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I was talking to a friend of my who is into investing. I told him my plan is to buy a house and rent it out for passive income and have a property management company handle it.

My friend then told me that I might as well invest into REIT if I didn't want to do anything and want a cash flow. Is this a good idea?

I looked a little bit into it, but want a second opinion on this. I live in the United States by the way.

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    Why do you need passive income? – Pete B. Dec 5 '16 at 13:33
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One way is to think of a REIT as a fully managed portfolio of real estate investments. Risks and returns are averaged across the real estate portfolio and managed by experts, possibly industry leading experts. REITs have a well documented track record you can research - most individuals do not. Many individuals have learned a hard lesson or two while attempting to generate passive income with real estate.

Conversely, some people derive a great deal of satisfaction from owning real estate and have a true passion to do so. Plus, if you are expecting interest rates to raise and/or rate of inflation to increase in the next 30 years, you may benefit from the financing aspects of the investment as well. There are some regions/ opportunities that seem to do better than the average REIT a majority of the time, but may not be desirable to you or fit into your budget for various reasons.

I'm not sure what your level of experience, knowledge or financial situation , but for everyone considering, there are many additional things to know about investment property compared to a primary residence. A good place to start with REITs is the prospectus of one that interests you. Research their holdings, create a model, or otherwise make a connection with the REIT before clicking buy.

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In financial markets, the gains you can expect to make (whether in the form of dividends or capital gains) correspond to the risks you are bearing. There are a variety of REITs but you can expect to make only as much money in them as you bear risk (meaning you can also lose a lot of money in the ones that earn a lot). In that sense they are just like other financial assets like stocks. If you are generically trying to increase your wealth by bearing risk, you can get a better risk/reward ratio in a fully diversified portfolio including stocks and bonds as well and REITs. "Passive income" means making money by bearing risk. REITs alone, without diversifying into other financial assets, do a poor job of generating income for the amount of risk you bear.

So why are REITs not very comparable to buying a house and renting it out? Because in the latter case you are being paid not only for bearing the risk of the house depreciating but also you are being compensated for the work you do as a landlord. Moreover, because the house doesn't trade in a liquid market like REITs do, it is possible to actually get a good deal, as opposed to the fair deal you will get on a REIT.

TL;DR: The "passive income" generated by REIT investment is more similar to generic equity/bond investment than it is to an investment in a physical home that you rent out. If what you want is to make money without doing anything besides bear risk, you should invest in a fully diversified portfolio of financial assets (equity and bonds being the primary constituents but REITs potentially being a part as well).

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There are tax strategies you could take advantage of if you own the property. Find local real estate investors that like 'buy and hold'. Additional strategy is to buy a property and sell it with owner financing (you use a Residential Mortgage Loan Officer to facilitate.) What is great is you can get a great % real return on your money without being a landlord.

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Other individuals answered how owning an REIT compares to an individual real estate investment, but did not answer your second question as readily, "are REITs a good option to generate passive income for awhile?". The "awhile" part is quite important in answering this question. If your intentions are to invest for a relatively short time period (say, 7 years or less), it may be especially advantageous to invest in a REIT. The foremost advantage comes from significantly lower transaction fees (stock/ETF trades are practically/potentially free today) compared to purchasing real estate, which involves inspection+titling fees/taxes/broker fees, which in a round-trip transaction (purchase and sale) would come to ~10%. The secondary advantage to owning a REIT is they are much more liquid than a property. If you wanted to sell your investment at a given point in time, you can easily log into your brokerage and execute your transaction, while liquidating an investment property will take time on market/potentially tossing tenants/fixing up place, etc.

On the other hand, illiquid investments have generally yielded higher historical returns according to past research.

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