Investing in Indian Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs): All You Need to Know
Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) have emerged as a popular investment option in India, offering individuals the opportunity to invest in real estate without the need for large capital or the hassles of property ownership. In this article, we will explore the concept of REITs, how they function, what qualifies as a REIT, the different types available, and most importantly, how you can invest in them. Additionally, we'll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of REIT investments and provide a real-world example of a successful Indian REIT.
How REITs Work?
REITs are investment vehicles that allow individuals to invest in income-generating real estate properties, similar to mutual funds for real estate. These trusts own, manage, and generate income from a portfolio of real estate assets, such as commercial buildings, malls, or residential properties. Investors purchase shares in the REIT, entitling them to a portion of the income and potential appreciation of the real estate properties.
What conditions must a company meet to be recognised as a REIT?
To qualify as a REIT, the company must adhere to the following conditions:
- The organisation must take the form of either a corporation or a business trust.
- The firm's shares should be entirely transferable.
- Approximately 75% of investments should be allocated to the real estate industry.
- 75% of the total gross income must come from sources such as rents, real estate mortgage interest, or property sales.
- 90% of taxable earnings should be distributed annually to shareholders in the form of dividends.
- The corporation should be a subject to taxation.
- The governance of the corporation should be overseen by a council consisting of directors and trustees.
- The firm should have a minimum of 100 shareholders at the end of its first operating year.
- No group of fewer than five individuals should collectively own over 50% of the total shares.
- 95% of the income generated by the REIT should be reinvested.
Types of REITs
There are several types of REITs in India, each offering distinct advantages and characteristics:
- Equity REITs: These REITs primarily invest in income-generating real estate properties and distribute the rental income to investors.
- Mortgage REITs: These REITs invest in mortgage-backed securities and generate income from the interest earned on these investments.
- Hybrid REITs: These combine elements of both equity and mortgage REITs, diversifying their income sources.
- Private REITs: Privately held REITs, where the shares are not traded on stock exchanges, and typically have fewer regulations.
- Publicly Traded REITs: REITs whose shares are listed and traded on stock exchanges.
- Public Non-Traded REITs: These are registered with the SEC but do not trade on public stock exchanges.
The Regulatory Framework for REITs in India
In India, the concept of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) is relatively recent, with the initial guidelines introduced by the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in 2007. The current SEBI guidelines regarding REITs in India were ratified in September 2014.
As of now, there are only three REITs available for investment in India – Embassy Office Parks REIT, Mindspace Business Parks REIT, and Brookfield India Real Estate Trust. In the near future, other prominent names in the Indian real estate sector, are also expected to launch their REITs.
In the Indian context, a REIT has a three-tiered structure comprising a Sponsor, a Manager, and a Trustee, each of whom plays essential roles for the trust. Their roles and responsibilities, as stipulated by SEBI, are as follow:
- Sponsor: Typically, a real estate company that owned the assets before the establishment of the REIT acts as the sponsor. For example, BSREP India Office Holdings Pvt. Ltd., an Indian subsidiary of the US-based Brookfield Asset Management Inc., serves as the sponsor for the Brookfield REIT. The Sponsor's responsibilities include setting up the REIT, appointing the Trustee, and holding a mandatory 25% stake in units for the first three years after the REIT's formation. After the initial three years, the sponsor's stake can be reduced to 15% of the total outstanding REIT units.
- Manager: The REIT Manager is typically a company specializing in facilities management. For instance, in the case of the Brookfield REIT, Brookprop Management Services Pvt. Ltd. is designated as the manager. Their duties encompass managing the trust's assets, making investment decisions, and ensuring timely reporting and disclosure by the REIT.
- Trustee: REIT Trustees are usually specialised companies providing trusteeship services. For example, Axis Trustee Services Limited operates as the trustee for both Embassy Parks REIT and Brookfield REIT. Trustees are responsible for holding the trust's assets in trusteeship for the benefit of unitholders. They also oversee the manager's activities and ensure the punctual distribution of dividends.
Additional key criteria mandated by SEBI that REITs in India must adhere to include:
- At least 80% of a REIT's investments must be in income-generating commercial properties. The remaining assets of the trust, up to the 20% limit, can be held in the form of stocks, bonds, cash, or under-construction commercial properties.
- A minimum of 90% of the rental income earned by the REIT must be distributed to unitholders as dividends or interest.
- Listing on the stock market is a mandatory requirement for REITs.
Pros and Cons of Investing in REITs
- Diversification in real estate without owning physical property.
- Liquidity and ease of buying and selling REIT shares.
- Regular income through dividends.
- Professional management of properties, reducing the hassles of property ownership.
- Attractive yields and potential for capital appreciation.
- Market risk affecting property values.
- Tax implications on dividends and capital gains.
- Dependency on the real estate market's health.
- Management fees may impact returns.
Taxation Regulations for REITs
When it comes to income from REITs, investors encounter distinct taxation rules for dividend income and capital gains. Furthermore, the tax treatment differs when redeeming investments made through an International REITs Fund of Fund. Here's an overview of the applicable taxation rules:
- Taxation of Dividends: Under current regulations, dividends received from REITs are subject to full taxation in the hands of the investor. Dividend disbursements from REITs are incorporated into the investor's annual income and taxed in accordance with the applicable financial year's tax slab rate.
- Taxation of Capital Gains: Capital gains resulting from the sale of REIT units fall under the purview of Short-Term Capital Gains (STCG) and Long-Term Capital Gains (LTCG) taxation, similar to equity investments. STCG applies if the units are held for one year or less from the date of unit allocation, with a tax rate of 15% on the capital gains from unit sales. In cases where the holding period exceeds one year from the unit allocation date, LTCG taxation rules come into play. The LTCG tax rate stands at 10% for gains exceeding Rs. 1 lakh (across all equity investments for the relevant financial year), without indexation benefits.
- Taxation of Capital Gains for International REIT Fund of Funds: Capital gains from the sale of units of International REITs Fund of Funds are subject to non-equity Capital Gains taxation rules. In this scenario, STCG applies if the units are held for three years or less (calculated from the unit allocation date), and the STCG rate aligns with the investor's slab rate for the financial year. For units held for over three years from the unit allocation date, LTCG taxation applies, with a rate of 20% on indexed capital gains.
Tips to Assess Real Estate Investment Trusts
- Research the Portfolio: Analyse the types of properties held in the REIT's portfolio, their locations, and occupancy rates.
- Check Dividend History: Review the REIT's dividend distribution history to gauge its stability and growth.
- Understand Management: Assess the expertise and track record of the REIT's management team.
- Consider Tax Implications: Understand the tax treatment of REIT income and gains in India.
- Diversify Your Investments: Spread your investments across various REITs to reduce risk.
Who Should Invest in REITs?
REITs are suitable for investors looking to diversify their portfolio with real estate investments without the responsibilities of property ownership. They are ideal for those seeking regular income through dividends and potential capital appreciation. However, individuals should have a reasonable understanding of the real estate market and be willing to tolerate market volatility.
In conclusion, investing in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) offers a convenient way to access the real estate market in India. By understanding how REITs work, the types available, and the steps to invest, you can make informed investment decisions. However, it's crucial to consider the pros and cons, perform due diligence, and align your investment goals with the right REITs.