The 8 Best REIT ETFs of 2020

Explore a different way to invest in real estate

Real estate investment trusts, or REITs, are a great way to invest in real estate for a variety of reasons. They give shareholders a slice of ownership in a property or portfolio of properties and guarantee a certain percentage of the profit gets paid out in dividends. A REIT ETF is a type of fund made up exclusively of REIT stocks.

If you want to invest in real estate but can’t afford to invest in properties directly or build a diverse portfolio of REITs, a REIT ETF may be the right starting point for you. With REIT ETFs, you can invest in a diverse range of properties with one low-cost investment—ETFs can be bought and sold like shares of stock on the stock market, and just like stocks, the companies that create and manage ETFs have to provide information to the public that helps you decide if it is a good investment. Before you invest anywhere, it's important to understand the underlying assets, who manages the fund, and what you’ll pay in fees as a shareholder. Read on for some important things to consider when choosing a REIT ETF.

Understand the holdings. An ETF is a fund that owns many investments on behalf of a group of investors. REIT ETFs hold REITs and REIT stocks. Many ETFs buy REITs in the form of a stock that meets the requirements to be considered a REIT.

Research the manager. Many companies create mutual funds and ETFs. You can buy REITs managed by reputable, well-known investment firms that are household names, and some from more obscure companies where you need to do a little more research before investing.

Look into the fees. ​ETFs tend to charge relatively low investment management fees compared to mutual funds, but that is not always the case. Look at the fees charged by any fund, and compare to similar funds to make sure you get a good deal.

Remember that all investments carry some risk. REITs and REIT ETFs are heavily influenced by the same forces that shape the real estate markets. Those include interest rates, employment rates, and other economic factors. As with all investments, understand the risks, expected rate of return, and how your money is managed before handing it over.

With those criteria (and caveats) in mind, see below for a list of some of the best REIT ETFs to consider for your investment portfolio.

Best Overall: Vanguard Real Estate ETF (VNQ)

Courtesy of Vanguard

Vanguard is the largest mutual fund company around and continues to absorb funds at a rapid rate. Vanguard Real Estate ETF trades under the ticker VNQ and is commonly looked at as one of the best real estate ETFs available today.

With an expense ratio of just 0.12%, Vanguard claims that its fee is 90% lower than the average real estate ETF. This REIT follows the MSCI US Investable Market Real Estate 25/50 Index. It is considered a little riskier than average, but not among the riskiest classes of ETFs.

Like most real estate funds, this fund got hammered in the real estate crash of 2007-2008, but it has offered steady and growing returns since. This is a great way to add real estate to a retirement account or other long-term investment account. Top holdings include Vanguard Real Estate II Index Fund, American Tower Corp, and Simon Property Group.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Schwab U.S. REIT ETF (SCHH)

Charles Schwab
Courtesy of Charles Schwab

Managed by Charles Schwab, the Schwab U.S. REIT ETF comes in as a close second to the best overall real estate ETF. Schwab is both a popular brokerage and a fund provider and offers even lower fees than Vanguard’s competing fund.

This ETF follows the Dow Jones U.S. Select REIT Index and charges just 0.07% in fees. This ETF currently holds 116 assets, all based in the United States. Owning it eliminates foreign real estate risk from your portfolio and is ideal if you want to focus on U.S. real estate.

Major holdings include Simon Property Group, Prologis, and Public Storage. You’ll notice some overlap with the Vanguard fund above, but as they follow different indices, they contain different assets.

Best International: iShares Global REIT (REET)

Courtesy of iShares

If you want to take your real estate investment dollars all over the world, the iShares Global REIT from Blackrock is a solid fund. This ETF has tended to outperform the benchmark FTSE EPRA/NAREIT Global REIT Index in the (less than) five years since the fund’s inception.

The iShares Global REIT ETF charges a competitive 0.14% management fee. Major holdings include Simon Property Group, Prologis, Public Storage, and Avalon Bay Communities. 

This fund is invested 65% in the United States, 7% in Japan, 6% in Australia, 5% in the United Kingdom, and the rest France, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Africa with “other countries” making up 3% of total assets. These are generally developed, strong economies with stable real estate markets.

Best Domestic: Fidelity MSCI Real Estate Index ETF (FREL)

Courtesy of Fidelity

Fidelity is another major ETF provider with a focus on U.S. real estate and among the lowest management fees around. You’ll pay a modest 0.084% expense ratio on this fund, which tracks the MSCI USA IMI Real Estate Index.

Top holdings of this fund include American Tower Corp, Simon Property Group, Crown Castle International, Equinix, and Prologis. Simon Property Group shows up in most REIT ETFs that include the United States, as Simon Property Group is the largest retail REIT and largest shopping mall operator in the United States.

Best Mortgage-Focused: iShares Mortgage Real Estate ETF (REM)

Courtesy of iShares

This ETF from Blackrock includes exposure to U.S. residential and commercial mortgages. It is targeted to include domestic real estate assets including REITs, real estate stocks, and direct real estate investments.

This ETF is benchmarked against the FTSE NAREIT All Mortgage Capped Index and has slightly underperformed the index since inception. It had a lot of ground to cover as the fund’s inception date was in May 2007.

The fund charges 0.48% in management fees. Top holdings include Annaly Capital Management REIT, AGNC Investment REIT, New Residential Investment REIT, and Starwood Property Trust REIT.

Best High-Yield: Invesco KBW Premium Yield Equity REIT ETF (KBWY)

Courtesy of Invesco

Invesco’s KBW Premium Yield Equity REIT ETF is smaller than many others on this list, but what it lacks in assets it makes up for in yield. This fund is based on the KBW Nasdaq Premium Yield Equity REIT Index, which tracks small-cap and mid-cap equity REITs in the United States.

The fund charges a 0.35% expense ratio. Top holdings include Washington Prime Group, Government Properties Income Trust, New Senior Investment Group, Global Net Lease, and Whitestone REIT.

Best Active Real Estate ETF: Invesco Active U.S. Real Estate Fund (PSR)

Courtesy of Invesco

Invesco Active U.S. Real Estate ETF purchases assets included in the FTSE NAREIT All Equity REITs Index. The fund is heavily invested in REITs across a wide range of U.S. real estate sectors. Top holdings include American Tower, Simon Property Group, Crown Castle International, Prologis, Public Storage, and Weyerhaeuser.

It charges a 0.35% management fee and has typically underperformed the benchmark index just slightly over the past five years and since its inception in 2008. But even slightly trailing the index, the fund has performed very well, as has the real estate market overall, since 2009.

Best Short Real Estate ETF: ProShares Short Real Estate (REK)

Courtesy of ProShares

If you think the real estate market is going down, a short real estate fund would be the way to profit. Short investments, or bets that an asset will go down in value, are generally considered riskier than investments betting on the value of something rising.

The ProShares Short Real Estate ETF yields the opposite performance of the Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate Index. If the index goes up 5%, this fund should go down roughly 5%. But if the index falls, this investment will increase in value.

The fund charges a 0.95% expense ratio and invests in real estate index swaps at major investment banks like Bank of America, Societe Generale, Credit Suisse, UBS, and Morgan Stanley. Keep in mind that while an asset can go down in value to $0, it can rise forever. That means a short-investment can yield dramatic losses when an asset rises in value.