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What is the mortgage REITs: An Opportunity in Real Estate

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What is the mortgage REITs | Debexpert

Real estate investment trusts (REITs) are investment vehicles that allow individuals to invest in the real estate sector without directly owning physical properties. Mortgage REITs, or mREITs, are a specific type of REIT that focus on investing in mortgages, mortgage-backed securities (MBS), and other related assets. Unlike equity REITs that own and manage properties, mREITs generate income through interest payments on the mortgages they hold.

Mortgage REITs provide an opportunity for investors to gain exposure to the real estate debt market. By investing in mREITs, individuals can benefit from the performance of the mortgage market without the need for significant capital or expertise in property management. Let's delve deeper into how mortgage REITs work and the reasons investors may consider including them in their portfolios.

Mortgage REITs, specifically, take advantage of the real estate lending space. They act much like banks, borrowing money at low short-term interest rates and lending at higher long-term rates, earning a net interest margin. Their profit comes from the interest income on the loans they provide or purchase. Importantly, mREITs can provide exposure to both residential and commercial mortgages, allowing investors to tap into a wide array of real estate sectors. Furthermore, they can offer high dividend yields, making them appealing for income-focused investors. However, like any investment, they come with their own set of risks, including interest rate volatility and credit risk, which should be carefully evaluated.

Key takeaways:
Mortgage REITs, or mREITs, are investment vehicles that generate income by purchasing and managing mortgage-backed securities and loans. This allows businesses to diversify their investment portfolio while potentially benefiting from steady income streams.

How Do Mortgage REITs Make Money?

Mortgage REITs, or mREITs, primarily generate their income through interest payments received on the mortgages and mortgage-backed securities within their portfolios. These investments serve as the basis for mREITs' cash flow. They borrow money at lower short-term interest rates, similar to banks and financial institutions, and invest in mortgage assets with higher yields, resulting in a spread or net interest margin.

To finance their mortgage investments, mREITs employ various funding sources, such as common and preferred equity, repurchase agreements, structured financing, convertible and long-term debt, and credit facilities. The mixture of these resources allows mREITs to leverage their investments, potentially enhancing returns.

Types of Mortgage REIT Investments

Mortgage REITs can invest in different types of real estate debt, including residential mortgages, commercial mortgages, and mortgage-backed securities. Residential mortgage REITs focus on investing in mortgages and MBS backed by residential properties, while commercial mortgage REITs primarily target mortgages and MBS related to commercial properties such as office buildings, hotels, and apartments.

Residential mortgage REITs benefit from the stability and liquidity of the residential mortgage market, which is supported by government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These entities provide a guarantee on certain residential mortgage-backed securities, reducing credit risk for mREITs investing in this sector.

Commercial mortgage REITs face a different set of risks and opportunities. They may invest in mortgages and MBS backed by commercial properties, which can include office spaces, retail centers, and industrial properties. The performance of commercial mortgage REITs is influenced by factors such as economic conditions, occupancy rates, and rental income in the commercial real estate market.

Differences between mREITs and Equity REITs

Mortgage REITs (mREITs) and Equity REITs are both types of Real Estate Investment Trusts, but they differ significantly in their business models and how they generate income.

  1. Investment Focus: Equity REITs invest directly in properties, which they buy, manage, improve, and sell or lease to tenants. The types of properties they invest in can range widely, including commercial, residential, industrial, and other specialty real estate. On the other hand, Mortgage REITs (mREITs) invest in real estate mortgages or mortgage-backed securities, not physical properties. These can be residential or commercial mortgages, and they make money from the interest earned on these investments.
  2. Income Generation: Equity REITs generate income primarily through the collection of rent from the properties they own and lease. Profits may also be earned from the sale of properties that have appreciated in value. mREITs, however, earn income from the interest on the mortgages or mortgage-backed securities they hold.
  3. Risk Exposure: Both types of REITs carry different types of risk. Equity REITs are exposed to property market fluctuations, including changes in property values and demand for lease space. mREITs, however, are particularly sensitive to interest rate changes. When interest rates rise, the value of the existing mortgage-backed securities they hold often falls. Additionally, mREITs carry the risk of borrowers defaulting on their mortgage payments.
  4. Interest Rate Sensitivity: mREITs tend to be more sensitive to changes in interest rates than equity REITs. This is because the income they generate from interest payments can be significantly affected by changes in interest rates. On the contrary, while interest rates can influence property values and rental rates, equity REITs are generally less directly impacted by interest rate changes.

These differences can make each type of REIT more suitable for different investment objectives or market conditions. As always, potential investors should carefully consider their own financial situation, risk tolerance, and investment goals before deciding to invest in either type of REIT.

Reasons to Invest in Mortgage REITs

Investing in mortgage REITs offers several advantages to investors, including high income potential, diversification, potential for capital appreciation, professional management, and liquidity. Mortgage REITs can offer attractive dividend yields due to the interest income generated from their mortgage investments. Here are some reasons why individuals may consider including mortgage REITs in their investment portfolios:

1. High Income Potential

Mortgage REITs have the potential to offer attractive dividend yields due to the interest income generated from their mortgage investments. The dividend payments from mREITs can be higher than those from equity REITs or other income-focused investments. This makes them appealing to income-seeking investors, such as retirees or those looking for regular cash flow.

2. Diversification

Including mortgage REITs in a diversified investment portfolio can provide exposure to the real estate market while potentially reducing overall portfolio risk. By investing in both equity REITs and mortgage REITs, investors can benefit from diversification across different real estate sectors and investment strategies.

In addition, savvy investors might consider the possibility to sell real estate notes. Real estate notes, often created when a mortgage is formed, represent a promise to pay back the loan. These notes can be sold to other investors, which can provide immediate cash to the seller, while the buyer benefits from the interest payments over time. This can be another strategy to diversify within the real estate sector.

Also, investing in mortgage REITs can lead to exposure to different forms of income-producing real estate like residential and commercial properties. Mortgage REITs focus on the income generated from mortgage loans and mortgage-backed securities, while equity REITs invest in the physical properties themselves. This mix can offer investors a broader range of real estate exposure, thereby helping to hedge against market interest rate risks, credit risk, and economic fluctuations. Plus, professional management of these REITs can provide additional expertise, enhancing potential returns and risk management.

3. Potential for Capital Appreciation

In addition to generating income, mortgage REITs can also experience capital appreciation if the value of their mortgage holdings increases over time. Changes in interest rates, economic conditions, and the performance of the underlying mortgage assets can impact the value of mREITs' portfolios. This potential for capital appreciation can contribute to overall investment returns.

4. Professional Management

Investing in mortgage REITs allows individuals to leverage the expertise and experience of professional investment managers. These managers analyze the mortgage market, identify investment opportunities, and actively manage the mREITs' portfolios. This can be particularly beneficial for investors who may not have the time or knowledge to effectively manage a real estate investment on their own.

5. Liquidity

Unlike owning physical properties, investing in mortgage REITs offers a higher level of liquidity. Shares of mortgage REITs can be bought or sold on major stock exchanges, providing investors with the ability to quickly enter or exit their positions. This liquidity can be advantageous for investors who value flexibility and want to easily adjust their investment allocations.

Risks of Investing in Mortgage REITs

While mortgage REITs offer potential benefits, it's important for investors to be aware of the risks associated with these investments. Some of the risks include:

1. Interest Rate Risk

Mortgage REITs are exposed to interest rate risk, as changes in interest rates can impact their net interest margin and the value of their mortgage assets. When interest rates rise, mREITs may experience a decrease in their net interest margin, potentially affecting their earnings. Conversely, falling interest rates can lead to increased prepayments on mortgages, which may require mREITs to reinvest in lower-yielding assets.

2. Credit Risk

Credit risk is a consideration for mortgage REITs investing in mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. The creditworthiness of borrowers and the performance of the underlying loans can impact the value and income generated from these investments. While residential mortgage REITs typically invest in agency securities backed by the federal government, commercial mortgage REITs may face greater credit risk when investing in private-label RMBS and CMBS.

3. Prepayment Risk

Changes in interest rates or borrower behavior, such as refinancing or selling their homes, can result in prepayments on mortgages. When prepayments occur, mREITs must reinvest the proceeds into the prevailing interest rate environment, which may not be as favorable. To manage prepayment risk, mREITs use hedging strategies similar to those employed for interest rate risk management.

4. Market and Economic Conditions

The performance of mortgage REITs can be influenced by broader market and economic conditions. Factors such as economic growth, employment rates, and real estate market trends can impact the demand for mortgages and the value of mortgage-related assets. Investors should consider these external factors when evaluating the potential risks and rewards of investing in mortgage REITs.

In addition to the already mentioned risks such as interest rate risk, credit risk, and prepayment risk, mortgage REITs are also susceptible to rollover risk. This occurs when a short-term loan used to finance an investment needs to be rolled over or renewed, possibly at a higher interest rate. Liquidity risk is another concern, where in a downturn, mREITs may struggle to sell their assets quickly without incurring substantial losses. Additionally, changes in housing market trends or broader economic conditions can negatively impact the value of their mortgage assets, affecting the overall return.

Ways to Invest in Mortgage REITs

Investors interested in including mortgage REITs in their portfolios have several options for gaining exposure to these investments. Some common methods include:

1. Direct Stock Investments

Investors can purchase shares of individual mortgage REITs listed on stock exchanges. This allows for direct ownership and potential participation in the dividends and capital appreciation of the specific mREITs chosen. Researching and selecting individual mortgage REITs requires careful consideration of their investment strategies, track records, and risk profiles.

When investing directly in mREITs, it is vital to perform due diligence, understanding each REIT's management team, sector focus, and approach to risk management. For instance, some mREITs may specialize in residential loans, while others focus on commercial mortgages. Also, understanding the interest rate environment can help anticipate potential impacts on mREITs' net interest income and dividends. Furthermore, considering the leverage ratios can give an insight into the mREIT's risk exposure and potential for higher credit risk.

2. Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

ETFs that focus on mortgage REITs provide a diversified approach to investing in this sector. These funds hold a portfolio of mortgage REIT stocks, allowing investors to gain exposure to multiple mREITs through a single investment. ETFs can provide diversification benefits and may offer lower costs compared to investing in individual mortgage REITs.

3. Mutual Funds

Mutual funds that specialize in real estate or income-focused investments may include allocations to mortgage REITs. These funds pool investors' money to create a diversified portfolio of securities, including mortgage REITs. Investing in a mutual fund can provide access to professional management and broad exposure to various types of real estate investments.

4. Real Estate Crowdfunding Platforms

Some real estate crowdfunding platforms offer opportunities to invest in mortgage-related projects. These platforms connect investors with real estate developers seeking financing for residential or commercial properties. Investors can participate in specific mortgage loans or mortgage-backed securities through these platforms, potentially earning interest income on their investments.

It's important for investors to carefully evaluate the investment options available and consider their individual investment goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon when deciding how to invest in mortgage REITs.


In conclusion, Mortgage REITs provide a means for investors to participate in the real estate market through mortgage investments. By investing in mortgage REITs, individuals can diversify their portfolios, potentially earn high dividend yields, and benefit from professional management. However, investors should be aware of the risks associated with interest rate fluctuations, credit risk, prepayment risk, and market conditions.

Moreover, through mortgage REITs, investors can access both residential and commercial mortgages, providing further diversification. This not only includes buying properties but also opportunities like selling a mortgage note for cash. When conditions are favorable, the income from interest payments on these mortgages can result in high dividend yields. It's also worth noting that investment in mortgage REITs comes with a degree of liquidity, as their shares can be bought and sold on major stock exchanges. However, it's crucial to understand how factors like interest rate volatility, borrowing costs, selling a mortgage note for cash, and changes in the broader economic landscape may impact the performance of these investments.

Written by
Ivan Korotaev
Debexpert CEO, Co-founder

More than a decade of Ivan's career has been dedicated to Finance, Banking and Digital Solutions. From these three areas, the idea of a fintech solution called Debepxert was born. He started his career in  Big Four consulting and continued in the industry, working as a CFO for publicly traded and digital companies. Ivan came into the debt industry in 2019, when company Debexpert started its first operations. Over the past few years the company, following his lead, has become a technological leader in the US, opened its offices in 10 countries and achieved a record level of sales - 700 debt portfolios per year.

  • Big Four consulting
  • Expert in Finance, Banking and Digital Solutions
  • CFO for publicly traded and digital companies



Who holds a mortgage note?

The mortgage note is the legal document that proves ownership of the mortgage loan to the lender or investor. A mortgage-backed securities investor is one potential buyer of a note that has been sold by the original lender. Payments due from the borrower are to be made to the note holder, who may also opt to sell or transfer the note to another person. The capacity to collect mortgage payments or foreclose in the case of default is dependent on the lender's ability to track down the note's current holder.

What else is a mortgage note called?

Promissory note, real estate lien note, and deed of trust note are all terms that can be used to refer to a mortgage note. Both of these names relate to the same thing: a legally binding agreement outlining the terms and conditions of a mortgage loan. Mortgage notes can have different terms based on the lender, the borrower's credit, and the mortgage agreement. Borrowers and investors in the mortgage note market would do well to familiarize themselves with these various terminologies.

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