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The Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund: A Savvy Alternative to Risky Rental Property Investments

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Building an investment portfolio involves navigating through a plethora of choices. Stocks and bonds are the usual suspects, catering to the novice investor. The allure of alternative assets like artwork, collectibles, and crypto beckons, yet their speculative nature adds a pinch of risk.

One alternative investment avenue that stands out for its potentially lower risk profile and attractive returns is owning a rental property. While rental properties are known for generating passive income, investors must grasp the full spectrum of risks and expenses associated with real estate ventures before plunging into the market.

The Temptations of Real Estate Investing

Success in the realm of wealth-building does not tolerate shortcuts. Despite the allure of passive income, entry into this esteemed zone demands robust financial capabilities.

The notion of acquiring a rental property may seem appealing on the surface, shimmering with promises of effortless passive income. Nonetheless, the challenges of real estate investing often elude many prospective landlords.

Primarily, the purchase of a rental property necessitates a substantial capital outlay. Moreover, post-downpayment, additional costs may loom on the horizon. One not-so-amusing risk factor lies in the potential property damage by tenants, leaving the landlord to foot the bill. While tenants theoretically shoulder property damage expenses, wriggling out of accountability remains a probable scenario, possibly entangling landlords in legal battles accompanied by legal fees.

For those averse to such predicaments, hiring a property manager emerges as a plausible fallback option. However, this incurs additional costs, chipping away at the monthly rental profits.

A person hands a key to another person in front of a house with a for sale sign in the lawn.

Image source: Getty Images.

A Simpler Path to Consider

Easing into the domain of real estate does not mandate acquiring physical properties. Surprisingly, some of the most luscious streams of real estate-oriented passive income flow from index funds.

The Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund (NYSEMKT: VNQ) is an avenue rich with possibilities, with investments primarily focused on real estate. Notable holdings within the fund include stalwarts like Realty Income, American Tower Corporation, and Simon Property Group.

This diversified cluster of stocks offers investors exposure to various real estate segments, including retail, hotels, commercial office spaces, and data centers.

Unlocking the Potential of Real Estate Investments

Real estate investments, much like any other asset class, come with a blend of merits and demerits. For beginners stepping into this realm, I vouch for more insulated avenues such as investing in passive funds rather than diving headfirst into owning rental properties.

One enticing attribute of investing in the Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund is its appealing 4.1% dividend yield, akin to collecting rent payments. Moreover, the fund offers a sense of security as it heavily invests in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), obligated to distribute 90% of taxable income to investors annually, making the dividend payout from this fund quite dependable.

Although the Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund may not promise flashy returns, boasting an average annual return of around 7.5% since its inception in 2004, it remains on par with the S&P 500’s average annual return of 9% over the past two decades.

Considering its lower risk profile, reliable dividend payouts, and commendable long-term performance, the Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund emerges as a prudent choice compared to the uncertainties of owning rental properties.

Is Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund a Viable Option?

Pondering an investment in the Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund warrants a consideration of various factors:

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Adam Spatacco has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends American Tower, Realty Income, and Vanguard Specialized Funds-Vanguard Real Estate ETF. The Motley Fool recommends Simon Property Group and suggests options like long January 2026 $180 calls on American Tower and short January 2026 $185 calls on American Tower. The Motley Fool adheres to a stringent disclosure policy.

Opinions expressed herein belong to the author and do not necessarily mirror those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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