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The Vanguard REIT Index ETF (VNQ) is the largest REIT focused ETF and the fund provides an easy way to invest in a diverse portfolio of REIT stocks. However, VNQ is heavily weighted toward the larger REIT companies. To find some individual REIT stocks which provide an opportunity to outperform the ETF, I went looking for individual companies which have done better than VNQ so far in 2012 - through the end of May.

A manual screening produced 27 REIT stocks that have outperformed VNQ and each has a dividend yield at least 0.5% greater than the current ETF yield of 3.42%. Year-to-date, VNQ is up 7.78% compared to a 4.73% gain for the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY).

There is not enough time or usefulness to discuss 27 different stocks, so here are the ones with the most outstanding results over the first five months of 2012:

Sun Communities, Inc. (SUI) is up 12.8% through the end of May and has a current yield of 6.12%. This company leases RV and manufactured home spaces plus buys and sells homes in the communities it owns. The dividend has been steady for over three years. Sun Communities has a market cap of $1.1 billion.

Liberty Property Trust (LRY) shares have appreciated by 12.2% in 2012 and currently yields 5.48%. Liberty Property Trust owns industrial and office properties. The company has a market cap of $4.07 billion. The 47.5 cent quarterly dividend has been unchanged since 2008. The 2012 first quarter funds from operations - FFO - was 68 cents per share.

Getty Realty Corp (GTY) has gained 15.4% so far this year and currently yields 6.21%. This stock fell off a cliff late in 2011 when the company's largest customer - leasing 788 fuel and convenience stores - declared bankruptcy. The Getty Realty dividend was cut in half. The properties have been repossessed and are now being released. There is interesting potential for dividend growth in this REIT stock.

Healthcare Realty Trust (HR) shares are up 17.4% and the dividend yield for this REIT is currently 5.48%. Healthcare Realty owns about 200 medical office and outpatient healthcare properties. The company reduced the dividend in 2010 and has not increased the payout since. Healthcare Realty Trust has a market cap of $1.71 billion.

Brandywine Realty Trust (BDN) shares have appreciated by 18.4% in 2012 and the shares currently yield 5.34%. The current 15 cent quarterly dividend has been in effect since January 2010. The 2012 guidance on funds from operations per share - FFO - is double the current dividend rate. Brandywine Realty has a market cap of $1.6 billion.

Chatham Lodging Trust (CLDT) shares are up 20.2% so far this year and the current yield is 6.17%. Chatham Lodging is a small cap - $180 million - owner of extended stay and select service hotels. This REIT went public in early 2010 and paid an 18 cent quarterly dividend until the first quarter of 2012, when the payout was increased to 20 cents.

Pennsylvania REIT (PEI) is up 20.3% in the first five months of 2012 and sports a current yield of 5.05%. This company just increased its dividend for the first time since the 2009 bear market. Pennsylvania REIT owns about 50 shopping center properties in 13 states has a market cap of $709 million.

These REIT stocks have shown the best of REIT investing over the last five months. Market beating share price gains and dividend yields above 5%. All of the ones listed here have potential to continue providing double barrel returns to investors.

Source: Top Performing High Yield REITs For 2012