Top 8 Alternative Real Estate Investment Types

Most institutional investors focus on traditional real estate categories such as office, retail, industrial or multifamily. However, there are a growing number of alternative real estate investment types …

Most institutional investors focus on traditional real estate categories such as office, retail, industrial or multifamily. However, there are a growing number of alternative real estate investment types that warrant some attention. Below are the top 8 alternative property types for investors as compiled by our friends at National Real Estate Investor. These are not listed in any particular order.


Farms have been a lucrative commercial property investment since the Biblical times, but they’ve taken a backseat to more modern assets such as apartment buildings and office towers in the post-World War II years. Yet since everything old becomes new again, it looks like they are coming back in vogue with Gladstone Land Corp. becoming one of the first publicly traded farmland REITs last year. Gladstone invests in farms that grow annual crops, as well as in storage facilities, processing plants, packaging plants and distribution centers.


It may not be immediately apparent to you that billboards are real property, but the IRS has ruled that they are, with companies such as Lamar’s and CBS Outdoor Americas Inc. on track to becoming full-fledged REITs. Perhaps the best thing about investing in billboard REITs? Unlike with multifamily, office or retail properties, there is no need to worry about the tenants.

Data Centers

As technology seems to improve at lightning speed, more and more of our data is kept in “the cloud.” In spite of its name, however, “the cloud” requires millions of square feet of data storage space to back it up, with millions more slated for construction in the coming years. After all, according to a forecast by networking firm Cisco, global “cloud” traffic will quadruple between 2013 and 2017, to 5.3 zettabytes.

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As both young and old Americans downsize, there’s been a proliferation of self-storage properties throughout the country. Revenues and occupancy levels for such facilities are currently growing by double-digits, according to research from Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services. Meanwhile, supply is trailing behind demand, so this may be a good time to invest in the sector.

Single Family Homes

It’s a tough world out there for Generation X, many of whom had to forgo buying a house or lost one they owned in the wake of the recession. Instead, a significant number of young families are now renting single family homes from the likes of private equity firm Blackstone and newly formed single family home REITs such as American Residential Properties and American Homes 4 Rent. For the time being at least, these properties can be the perfect investment—just ride the rental market until the housing market picks up and then put the “for sale” sign back on.

Student Housing

Another lucrative property niche that has emerged post-recession is student housing. With state-run schools facing fund cuts for on-site housing, private developers have stepped in to deliver off-campus facilities. These are not the dorms you remember from your college days, however: the Millennial generations expects the very best, with privately-run student housing offering such amenities as resort-style pools, volleyball and basketball courts, 24-hour workout rooms and state-of-the-art washers and dryers that send text message alerts once the laundry load is complete.

Medical Office Buildings

As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) takes effect, another asset class set to explode over the next few years is medical office buildings. With health care systems throughout the country looking to provide more localized, lower cost services outside the hospital setting, many will be looking to utilize smaller, outpatient facilities.

Seniors Housing

With tens of millions of baby boomers set to reach retirement in the coming decade, researchers expect a dramatic spike in demand for all types of seniors housing, including adult living communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Those who’d like to take advantage of the boom better do their due diligence, however—already there are concerns about overbuilding of properties aimed at the younger boomers, while demand for assisted living facilities, which typically serve people in their 80s an older, won’t materialize until further down the road. Plus, it’s unclear whether the boomers will be willing to invest in the more upscale properties, especially after they’ve finished paying for their children’s student housing.

This article was republished with permission from National Real Estate Investor.


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