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Forget buy-to-let! Consider these commercial property investments instead

A growing number of buy-to-let landlords have been moving towards commercial property following recent regulatory and tax changes that have made investing in residential buy-to-lets less attractive. The characteristics of commercial property are, however, different to residential property. For starters, investments in retail and office property generally require greater amounts of capital and specific technical expertise.

Commercial properties are also regarded as higher-risk investments, due to typically higher average vacancy rates, which can make it difficult for ordinary investors to rely on a single property investment for income. Instead, most investors would probably be better off pooling their money with other investors, via a property investment trust or a REIT, as this will allow you to benefit from added scale, diversification and the skill of the fund manager in looking after your investments.

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Keeping that in mind, here are three commercial property investments that deserve a closer look.

Diversified portfolio

With total assets of nearly £1.5bn, the F&C Commercial Property Trust (LSE: FCPT) is one of the UK’s largest actively managed closed-ended companies investing directly in commercial property.

F&C aims to provide investors with an attractive level of income from a diversified portfolio of prime commercial property assets. The managers invest principally in three commercial property sectors: office — retail and industrial — focusing on investments that they believe will generate a combination of long-term growth in capital and income for shareholders.

The managers have a strong track record of delivering robust returns to its shareholders, after having generated a net asset value (NAV) total return of 82% over the past five years. There’s great income appeal too, with the company paying monthly dividends that currently annualise at 6p per share, giving prospective investors a yield of 4.2%.

Less retail exposure

Looking ahead, it may be a good idea to find a property company with less retail property exposure. With bricks and mortar retailers continuing to cede ground to online sellers, investors are becoming more sceptical towards retail property valuations.

With that in mind, Picton Property Income (LSE: PCTN) may be a better pick. It has just 23% of assets weighted towards retail and leisure, compared to 43% for the F&C Commercial Property Trust. And in place of the company’s lower exposure to retail, Picton is tilted more heavily towards the more resilient industrial and warehousing sector, which accounts for 41% of total assets.

Unsurprisingly, its portfolio construction has served it well of late. The company’s total return for the 12 months to 30 June 2018 was 14.2%, which was roughly double the return achieved by the F&C trust over the same period.

REITs

The REIT space is another good place for investors to look right now, as a number of property giants are trading at big discounts to the value of their underlying assets.

For example, shares in London-focused Derwent London (LSE: DLN) trade at a 21% discount to NAV, for no other reason aside from the weak investor sentiment towards office space in the capital. Analysts reckon the office market in the capital is particularly vulnerable to a ‘no-deal’ Brexit outcome, given the city’s outsized exposure to financial services.

Nonetheless, Derwent London continues to deliver steady earnings growth, with underlying earnings up 14% in the first half of 2018, to 51.8p per share. And on the back of this, the company raised its interim dividend by 10%, to 19.1p per share.

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Jack Tang has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.