A real estate investment trust (REIT) is a company that owns, and in most cases operates, income-producing real estate. REITs own many types of commercial real estate, ranging from office and apartment buildings to warehouses, hospitals, shopping centers, hotels and timberlands. Some REITs engage in financing real estate. The law providing for REITS was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1960. The law was intended to provide a real estate investment structure similar to the structure mutual funds provide for investment in stocks. REITs are strong income vehicles because, to avoid incurring liability for U.S. Federal income tax, REITs generally must pay out an amount equal to at least 90 percent of their taxable income in the form of dividends to shareholders.
REITs can be publicly traded on major exchanges, public but non-listed, or private. The two main types of REITs are Equity REITs and Mortgage REITs. In November 2014, Equity REITs were recognized as a distinct asset class in the Global Industry Classification Standard by S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI. The key statistics to examine the financial position and operation of a REIT are net asset value (NAV), funds from operations (FFO), and adjusted funds from operations (AFFO).