For many of us who may want to invest in real estate but cannot afford the huge sums of money involved in acquiring a property, investing in a REIT is an easy way to invest in property without having to pay all the money required to own a property.
Similarly, people who desire to be property investors but are not ready to go through the stress involved in selling a property can easily invest in real estate through REITs. REITs offer investors the ease of converting real estate assets into cash.
At the end of this article, you would understand why this is so.
What is a REIT?
REIT is an acronym that represents Real Estate Investment Trusts. In simple terms, REITs are companies that bring together money from various individuals (investors) to buy real estate with the intention of making money from the real estate assets purchased. Like stocks, investors of REITs own shares and receive dividends. So just as anyone can be a shareholder of any company of choice, REITs offer various individuals an opportunity to be shareholders in real estate assets.
This is how REITs work
The manner in which REITs operate is very simple and straightforward:
They acquire properties with money taken from investors.
They lease out the properties acquired.
They take rents from the tenants of these properties.
They use the rent collected from tenants to pay dividends to shareholders.
Why are REITs popular in advanced countries?
According to Nareit, over 145 million Americans own REITs. Over the years, many investors have come to appreciate the dual role of REITs as an investment asset. Owners of REITs enjoy two major advantages:
They enjoy the same benefits real estate owners enjoy.
They enjoy the same benefits holders of stocks enjoy.
Owners of REITs have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits enjoyed by real estate owners while enjoying similar benefits enjoyed by shareholders of stocks. Just like real estate owners, owners of REITs are paid from the rents of properties acquired under REITs. This offers the owner of a REIT an opportunity to benefit from the buoyancy of the real estate market at any given point in time. Meanwhile, owners of REITs can sell off or buy new shares in REITs at any given point in time. It is so easy to buy shares in REITs. You don’t need an agent, you don’t need to have all the money required for the purchase of a property, you don’t need to pay any professional fees, you don’t need to wait for so long to get your property sold.
Over the past few years, the impact of climate change in our world has led to the introduction of several approaches to ensure environmental sustainability. One key approach among the several measures has been the concept of green finance which seeks to ensure that more financial resources are channeled into investments that are environmentally sustainable. In the global real estate sector, the momentum for green finance has been on the rise with multinationals such as BlackRock and Aviva focusing on investment portfolios that are green.
With these advancements around the world, the response to the global call to promoting sustainable investments has admittedly been at a slow pace in the African market. Presently, there are about 641 green buildings in Africa. Out of the 641 green buildings in Africa, Ghana has 10, representing 1.5% of the total green buildings in Africa. Although this is a good start for Ghana, clearly there still remain much work to be done in terms of green finance in Ghana.
Many Ghanaians have in the past expressed worry about the potential of maintaining a constant supply of green buildings due to the cost burden of green buildings at the start. Although many are pessimistic about the easy adaption to the culture of sustainability, the Ghanaian government has shown dedication to the promotion of green investments through green bonds. This follows the announcement of the development of green bonds in Ghana by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This is a step in the right direction towards the promotion of green investments in Ghana.
With the introduction of green bonds, Ghanaian investors would be incentivized to channel their funds into environmentally sustainable investments which would in turn lead to the generation of funds to finance real estate developments that are sustainable. Green bonds have the potential of curbing the cost burden associated with the development of sustainable buildings.
For the past few months, businesses, governments and organisations have had to re-strategize in a manner that anyone could barely anticipate. Like every other country in the world, Ghana suffered the effect of the global pandemic. The prices of major commodities declined unexpectedly and there was a decline in trade volumes. At the peak of the pandemic, Ghana’s GDP growth declined substantially. In fact, Ghana recorded the largest decline in GDP growth since 2016 in the year 2020. Obviously, Ghana’s economy was hardly hit by the pandemic. With several interventions such as lock-down, restrictions on international travels, and the development of vaccines, the world is nearing an era known as the post-covid era where it has become important that various economies find means of recovering. Similarly, certain sectors of the real estate market are in their recovery stages. While most people are very optimistic about the quick bounce-back of the real estate sector, there still remain some fears of investing in real estate in Accra. In this article, I have weighed the fears of investing in real estate against the opportunities of real estate investments for some key sectors of real estate.
Residential Real Estate
The impact of the pandemic varied across the two residential sectors – the sales market and the rental market. While the sales market recorded less transactions during the pandemic, the high-end residential markets which are dominated mainly by expats and diplomats suffered the most. Many expats and diplomats went back to their countries during the peak of the pandemic mainly because of the possibility of working from home leading to high vacancies in high-end residential real estate. Aside all of these, the residential market has shown signs of quick recovery as the government keeps easing restrictions, with both sales and rental transactions picking up. There’s also a new demand for home offices, as working from home has become a common practice. Although this may not reflect in the supply of residential real estate in the short term, this is foreseen to be a common feature in the supply of residential real estate in the post-covid era.
In Ghana, whereas most offices in other parts of the world resorted to working from home at the peak of the pandemic, the common practice has been to alternate between working in the office and working from home. Nearing the post-covid era, the running of shifts is gradually fading out at most work places. Despite this, there still remain a good percentage of office tenants who have devised means of effectively working from home. This has the possibility of causing a decline in office rents and occupancy rates – one that would barely reverse to the situation before the pandemic. Prime office rents have reduced substantially over the past few months.
The effect of the pandemic has seen an improvement in online retail platforms. Many are still discovering the effectiveness of these online retail platforms. This has the potential of leading to a decline in the supply of retail outlets. Although the patronage of online retailers may not completely eliminate the patronage of physical retail outlets, the demand for retail would still see some effects caused by the boom in online retail.
With a surge in online retail, logistics is gradually rising and presents prospects for growth in real estate investments. Presently, warehouse facilities have generally suffered some pressures in terms of increased demand. In view of this, innovation has become extremely important for the growth of the logistics sector for the economy of space. It is also foreseen that just as many other advanced countries are changing the existing use of distressed retail assets for logistics, Accra is likely to change the uses of many distressed real estate assets into warehouses. An increased demand for last-mile logistic facilities in areas closer to town centres is also foreseen as demand for online retail increases.
The hospitality sector suffered the most from lockdown restrictions and the restrictions on international travels. Although, some hotels served as isolation centres, the sector suffered a lot from the pandemic. With the present easing of restrictions on international travels, the sector has begun to see some patronage. However, recovery is gradual for most aspects of the hospitality sector. Many investors are still skeptical of investing in hospitality.
The healthcare sector is increasingly becoming a centre of attraction for many real estate investors as there has been the need for the development of the healthcare sector to ensure the delivery of quality healthcare services. The pandemic has brought out the defects of the healthcare sector and the need to increase the supply of real estate assets in the sector.
The need to go digital in the workplace has been reinforced by the effects of the pandemic leading to the need to move IT workloads to the cloud. Digital services have become very important due to the growth in the need for remote working tools. There is a new dimension of demand in data centres as the need has risen for the localization of data centres. This coupled with the digital Ghana agenda has made it necessary for data centres to be located in Ghana.
Indeed, although the pandemic has led to a decline in certain sectors of the real estate market, it has also opened up new opportunities for investing in real estate.
Housing is often too expensive for the average household to purchase outright. In developing countries like Ghana, people often resort to mortgages, informal loans, housing associations, incremental housing or simply renting. Regardless of the preferred method, it is important to keep track of how much is spent because it is usually the priciest expense. Factors such as household size, housing benefits, regional variances (differences in housing cost because of the location) and quality of housing all complicate affordability, but these are a few of the measures popular around the world.
This measure is most significant for renters, and simply involves viewing rent in proportion to income. This percentage informs on how much is being spend on housing as well as other expenses. Traditionally, spending no more than 30% of gross income on housing is deemed affordable.
Housing price-to-income ratio
Another popular gauge of affordability is the ‘housing price-to-income ratio’. This ratio captures how many years of a household’s annual salary can pay for housing, highlighting how long a family can expect to pay off housing if they choose to either build themselves or take a mortgage facility. The UN estimates that the ratio is approximately 2.5 in developed economies, but can be as high as 10 in Ghana, a developing country.
Affordability is a bigger socio-economic issue for poorer families because they generally have less disposable income to spare. Consequently, spending too much on housing will inevitably leave these with less money to spend on other essential expenses – food, utilities, transport, education for the children, savings and planning for retirement. Most households in Ghana do not consciously keep track of how much they spend on housing, but the implications of it demand attention and requires you to ask; am I spending too much on housing?