Many investors have been calling my office and asking whether Wells Real Estate Investment Trust was an unsuitable investment for them. Wells Real Estate Investment Trust is a non-traded Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). For most investors, liquidity, income and risk tolerance are a concern but if you are elderly and retired they are paramount! If you have limited resources and no ability to generate income from other sources to meet your liquidity and income needs then a non-traded REIT is an unsuitable investment. Likewise, if you cannot afford a total risk of loss, then speculative non-traded REITs are unsuitable investments. The suitability problem is compounded when any investors' portfolio is concentrated in non-traded REIT investments. A rule of thumb is that no more than 10% of anyone's investment portfolio should be concentrated in real estate investments, including REIT investments, and that percentage should be far less as a person reaches retirement and advances in age, perhaps zero!
Every brokerage firm has the responsibility of "knowing the customer" and making a customer specific "suitability" determination for every investment recommendation. The "Suitability Rule," Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Rule 2111, requires that a firm or associated person "have a reasonable basis to believe that a recommended transaction or investment strategy involving a security or securities is suitable for the customer, based on the information obtained through the reasonable diligence of the member or associated person to ascertain the customer's investment profile." This is a new rule but it contains the core features of the previous National Association of Securities Dealers ("NASD") and New York Stock Exchange ("NYSE") suitability rules and codifies well-settled interpretations of those rules. Brokerage firms and their associated persons have always had the responsibility to make suitable recommendations in light of individuals in stating investment objectives and financial condition, tax status, and other relevant factors. According to FINRA, some non-traded Real Estate Investment Trust investments ("REITs") aren't suitable for anyone based on the offering terms, misrepresentations and unreasonable projections by the promoters (see FINRA News Release "FINRA Issues Investor Alert on Public Non-Traded REITs").
The primary cause of the increased number of telephone calls to our office over the last five years is many elderly and retired investors have been steered into non-traded REIT investments as the yields on other income producing investments have steadily declined. According to many investors, the REITS were recommended as safe, secure, and steady income producing investments which sounded to be exactly what many seniors wanted and needed. But these products offer little liquidity for investors who at this stage of their life are likely to need to dip into their investment savings to support their lifestyle or for medical and other emergencies. There is no public market, early redemption of shares in REITs is often very limited, and the fees associated with the sales of these products can be high and erode the total return, if they can be sold at all. Further, many of these investments do not truly generate income but make distributions with borrowed money, with newly raised capital, or by a return of principal rather than a return on investment which can stop at any time. Although non-traded REITs may offer some diversification benefits as part of a balanced portfolio, they all have underlying risk characteristics that make them unsuitable for certain investors, particularly the elderly retired investor with limited financial resources.
When any Wells Real Estate Investment Trust investor calls our office, we will make a customer specific suitability determination after we learn the "essential facts" concerning that investor. We will ask, just as their stockbroker should have asked, about their age, investment experience, time horizon liquidity needs (length of time they could hold the investment without need for the principal), risk tolerance, other holdings, and financial situation in terms of liquid total net worth, tax status and investment objectives. All of these factors are relevant to suitability and determination and most weigh against the ownership of REIT investments by elderly retired investors. If we believe a brokerage firm or its representatives made an unsuitable recommendation that any person invest in a non-traded REIT, we recommend that they file a FINRA arbitration claim and attempt to recover their losses!
The most important of investors' rights is the right to be informed! This Investors' Rights blog post is by the Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A., located in Boca Raton, Florida. For over 30 years, Attorney Pearce has tried, arbitrated, and mediated hundreds of disputes involving complex securities, commodities and investment law issues. The lawyers at our law firm are devoted to protecting investors' rights throughout the United States and internationally! Please visit our website, www.secatty.com, post a comment, call (800) 732-2889, or email Mr. Pearce at firstname.lastname@example.org for answers to any of your questions about this blog post and/or any related matter.