.
When the UPREIT structure is used, the owner contributes property to the partnership in exchange for limited partnership units and a “put” option. Generally, this contribution is a nontaxable transfer.
The owners of limited-partnership units can exercise their put option and convert their units into REIT shares or cash at the REIT’s option. This is generally a taxable event to the unit holder.
Tax deferral opportunities
When a taxpayer sells depreciable real property in a taxable transaction the gain is subject to capital gains tax (currently a maximum of 20%) and depreciation recapture tax (25%). The capital gain tax and depreciation recapture remain deferred as long as the UPREIT holds the property and the investor holds the operating partnership units. The advantage of this structure is that it provides commercial property owners, who might have significant capital gain tax liabilities on the sale of appreciated property, an alternative exit strategy.
It is common for taxpayers to negotiate some sort of standstill agreement where the REIT agrees not to sell the property in a taxable disposition for some period of time, usually five to ten years. If the REIT sell the property in a taxable disposition, it triggers taxable gain to the taxpayer.
The taxable gain is generally deferred when the real estate is transferred to the UPREIT. Generally, the tax deferral lasts until the partnership sells the property in a taxable transaction. However, a taxable event is triggered if the taxpayer converts the operating partnership units to REIT shares or cash.