Tag Archives: REITs

What is a REIT, Anyway?

Real Estate Investment Trusts, or REITs, are the shiny new object in Regulation A. What is a REIT and what good are they?

A REIT is just a tax concept. A REIT is an entity that is treated as a corporation for Federal income tax purposes and satisfies a long list of requirements listed in section 856 of the Internal Revenue Code. These requirements include:

  • The kinds of assets it owns
  • The kind of income it generates
  • Who owns it
  • How much of its income it distributes to its owners

Conversely a REIT is not a function of securities laws, contrary to what many people believe. Thus, many REITs have “gone public” by offering their securities in offerings that are registered under the Securities Act of 1933, while many other REITs are still private. Some “public” REITs have registered their shares on a national securities exchange, allowing the shares to be publicly traded, while the shares of other “public” REITs are traded privately. There are very large REITs and very small REITs, and everything in between. Some REITs invest in one class of real estate assets, others invest in completely different classes of real estate assets (e.g., only mortgages), and still others invest in multiple classes of real estate assets. The only thing all these companies have in common, being REITs, is that they all satisfy the requirement in section 856 of the Code.

A REIT may raise capital the same way any other company may raise capital. It may raise capital from accredited investors under Rule 506(c), or from accredited and non-accredited investors under Rule 506(b), or in a quasi-public offering under Regulation A, or in a fully-registered public offering, or in an intrastate offering, or in an offering under Rule 504.

A REIT may offer any kind of financial instrument to its investors:  common stock, preferred stock, straight debt, convertible debt, etc.

So if a REIT is just a tax label, rather than a securities label, why bother to use a REIT for real estate Crowdfunding? The answer is, again, just taxes.

If we’re going to create a fund of real estate assets, we have three choices:  a REIT; a corporation that is not a REIT; and a regular limited liability company or limited partnership. Here’s the logic:

  • If we use a corporation that does not qualify as a REIT, it will be subject to tax on its income at the corporate level, and investors would then be subject to tax again when the corporation distributes its income, resulting in two levels of tax on the same income. Forget that.
  • If we use a regular limited liability company or limited partnership, it will send each equity investor an IRS Form K-1 each year, reporting all of its categories of income, gains, deductions, and distributions.
  • If we use a REIT, it will send each equity investor a simple IRS Form 1099.

Now, if all your investors are wealthy, sophisticated Republicans, they don’t care about receiving another K-1. But if you’re trying to market your fund to simple Democrats, it’s a different story. Say your typical simple Democrat can afford only a $1,000 investment, and a tax filing service charges $49.95 to add the K-1 to her Form 1040 (assuming she files a Form 1040). That’s a 5% annual cost of investing in your fund! A 1099, in contrast, is free.

That’s why we never saw REITs in Title II Crowdfunding, which allows only accredited investors to participate, while we’re seeing a lot of them in Title IV, which allows everyone. The REIT has to spend money complying with Code section 856, but has an easier time attracting non-accredited investors simply as a matter of tax reporting.

Finally, perceptive readers might ask “If REITs are corporations, why do I see REITs on the market with ‘LLC’ after their names?” The answer is that REITs don’t have to be corporations, they have to be taxed as corporations for Federal income tax purposes. A limited liability company that elects to be taxed as a corporation (yep, that’s possible) can qualify as a REIT.

Questions? Let me know.

Why Title II Portals Will Also Become Title III Portals, And Vice-Versa

CF Portal Mall

Why has Home Depot made local hardware stores a thing of the past? Partly price, but mainly selection. And I think the same forces will require most Crowdfunding portals to offer investments under Title II, Title III, and Title IV, all at the same time.

Crowdfunding portals are like retail stores that sell securities. They have suppliers, which we call “sponsors” or “portfolio companies,” and they have customers, which we call “investors.” They pick the market they want to serve – hard money loans, for example – then try to stock their shelves with products from the best suppliers to attract the largest number of customers. Think of DSW, but selling securities rather than shoes.

Now consider these situations:

  • You’re a Title II portal and have established a relationship with Sandra Smith, a real estate developer you’ve learned to trust. She informs you she’d like to raise $30 million to build a shopping center in Chicago and needs to attract investors from the local community. You could tell her you only do Title II and send her across the street, but maybe she’ll find a competitor where she can get Title II and Title IV under one roof. So you’d really like to offering Title IV as well, which means attracting non-accredited investors.
  • You’re a Title II portal raising money for biotech. A company approaches you with a new therapy for cystic fibrosis. They have 117,000 Facebook followers and wide support in the cystic fibrosis community, and have already raised $30,000 in a Kickstarter campaign. They want to raise $800,000 for clinical tests, then come back and raise $5 million if the tests are successful. Sure, you could tell them to go somewhere else for the $800,000 raise and come back for the larger (and more profitable) $5 million round, but once they leave they’re probably not coming back.
  • You’re a Title III portal with lots of investors signed up. Turned away by the portal she’s used to working with, Sandra Smith asks for your help in the $30 million Title IV raise. Any reason to turn her down?

Those of us in the industry see Title II, Title III, and Title IV as separate things, but to the suppliers and customers of the industry they’re all the same thing. The differences between Title II and Title IV are nothing compared to the differences between sneakers and 6-inch heels! Yet DSW sells them both and everything in between because in the eyes of customers, they’re all shoes.

It doesn’t matter to suppliers and customers that Title II and Title III require different technology and business models. It doesn’t matter that one is more profitable than the other. Mercedes might lose money selling its lower-end cars but doesn’t mind doing so because customers who buy the lower-end Mercedes today buy the higher-end Mercedes 10 years from now. The Vanguard Group probably loses money on some of its funds but sells them anyway to keep customers in the fold. As the Crowdfunding market develops, I think the same will be true of the interplay with Title II, Title III, and Title IV.

For portals that have achieved success in Title II, it might be unwelcome news that Title II isn’t enough. But on the positive side, Fundrise has managed to leverage its reputation in Title II into a well-received REIT under Title IV. In any case, I think it’s inevitable.

Questions? Let me know.

Crowdfunding A Reit

REIT Blog Post Image

People sometimes ask “Will Crowdfunding replace REITs?” That’s not exactly the right question.

A REIT – an acronym for Real Estate Investment Trust – is not a function of real estate law or corporate law. A REIT is solely a function of tax law. Section 856 of the Internal Revenue Code defines a REIT as a corporation, trust, or association that satisfies certain criteria, including these:

  • At least 75% of the entity’s assets must consist of real estate assets or cash.
  • The entity must have at least 100 owners.
  • Interests in the entity must be transferable.
  • No more than 50% percent of the interests in the entity may be held by five or fewer individuals.

There is only one benefit of qualifying as a REIT: as long as he distributes at least 90% of its income to its owners, the entity itself is not subject to tax. Only the owners are subject to tax, when they receive dividend and capital gain distributions. The whole REIT industry is built around this tax benefit.

Because the REIT label is solely a function of tax law, not corporate or securities law, a REIT can be:

  • A publicly-registered company with publicly-traded securities; or
  • A publicly-registered company with privately-traded securities; or
  • A private company with privately-traded securities.

The second category of REIT is probably most common and, frankly, it is the category that has given REITs a bad name. Sold through the traditional broker-dealer channels, it is not unusual for the shares of publicly-registered, privately-traded REITs to carry a load of more than 10%, great for the broker, terrible for the customer. That’s why people say “Private REITS are sold, not bought.”

Compare a publicly-registered, privately-traded REIT to a garden-variety limited liability company owning real estate assets. In both cases, the entity itself pays no tax. And now, through Crowdfunding, the garden-variety LLC can solicit investors using the Internet, leading to transactions cost (load) much lower than the private REIT. Economically it’s a no-brainer: the Crowdfunded real estate LLC is better than the private REIT.

As I said, however, that’s really comparing apples with oranges. The REIT designation is about taxes; Crowdfunding is about how you find investors.

The real question is “Can I find investors for a private REIT using Crowdfunding, rather than through the traditional broker-dealer channels?” And the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!” When you check the deals available at your favorite real estate Crowdfunding site tomorrow morning, you could well see a REIT.

And why would a sponsor offer a REIT rather than a garden-variety LLC? One reason – maybe the only reason – is tax reporting. An investor in an LLC receives a full-blown K-1 each year, and faces at least the theoretical risk of paying tax on “phantom” income. An investor in a REIT, on the other hand, receives only a simple 1099 and pays tax only on actual distributions.

Be that as it may, nobody should be paying a 10% commission. By connecting sponsors directly with investors, Crowdfunding promises to squeeze this kind of inefficiency out of the capital formation industry. Especially when Regulation A+ comes into effect, opening the market to non-accredited investors, there is every reason to believe that Crowdfunding will replace the traditional broker-dealer as the preferred method for distributing REIT shares.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

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